Hugo reading 2018: Wind Will Rove, by Sarah Pinsker

I saved “Wind Will Rove” by Sarah Pinsker for last, because I enjoyed her novella so much. I’m… not quite sure what I thought of this one. It is set on a generation ship on its way to a new planet, and the protagonist, a history teacher and a fiddle player, was born on the ship and will die there. Her grandmother was one of the original colonists, who boarded the ship with her nine-year-old daughter, the protagonist’s mother. The generation ship originally had extensive archives of all the greatest art, literature, music and other cultural artefacts of the Earth, but about ten years into the voyage, the archives were destroyed by sabotage. As a result, the travellers have created a series of ‘memory Projects’, whereby they recreated and re-recorded everything they could, based on their memories, but also continue to memorise specific pieces and pass these down through family lines, in case of another loss of the archives.

This is a lot of background, but that’s because the story is almost more a slice of life than anything else. The protagonist teaches Year 10 history, and is faced with students who want to know why Earth history should even be considered relevant to them, since they will never see Earth or indeed anywhere but this ship, and are unlikely to face any problems of historical significance in their lifetime. Her grandmother was one of the founders of the music Memory Project, but her mother felt that the old art was irrelevant and left to join a commune making new art, and her daughter, too, rebelled, performing new music that was never to be recorded.

The story, then, seems to be about the significance of art, of creativity, of history and of memory – of the relative importance of retaining the best of one’s old culture (and who exactly judges what this is?) versus creating new cultural artefacts, when there is not, realistically, the space to do both. These are questions that are addressed and explored but not really answered, perhaps because they cannot be answered.

I liked this story, and the characterisation of it, but for me, the most compelling image was of all these generations of people whose lives are constrained by their ancestors’ choices. They did not choose to be born and die on a ship, after all, or to spend their lives preserving and learning skills which will be used only by their great-grandchildren. To an extent, I suppose, all our lives are constrained by those of our ancestors, but not to this degree.

I don’t know. It’s a story about music and about history and about creativity, and I feel like I really should have liked it more than I did. I have a feeling it’s going to win its category, but I don’t quite want it to.

I think my ballot will be “Children of Thorns”, “A Series of Steaks”, “Extracurricular Activities”, “Wind Will Rove”, “Small Changes Over Long Periods” and “The Secret Life of Bots”, but to be honest, the top four could easily all switch around – I’d be happy to see any of them as winners.

Hugo reading 2018: And then there were (N-One), by Sarah Pinsker

And Then There Were (N-One), by Sarah Pinsker, was clever and great fun and just a little unsettling. Sarah Pinsker receives an invitation from an alternate universe version of herself to attend a conference – SarahCon – at which all the other attendees are Sarah Pinskers from different universes. And then a Sarah Pinsker dies under suspicious circumstances and so Sarah Pinsker, who is an insurance investigator and the closest thing they have to a detective, is asked to try to find out what happened.

This is a fascinating exploration of the different choices people make through life, and their consequences. Some of the Sarah Pinskers are from very closely related strands, others from remote ones – what sent them there? Some of them are still with university girlfriends, others are single or have new partners, one of them invented the Transdimensional Portal, but four others very nearly did and were just not as fast.

I guessed one part of the murder mystery, but not the other part, and the resolution – or is it resolved? Can anything in a multiverse where every choice you make spawns a new universe ever be resolved? – was very satisfying. The motive for the murder was unexpected and clever and logical and in keeping with the Sarah who did it – and it made you wonder what else might happen at the end of the conference, when it was time for everyone to leave.
It’s an unsettling story to read, if you have ever questioned any of your own life decisions. Adding to the unsettlement is the fact that Sarah Pinsker is also the name of the author, and I can’t help wondering how autobiographical it is – it almost seems like a waste if it isn’t, but if it is, how very odd for her friends and acquaintances to read it.
This is a great start to the novella section. I think it’s going to place high on my ballot.