A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker
A Song for a New Day is a book that is set in a dystopian future that follows two women: Luce, a musician in the Before who must find her voice again in the After, and Rosemary, who knows only the After yet must learn how to keep that from limiting who she can be.
The After is a world that has become isolated. A combination of rampant terrorism and a highly contagious, deadly virus has created a society that exists in a virtual environment. Not only are gatherings – large and small – banned, but people are terrified to come in contact with others. Socializing is done through VR interfaces, business functions occur via technological networking. If one does need to venture out of the safety of isolation, discrete distance is kept between bodies and clothing covers all parts of the body that may come in contact with contaminated surfaces.
This new reality is anathema to Luce. For her, the power in the music comes not just from the song, but how it is shaped by the live audience. She is unable to accept how “live” performances are now the agency of intricately staged virtual productions micromanaged by megacorp StageHoloLive.
Rosemary lives a reclusive existence with her parents on their remote farm, working at a plodding job for the conglomerate SuperWally. But when her intuitive technical acumen catches the attention of an executive with StageHoloLive, she is handpicked to venture out into a carefully modulated larger world. This terrifies her, but she also knows it may be her only chance to know what lies beyond the walls of her bedroom.
When the two disparate worlds of Luce and Rosemary meet, dystopia becomes merely environment and the human element comes to the fore – reclaiming passion vs overcoming fear, and doing the right thing from two very different vantage points, even when the “right thing” may be at odds. Huge things happen in this story, but they happen at such a personal level, with such genuine characters, that the feeling is immediate rather than earth-shattering. And at the center of it all is the power of music – the power to make it, the power to allow it to be made, and how it connects us all.
A Song for a New Day is a dystopian speculative fiction novel, yes, but it’s less about how to stay alive as to how to be alive. And this is exactly what makes it a wonderful read.