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.