This is not a bad book, and I like Sarah Pinsker a lot. I liked it, and it put my biggest worry at rest: that she wouldn’t manage the transition from amazing short stories well. Her plot arc might be a bit wobbly, but her character work is incredible (and vibes for any given scene are obviously always on point). I’m still torn between three and four stars, because the twist wasn’t a twist and the message was rather clear, but I’m in a mood to be generous, possibly due to the queer rep and how it made me feel feelings.
Possibly feelings I wasn’t ready for: It was written in 2019, published in September, but a pandemic with resulting never-ending oppressive lock-down is a major plot point. And how terrible things feel when everything is digital and nothing is real and the only people you see are your parents in the middle of nowhere or your unsafe insane flatmates in a locked-down city. So, you know. That kind of feelings.
Two protagonists: the cool old musician who has to make do illegally, because she’s not buying into the VR system, and the young woman growing up with all this and feeling very anxious about people, germs, and everything (and holy writing batman, that was well-written). Lots of vibes. Lots of excellent writing. Lots of pain. Not sure about the ending, and stuff, and it did still feel a bit episodic (solid choice when your biggest strength are excellent short stories!), but it made me happy to see Sarah Pinsker succeed at what she set out to do.
She does all the things well, but I think the biggest one are vibes: How to feel anxious in a crowd. How to feel amazing in a crowd. How to feel live music come alive in your body. Man, so many good descriptions of music! (And a surprising amount of digital rights / privacy activism.)
“We should be getting back to normal,” one would say. “Before we forget what normal is.” “We have to find a new normal,” said another. I knew all their names by then, but it didn’t really matter who said what. It was the same conversation, over and over.
Wonder what it felt like publishing this in 2019, and then waking up in 2020.
Also, lmao at Superwally and the employee motivation posters: “You are valued but replaceable” is so on the nose but still made me laugh. But also the super invasive work for them as tech support (“Good job! The customer could hear your smile :)”.
Also also: Super cool ideas about people having playable tattoos and other musical body mods. Hell yeah.
This book is part of the 2022 Backlog Incident.