Upright Women Wanted: Subversive roaming librarians in a near-future U.S.A.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsUpright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsUpright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

After being betrothed to a man she doesn’t love and watching her secret lover, Beatriz, get hanged for aberrant behavior and possession of unapproved reading materials, Esther decides to run away. So she hides herself in the wagon of the traveling Librarians, the distributors of all approved reading materials, who are passing through her town.

When the stowaway is discovered, Esther attempts to convince the librarians that she always wanted to be one of them but, in reality, she is hoping their good morals and upright behavior will rub off on her so she will no longer feel deviant.

But that’s not going to happen, as Esther soon learns, because there’s a good reason why these women have chosen to remove themselves from regular society and become itinerant librarians. They don’t fit into the conservative, patriarchal social order endorsed by the approved reading materials they dispense. Here, amongst these women who would otherwise be ostracized and possibly executed, Esther begins to believe she might find acceptance and the kind of family she’ll be comfortable in.

Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s novella Upright Women Wanted (2020) is a finalist for both the Locus and Hugo Awards this year. I love the dystopian setting and want to read more about subversive roaming Librarians in a near-future United States that has reverted to an old West type of civilization. I want to know about the perpetual war that patriotic Americans are being asked to support via the circulation of state-approved propaganda that ensures everyone is on the same page. Who are they fighting and why? I want to know how America fell so far and I want to see the Librarians resist and overcome. I rarely say that I wish a novella was longer, but in this case, I wish Gailey had given us more and I hope she has additional stories planned for this intriguing world.

I liked most of Gailey’s characters, but Esther irritated me a bit. We are told that she was in love with Beatriz, but her grieving feels shallow and very quickly we see her lusting after somebody else, so it was hard for me to take her seriously. However, other readers, especially those that identify with Esther’s uncertainty about what her sexual orientation means for her place in her conservative society, may feel that this confusion is realistic and genuine. I suspect that readers who feel more empathetic toward Gailey’s protagonist might also be a lot more forgiving about the vagueness of her world.

The audio version of Upright Women Wanted was produced by Tantor audio and narrated by Romy Nordlinger. Her voice seems a little too pert for a girl in Esther’s situation but, overall, the audiobook is a nice format for this novella.

Published in 2020. “That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.” Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her—a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda. The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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10 comments

  1. I hadn’t realized this was a near-future and not the past.

    I’ve always been interested in the pack-horse librarians of the 1930s, who delivered books in the rural southeast east, but I gave up the idea of writing about them when this book came out because I thought she’d covered it. Perhaps not, though!

  2. Zina /

    I’ve been interested in these librarians too. There is a book about them. It’s on my too read list. I’ll find it for you later. Gotta work.

    • aha. I felt like there was more to the story and that this novella worked best as a side-adventure, but when I looked, it wasn’t obvious to me that she’d written about them before.

  3. Or THE WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK.

    They’re both about the historic horseback librarians.

    • Zina /

      Yep, The Book Woman Of Troublesome Creek, by by Kim Michele Richardson.

    • Zina /

      Yes, this one. Troublesome Creek. Thanks for the info on the other link.

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