Reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.
“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.
Sarah Gailey has really carved out a niche for herself in the pulp western sub-genre. First, with the American Hippo duology (also published by Tor.com), and now with Upright Women Wanted. I’d been looking forward to this since it was announced, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it very much.
This novel includes a number of classic Western tropes — the journey across barren and inhospitable terrain, bandits, supply runs, wanted posters, gun-fights… And yet, it never felt recycled. In part, that’s because of Gailey’s world-building and characters, both of which are superb. All of the characters feels quickly fully-realized, and the plot moves along at a good clip. The author never gives us too much information, and much is left to the reader to fill in some gaps through inference. I thought the Librarians and the way they operated was pretty cool, and I would certainly be interested in reading more in this setting with these characters.
Upright Women Wanted has a noticeable improvement in style, prose and storytelling, too — not that Gailey’s previous work wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination; I just found this one easier to fall into the story and get to know the characters. There are also plenty of great turns of phrase sprinkled throughout the book. From longer exchanges between characters, to descriptions, to mere asides, I found myself highlighting a number of snippets that I wanted to remember.
Overall, then, this was another enjoyable short novel by Gailey. If you’re a fan of the author’s previous work, then I have no doubt that you’ll find much to enjoy here. Recommended.