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by Sarah Pinsker

Pub Date: March 19th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-61873-155-5
Publisher: Small Beer Press

In her debut collection, widely lauded author/musician Pinsker zips through road trips, space ships, speculative futures, and parallel presents with stories that are equal parts hard-wired sci-fi theory and hard-traveling rock-and-roll attitude.

The 13 short stories that make up this collection range from near novella length—“Our Lady of the Open Road,” “Wind Will Rove,” and the phenomenal “And Then There Were (N-One)”—to the very brief—“The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced,” which clocks in at a little under three pages. Their subject matter is equally diverse. In “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” the main character’s mangled arm has been replaced with a “Brain-Computer Interface” prosthetic which believes itself to be a road somewhere in Colorado; in “The Low Hum of Her,” a family undertakes an Ellis Island–esque immigration accompanied by an AI mechanical replicate of their departed Bubbe hidden in the steamer trunk. With stories that jump from divergent pasts to possible futures and include main characters of all age ranges, genders, and social backgrounds, it would be easy for the book to become disjointed. However, Pinsker’s undeniable talent for familiarizing characters caught in deeply unfamiliar situations (a treehouse that hides an alien race’s architectural salvation; an 18th-century seaport town beset by sirens; folk musicians on a generational star ship whose destination they will not live to see) brings a uniting element of empathy to even the most far-fetched conceit. There are also similarities between the thematic preoccupations of the individual works. Pinsker’s characters are often loners dedicated to idiosyncratic artistic pursuits—like fiddling in space or building scale models of murder houses. They are stubborn adherents to codes of authenticity that their worlds have abandoned, and the stories' plots tend to center around their revolts against conventional (or fantastical) social norms. Populated by anarchists, punks, survivalists, luddites, drifters, and rock-and-roll queers, Pinsker’s stories romp through their conceits with such winning charm that even the less successfully cohesive among them delight with their nuanced detail. In spite of being hampered slightly by a tendency to invest more in the worldbuilding than in the culmination of plot, Pinsker has delivered a sturdy collection in the speculative tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin or Kelly Link but with her own indomitable voice front and center.

An auspicious start to what promises to be one wild ride of a literary career.