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Wind Will Rove

October 29, 2017

In July my science fiction-reading daughter gave me a subscription to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine so I’d get a volume in the mail every couple of months, full of new stories to read. What an excellent present! And it’s already introduced me to one of the best stories I’ve ever read, from the September/October issue, about two of my perennial interests: spaceships and fiddling. Entitled “Wind Will Rove,” this story is by Sarah Pinsker.

The spaceship is a generation ship, headed to a planet that the descendants of those on board will colonize. The fiddle tune is “Wind Will Rove,” and the oddness of the title is part of the story.

Rosie, a young fiddler who was born and will die on the ship, begins by telling a story about her grandmother “Windy,” who was part of the original crew and said to have played a tune called “Wind Will Rove” on a spacewalk. In the course of explaining why that can’t be true, Rosie reveals that she plays her grandmother’s fiddle, that a fiddler usually re-tunes the instrument to play this song, and that she doesn’t know what wind is:
“I’d never felt one myself, unless you counted air pushed through vents, or the fan on a treadmill….I looked up ‘wind’ and read about breezes and gales and siroccos, about haboobs and zephyrs. Great word, words to turn over in my mouth, words that spoke to nothing in my experience.”

An excerpt from the ship’s log tells us that a fiddler came up with this tune in 1974:
“trying to remember a traditional tune he had heard as a boy in Nova Scotia, believed to be ‘Windy Grove.’ No recordings of the original ‘Windy Grove’ were ever catalogued, on ship or on Earth. ‘Wind Will Rove’ is treated as traditional in most circles, even though it’s relatively recent, because it is the lost tune’s closest known relative.”

Rosie is a history teacher on board the ship and a fiddler in her spare time, so she is at the center of the action when one of her students starts a protest against having to learn Earth’s history, saying “it’s a waste of everybody’s time” and the entry about the tune “Wind Will Rove” goes missing from the ship’s database one night. We learn about an event on the ship called the Blackout, when all the music, literature, film, games, art, and history were erased from the ship’s data banks by a man whose last name was Brooks, and whose name then became a slang term:
“He spent years afterward listening to people say they had brooked exams and brooked relationships. I suppose it didn’t help that he had such a good name to lend. Old English, Dutch, German. A hard word for a lively stream of water. We have no use for it as a noun now; no brooks here. His shipmates still remembered brooks, though they’d never see one again. There was a verb form already, unrelated, but it had fallen from use. His contemporaries verbed him afresh.”

Rosie’s daughter Natalie plays fiddle in a band that doesn’t record their music “and they requested that nobody else record it either. A person would have to be there to experience it.” At one of their concerts Rosie hears her daughter playing what she thinks is “Wind Will Rove” as “a countermelody to something else entirely, the rhythm swung but the key unchanged.”

We learn that Rosie’s mother, an actress, left her family when Rosie was sixteen to join a cult on “Fourteen Deck” because she wanted “new things to act in. Productions that speak to who we are now, not who we were on Earth. Art that tells our story.”

By the end of her story, Rosie has learned from her students, along with her daughter and her mother, how to turn “Wind Will Rove” into a tune that shows, as she says “what living history means to me.” In front of her class, she
“played them all. All the known variations, all the ones that weren’t lost to time. I rested the fiddle and sang Howie McCabe’s faulty snippet of ‘Windy Grove’ from the recreation of his historical interview and Will E. Womack’s ‘Wind Will Roam.’ I recited the history in between: ‘Windy Grove’ and ‘Wendigo’ and ‘When I Go.’ Lifted the fiddle to my chin again and closed my eyes. ‘Wind Will Rove’: three times through in its traditional form, three times through with my own alterations….I tried to make the song sound like something more than wind. What did any of us know of wind? Nothing but words on a screen. I willed our entire ship into the new song I created.”
She calls her new song “We Will Rove.”

I love that the story is about what fiddling might become, in space, and the way it echoes the history of variations on some of the old tunes I’ve been learning, like the reel that’s traditionally known as “Tam Lin” or the “College Hornpipe,” also known as the “Sailor’s Hornpipe” or the theme from the mid-20th century cartoon “Popeye the Sailor Man,” a tune for which my brother and I knew a lot of made-up children’s verses (the first verse was always: “I’m Popeye the sailor man/I live in a garbage can/I eat all the worms/and spit out the germs/I’m Popeye the sailor man”).

