cover image January Fifteenth

January Fifteenth

Rachel Swirsky. Tordotcom, $14.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-19894-5

Nebula Award winner Swirsky (Throughout the Drowsy Dark) half-steps out of her usual short story milieu with a thoughtful novel comprising four interwoven stories framed by the near-future implementation of Universal Basic Income, or UBI. Hannah, a single mom fleeing her abusive ex-wife; Janelle, a journalist raising her trans teenage sister; Olivia, a wealthy, drugged-out college kid; and Sarah, a pregnant teen trapped in a polygamous cult, all experience the annual payout day as a defining event, though “defining” does not in every case imply change. Hannah, for example, ends up very nearly where she began, albeit with greater clarity about her choices. Sarah travels the greatest distance both physically and mentally as she moves from inarticulate rage around the cult’s inequalities to the point of a life-changing decision. Swirsky loads up on hot-button issues, particularly in the case of the overburdened Janelle. While each of the other, impliedly white, women deals with a single situation that has some political valence but is experienced as personal, Janelle, who is Black, juggles multiple conflicts, all especially fraught. As an organizing principle, UBI works well, especially when Swirsky goes light on ideological explication and focuses on her characters responding to the changes it brings. Fans of plausible political speculative fiction should check this out. (June)