Book Bag: ‘Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea’ by Sarah Pinsker; ‘Lois Weber: Interviews,’ edited by Martin F. Norden

Published: 3/14/2019 1:59:38 PM

By Steve Pfarrer


By Sarah Pinsker

Small Beer Press

Time travel, bionic arms that have their own memories, mysterious creatures that lure sailors to ruin, a replacement grandmother built of clay, metal and wires: The debut collection of short fiction from fantasy/science fiction writer Sarah Pinker covers a lot of ground, in worlds both real and imagined and stories that one critic calls “delightful and surprising … [and] introspective and elegiac.” 

Pinsker, of Baltimore, is also a singer-songwriter who, according to her biography, has traveled through 48 of the U.S. states. A sense of restlessness and movement (and humor) reverberates through many of the stories — varying in length from 3 pages to 54 — in “Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea,” published by Small Beer Press of Easthampton.

In the book’s opening tale, “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” the road literally calls to a young Canadian farmer, Andy, who’s lost his right arm in a combine accident. He wakes in the hospital to find that his parents have authorized doctors to replace his limb with a gleaming metal arm “that looked like [a] big irrigation rig, all spines and ridges and hoses”; he also now has embedded software to control the arm’s movements.

“They put electrodes and a chip in your motor cortex,” his mother, also a farmer, tells Andy. “You’re bionic.”

Thing is, his new arm is convinced it’s a stretch of highway in eastern Colorado, and Andy is soon filled with strange visions: “He held the beer in his left hand now only because the right hand dreamed of asphalt and tumbleweeds.” His robot arm begins urging him to head south, to see the Rocky Mountains, far from the plains of Saskatchewan where he’s lived his whole life.

In “No Lonely Seafarer,” Pinsker revisits the ancient Greek legend of the Sirens, the dangerous creatures who used music and singing to lure sailors to wreck their ships on a rocky island coast. The narrator of Pinsker’s story is a young teenage boy, the son of a former sailor who’s indentured him to an innkeeper on an island; the story is set in what appears to be the 18th century.

His father’s old sea captain, Smythe, is convinced that Alex holds the key for enabling sailing ships to pass the strange sirens that have taken up roost on a rocky headland by the island’s harbor, causing every ship trying to get past to crash on the shore. Captain Smythe wants Alex to sail his small fishing boat by the sirens while he locks himself in the ship’s cabin, so as not to be driven to madness.

But though Smythe believes Alex will be immune to the sirens’ voices because he’s a boy, Alex knows the story is more complicated than that; his gender is more fluid than anyone other than the innkeeper, Mrs. Wainwright, realizes. Just what will Alex discover as Smythe’s small boat encounters the sirens?

Mrs. Wainwright is hopeful because, as she tells Alex, “you know what you are, in a way that most people don’t ever have to think about.”

Elsewhere in “Sooner of Later Everything Falls Into the Sea,” Pinsker, the winner of a number of science fiction awards, fills her stories with runaways, fiddle-playing astronauts, aging rock and rollers and other unusual characters, like the robot grandmother — “Bubbe” — of “The Low Hum of Her.”

“This beautiful, complex debut collection,” Publishers Weekly says of the new book, “assembles some of Nebula winner Pinsker’s best stories into a twisting journey that is by turns wild, melancholic, and unsettling.”



Edited by Martin F. Norden

University Press of Mississippi/Jackson

Unless you’re a student of film, you likely won’t recognize the name Lois Weber. But Weber, born in 1879 in Pennsylvania, is generally regarded as one of the most successful screenwriters and directors of the early days of Hollywood, the force behind of some of the silent film era’s biggest box-office hits, such as 1916’s “Where Are My Children?”

And as Martin F. Norden writes in the introduction to “Lois Weber: Interviews,” Weber also used her clout in the film industry to address a number of pressing social issues of the day, including birth control, abortion, poverty and capital punishment.

But Norden, a longtime professor of film history and screenwriting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, notes in his new book that Weber was essentially forced out of the movie business in the 1930s because of institutionalized sexism and Hollywood’s constant push for fresh talent. As a consequence, he says, in the second half of the 20th century Weber was “shoved into the corners of film history,” her contributions largely forgotten or ignored.

But in his book, published by the University Press of Mississippi, Norden has collected a lengthy series of interviews with Weber from early 20th-century publications, including major California newspapers such as The Los Angeles Times, as well as her speeches and some of her own writing, to put her accomplishments back in perspective.

Weber was, for instance, an early feminist. An interview from “Picture-Play Magazine” in 1921 declares that she makes her movies “because she believes that people should not hesitate to look facts in the face, and because she rebels at man-made morals being thrust upon womankind through the medium of man-made pictures.”

Norden also notes in the introduction to his book that renewed interest in this century in Weber’s career has now put her back on the map — and that he hopes his book will contibute to that continuing interest.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at








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