I gave the friend who started our local group, Central Ohio Celtic Fiddlers, a copy of this story, and she loved it. You might love it too. I’ll be glad to send you a copy if you ask, or you could subscribe to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine* and get great stories like this one in your own mailbox.

*Note: No one asked me to say anything about this story or how great it is to get a subscription to Asimov’s but I do know the editor of the magazine because her daughter went to college with my daughter.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2017 5:17 am

    I got off on the wrong foot with this post because ‘fiddling’ in the U.K. can also mean ‘cheating’. I had to do some hasty readjustment of what your social priorities were! I think there is nothing better than to get an ongoing bookish present like this. You have a great daughter.

    • October 29, 2017 8:20 am

      I do have a great daughter. And I had no idea about the U.K. meaning of “fiddling!” It does not mean that here, at least that I know about. It’s an old style of playing the violin. Some of the tunes we call “Celtic” are old Scottish tunes, from when the bagpipe was outlawed, so there are a lot of string effects that are supposed to remind the listener of bagpipes.

      • October 29, 2017 8:29 am

        Why were the bagpipes outlawed? I’m not saying I don’t agree with the idea – they really hurt my ears – but no one would ever dare try to do that in the U.K.

        • October 29, 2017 8:37 am

          Well, I looked it up and it turns out that this may be a somewhat apocryphal story that we “know” about in the US–it’s a story about English oppression (probably why you haven’t heard it). This is what wikipedia says: “In 1746, after the forces loyal to the Hanoverian government had defeated the Jacobites in the Battle of Culloden, King George II attempted to assimilate the Highlands into Great Britain by weakening Gaelic culture and the Scottish clan system,[5] though the oft-repeated claim that the Act of Proscription 1746 banned the Highland bagpipes is not substantiated by the text itself, nor by any record of any prosecutions under this act for playing or owning bagpipes.”

  2. November 1, 2017 1:13 pm

    This excerpt:

    “I’d never felt one myself, unless you counted air pushed through vents, or the fan on a treadmill….I looked up ‘wind’ and read about breezes and gales and siroccos, about haboobs and zephyrs. Great word, words to turn over in my mouth, words that spoke to nothing in my experience.”

    Has been in my head since I read your review. I like that about science fiction, that it offers a look into very different worlds. Can you imagine never feeling standard earth gravity? Or eating some of the foods I imagine would be hard to get or keep in space or on another planet?

    • November 1, 2017 9:01 pm

      Yes, I can imagine it because I’ve read so much about it. In fact, I’ve imagined living in a place with less gravity (the moon, for example) every time I’ve gotten up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night for the past year.

  3. November 2, 2017 12:43 pm

    What a wonderful gift from your daughter! The story sounds marvelous. I like generation ship stories very much. It’s not like I had a choice to be born on Earth but to be born on a ship and never feel the wind or see of hear a brook, or any number of other things we take for granted. It’s a hard thing to ask younger generations to deprive themselves of.

    I think your fiddling is so awesome! I cannot play any instrument but I always thought bluegrass fiddle would be really fun. Maybe one day yet I will give it try!

    • November 3, 2017 9:17 am

      I never thought I would learn to fiddle, but it’s even more fun than I thought. I was eased into it by my frustration at not being able to play some things with the symphony and thinking I needed some brushing-up on my skills, so I started taking some lessons with a local violinist. After a year, she and another friend who plays in the symphony and takes lessons sort of eased me into trying a couple of fiddle tunes, and then we formed a group and now we’re trying to get other local violinists interested.

  4. Jenny permalink
    November 2, 2017 5:55 pm

    I loved your telling of this story. I listen pretty exclusively to folk music, and being part of a chain of song like that is usually a feature, not a bug — but of course there are losses too. This window into that is beautiful and interesting.

    • November 3, 2017 9:21 am

      Yes, I love the stories about the chains, of course. My violin teacher is sometimes bemused, I think, by the way I bring her stories about the tunes we play. Tam Lin, of course, and a few others. The one I thought might have a good story but didn’t was a tune called “Crested Hens” which turned out to be fairly recent. Then there was “Neil Gower’s Lament on the Death of His Second Wife” where the title pretty much tells all the story.

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