The baker’s dozen stories gathered here (including a new, previously unpublished story) turn readers into travelers to the past, the future, and explorers of the weirder points of the present. The journey is the thing as Pinsker weaves music, memory, technology, history, mystery, love, loss, and even multiple selves on generation ships and cruise ships, on highways and high seas, in murder houses and treehouses. They feature runaways, fiddle-playing astronauts, and retired time travelers; they are weird, wired, hopeful, haunting, and deeply human. They are often described as beautiful but Pinsker also knows that the heart wants what the heart wants and that is not always right, or easy.
Reviewing short story collections is always a tricky thing as some stories will resonate more with a reader than others, but I’m happy to say that I loved every story in here–they all made me think and some were more entertaining and some made me want to read more.
You can tell there is a lot of thought and care that went into the stories and I love the common threads in some of them (music, road trips, relationships). There is a certain rhythm to Pinsker’s writing as well, which doesn’t surprise me since she’s also a musician. After reading through this collection it’s no wonder to me that she’s so often nominated for short fiction awards, her work is consistently great at layering theme, story, and emotion all into a single work with lovely writing on top of that–I love the way she strings words together.
I think my favorite story was the shortest in the book–‘The Sewell Home For the Temporally Displaced’. It has such a lovely atmosphere to it for a story that is only a couple of pages long. It left such an impression on me. I really wanted to know more about this world and these characters and this odd time travel. I have questions! It also amazed me how she was able to convey so much of a story–the relationships between characters, what is happening, etc, with such a short vignette, literally a slice of life. These are my favorite kinds of stories.
I had read ‘And Then There Were (N-One)‘ before and it’s such a great novella. It’s a murder mystery that takes place at a Sarah Pinsker convention where all the attendees are Sarah Pinsker’s from different dimensions and a Sarah Pinsker gets involved in solving the murder of a Sarah Pinsker. First of all, the title is amazing because math pun on a famous Agatha Christie book and it works. Aside from that the story is fully entertaining and I love the way it examines ‘what if I’d done that differently, how could my life had turned out’ as we see all these versions of this character and look at the points where their lives diverged. It’s also clear from reading this that Sarah as been to many conventions and I had to laugh a bit because it felt so familiar. Anyway, this is a murder mystery but it’s not really about that–it’s a thoughtful story about the choices we make in life.
‘A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide‘ opens the book and what a great story to start with. The SF elements were just the tech in the story but they also had a very weird element to them which I loved. I mean the whole scenario is pretty out there. I tried to think of what this story meant to me while reading it and It left me with questions. Is Andy, the main character, so complacent in his life?
‘Wind Will Rove‘ is another novella and it’s about a generation ship. But of course that’s not really what it’s about, because Sarah’s stories are always about the people. I thought this one was really interesting, firstly because it features a lot about music, but also because it asks us questions about the past and what’s preserving and what are we really ‘preserving’ anyway and is it more important to preserve the past than living for the future? I thought it was an interesting story to contrast with Becky Chamber’s Record of a Spaceborn Few which explores some of those same ideas but with a much different atmosphere.
There are so many other great stories in this collection and if you enjoy short fiction I highly recommend picking it up. If you’re not into short stories then maybe still check out the novellas as I think they’re fantastic, explore a lot of great themes and are beautifully written. 5/5 stars.