Ahoy there me mateys! The title of me post is not meant to be click bait but I am still not going to change it because it captures the conflicted feelings of the moment. I just finishing reading the 2020 Nebula winner and I am not sure of how I rate this one. Maybe writing me thoughts out will clarify things.
I previously read some of the author’s short fiction including “The Court Magician” (Hugo nominated 2019), “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” (Hugo nominated 2020), and “Our Lady of the Open Road” (Nebula winner 2015). I had been meaning to read this novel and immediately picked it up once the Nebula winners were announced. I did not know until the Acknowledgments of the novel that the “Our Lady” story was the impetus for this first novel. Luce, one of the main characters, felt so familiar and that now makes sense.
This novel is a dystopian where the world has had a global pandemic and the result is that public crowds are illegal, most people stay in their homes and connect through virtual reality, and the Amazon-like business called “Superwally” controls the economy. Luce is a singer whose fame was just taking off in the times Before everything crashed. In the After she performs in illegal underground venues to small crowds who brave the danger. Also in the After is Rosemary whose life changes when she quits Superwally to take a job as a recruiter for StageHoloLive where all entertainment is in VR and not live at all. Of course the two characters’ worlds collide with unintended consequences.
I believe the characters are where the story shined. I loved Luce for her artistic drive and how she treats other people in her life. I know people like her in me real life and so she felt real and I related immensely with her character. I was a complete fan of Rosemary at the beginning, only to flounder when she starts making horrible mistakes. How she takes responsibility and grows from the experience gradually had me swinging back around to root for her. But best of all was how the choices of both characters influence the other in terms of character growth and plot direction.
I also thought the writing of this novel was fantastic and evocative. There were some issues though. The beginning of the novel was a bit rough because the timelines were hard to follow. They switch back and forth between Before and After but it was hard to judge how much time had passed. Eventually both POVs take place in the After and that transition in time was confusing.
Another “problem” was that the story and world felt so familiar that the entire story could be happening right now despite the technology like advanced VR and self-driving cars. It didn’t quite feel like a dystopian but it didn’t quite feel contemporary either. I am still conflicted about that no matter how much I think about it.
Most of the recent award winners (Locus, Hugo, & Nebula) I think about and enjoy either showcase a) a different feel in terms of writing style, b) world building that feels new and exciting, or c) commentary on society structures and morays that provoke intense thought. Pinsker’s novel didn’t do any of these things for me and frankly feels so realistic that I almost felt underwhelmed by a lot of it. I am not sure if that realism is brilliant and thus should be award-winning or is getting more credit just because of the pandemic angle. I also know the author is a talented writer and so feel like I don’t want to belittle her work.
Or am just being weird because of me background. I am not a person for whom music is a key to their inner soul and being. I love music and have favorites that speak to me soul but can (and have) gone though periods where I don’t listen to a single song for many months at a time. Also I prefer recorded music in general. Well except for the occasional symphony or opera. I don’t have a good ear but I do have problems with unevenly mixed sound. It just plain irks me and is a major problem at most live concerts I attend. I also don’t like crowds. This novel is absolutely excellent at discussing the realities of touring, music, and how live music can enhance the enjoyment. I am just not in this group. Strange because I absolutely love live theatre for many of the same reasons that people love live music.
The other issue about the novel unfortunately stems from comparison. Ye see one of me favorite dystopian novels ever is station eleven. It also has great characters, deals with performing, has a hopeful ending, and shows the before and after. I just happen to think that it is also better written and structured. That novel felt familiar, believable, and realistic in the same way Pinsker’s does but station eleven absolutely devastated me emotionally. Pinsker’s never drew me in and I always felt outside of the story. I don’t know if that is because of me relationship with music or because of the current pandemic or what.
I have also had a hard time tracking down other bloggers’ opinions on the Nebula winners. Maybe because there was a virtual ceremony this year? I was underwhelmed by the choices for the Hugos this year too. I recognize the writing skill of song and enjoyed the story but didn’t really get what made it special enough to be the award winner. Out of the Nebula nominees, I would have been much more satisfied if gods of jade and shadow would have won. I am still conflicted about how to rate this one in me noggin. Any thoughts from the crew?
Goodreads’ website has this to say about the novel:
In this captivating science fiction novel from an award-winning author, public gatherings are illegal making concerts impossible, except for those willing to break the law for the love of music, and for one chance at human connection.
In the Before, when the government didn’t prohibit large public gatherings, Luce Cannon was on top of the world. One of her songs had just taken off and she was on her way to becoming a star. Now, in the After, terror attacks and deadly viruses have led the government to ban concerts, and Luce’s connection to the world–her music, her purpose–is closed off forever. She does what she has to do: she performs in illegal concerts to a small but passionate community, always evading the law.
Rosemary Laws barely remembers the Before times. She spends her days in Hoodspace, helping customers order all of their goods online for drone delivery–no physical contact with humans needed. By lucky chance, she finds a new job and a new calling: discover amazing musicians and bring their concerts to everyone via virtual reality. The only catch is that she’ll have to do something she’s never done before and go out in public. Find the illegal concerts and bring musicians into the limelight they deserve. But when she sees how the world could actually be, that won’t be enough.
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