Sarah Gailey is one of science fiction's great new talents and their 2019 debut novel Magic for Liars was incredibly strong; now they're back with Upright Women Wanted, a feminist, genderqueer science fiction western novel about gun-toting roving librarians who are secretly the heart of an antifascist resistance.
In an America fallen to authoritarian, theocratic barbarism, young Esther is forced to watch as her father — headman of their small town — hangs her secret lover Beatriz for possession of a seditious pamphlet, while she is hungrily watched by the idiot man whom her father has promised to marry her to.
Esther runs away, stowing away in the librarians' wagon as they pull out of town. The librarians are permitted to travel across the country, distributing Authorized Materials that have been approved by the nation's censorship board as serving the patriotic ends of a country mired in endless war. But when Esther reveals herself two days later, she discovers that the librarians aren't merely romantic emissaries of the all-powerful state: they are the couriers of a secret revolutionary movement dedicated to destroying the theocratic, patriarchical state.
The librarians — and their resistance friends — are gun-toting and sharp-shooting. They're hard as nails and queer as fuck, and while they sympathize with Esther and her impossible situation, it's not clear that they can afford to carry her, or even let her live.
What follows is a hard-bitten, fast-paced western, full of gunfights, love under the stars, heroism, cowardice, and genderqueer librarianship.
If the horseback librarians sound familiar, that's because they're seemingly modeled on the horseback librarians of the WPA: brave women who rode the length and breadth of Appalachia, distributing educational and entertainment materials to some of the poorest people in the country.
Upright Women is the gay resistance western we need at this moment.
Upright Women Wanted [Sarah Gailey/Tor.com]