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.
Firstly, I really enjoyed the way this story was written. The novel is split into three parts. In each part we have chapters which focus on one of two characters – not exactly alternating back and forth, but for the most part. In part one, we have two different timelines going on as well. Luce’s story starts out in the Before, while Rosemary’s starts out in the After. I really loved this structure for a couple of reasons — 1) the contrast of timelines presents an interesting puzzle for readers and 2) I loved that we got to see a glimpse of the Before. This is a near future dystopia where mega corporations have capitalized on people’s fear of large gatherings and the governments laws preventing such gatherings–working from home is encouraged and virtual meet ups are more popular than ever.
This book examines the relationship between people, corporations, and the government. In an age when our digital information is already being sold to the highest bidders for ad space, where corporations already buy politicians and government officials to keep laws in their favor, where small businesses and larger companies alike are being subsumed by corporate giants, it’s not too hard to imagine the world Pinsker has painted for us here–it’s a natural progression of things that are already in motion. Honestly, that’s pretty terrifying. But what’s great about this novel is that it also offers us hope, in the form of our two main protagonists.
Luce is a musician through and through. She’s lived that road life, playing gigs from town to town in all sorts of unsavory venues for smaller crowds. But it’s fine–she lives for the music, it’s an essential part of her being. I love Luce’s character. She’s a little bit grumpy, but that’s understandable when you’re a creative type and you’re stuck dealing with the business end of things when all you want to do it make art. And after everything she goes through, with the world turning to crap, it’s no wonder she becomes pretty cynical about things. But, the thing is, that cynicism is a thin veneer. Luce wants to believe in people, that the world can break free of its corporate overlords.
Enter Rosemary Laws. Rosemary was just a kid when the world changed, and she doesn’t remember much about Before. She enjoys coding for her job as a virtual customer assistant for one of the mega corps, helping people solve their problems, usually in record time. She’s never thought much about doing anything else. She’s grown up in a world where people mostly keep to themselves, gathering in virtual worlds only. Because she doesn’t have great equipment, she doesn’t have the opportunity to do many fun things in the virtual world. When she’s offered such an opportunity, she jumps on it. She doesn’t realize this will have life-changing consequences. Rosemary is an interesting character. In some ways, she’s the polar opposite of Luce–instead of being cynical she’s incredibly naive–to everyone’s detriment. She means well, though. Rosemary, unlike Luce, is only just discovering the world for the first time. It’s like she’s been asleep all this time and is only now waking up. The one thing Luce and Rosemary have in common is their love of music, and that’s what brings their two stories together.
Most of the time when you read a dystopian style book, they’re either depressing or they make you extremely angry. This wasn’t the case here. Well, the anger, maybe a little bit, but I think for me there was more a sense of resignation at the inevitable future Pinsker has created. But the thing that made this one different from every other dystopia I’ve read is that there’s a sense of people being able to take things back–not through war but through something positive, their love of music. It’s love of art and love of expression that brings people together here, forming those connections, and this is a love that can change the world.
I think this is an incredible book that has a lot to say. There are so many things that are touched on briefly, everything from the current state of healthcare and people’s fear of medical bills to rampant commercialism to the government’s control of the populace through fear. There’s a lot of food for thought in this one. But above it all is the music. Pinsker’s love for music really shines through in this book, and that was the highlight for me. This book, more than anything, reads like a love letter to music, the way that Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale reads like a love letter to New York City.
If I had to offer criticisms, well, as much as I enjoyed the characters, I felt as if they were a bit distant, but I was okay with that here. I also thought parts of the story meandered, which isn’t so much a criticism as an observation, as not everyone will be down for something that is a slower pace. If you’re looking for a thriller, or something with a lot of action, this is not the book for you. However, if you’re looking for a thoughtful story touching on a few issues in the world while reminding us of the importance of the human connection through art, this is probably one you’re going to want to pick up. 4/5 stars.