In a dystopian future America, the Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing. Esther has hidden herself away in the Librarian's book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her with the man who was engaged to her best friend—a woman executed for possession of resistance propaganda.
Gailey wears their heart and viewpoint on their sleeve, and Upright Women Wanted is that much better for it. Couched in tart language, hard-bitten imagery, and pulp-Western punch, the novella benefits from its brevity. There's not a word or scene wasted, and the world-building hints at the enormity of America's imagined collapse without overdoing it ... It's a stirring story of resistance, but more importantly, it's an illustration of how personal transformation can be political transformation. Above all, it's a lively, exquisitely crafted, and unrelentingly fun gallop through Gailey's verdant imagination, even if it's caked in a layer of Arizona dust.
There’s queer tragedy here, but it’s never exploitative. The deliberate misunderstanding of 'deviancy' as a capital offense, whether in sexuality, gender or political thought, is not fiction, and though the novel begins with the unjust, state-sanctioned murder of a queer woman and alludes to many more, Gailey lets that injustice read as injustice. They center this narrative on Esther choosing to resist. They give queer women and nonbinary folks agency, letting them be the heroes of their own stories. They reckon with the complexities of 'fighting back,' of violence as resistance, of the weight of killing, even in self-defense. They demonstrate the patriarchy inherent in the tropes of the genre, and they write resistance into it. The short, sharp plot moves swiftly, and Gailey’s biting voice shines in this setting, brimming with wit and alive with joy. Upright Women Wanted weaves the conceits of a Western romp with the fabric of an anti-fascist call to arms, all wrapped in a love letter to queer resistance and community. A love letter to the power of representation, of getting to read about a love and a life like the kind you’ve only dreamt about, and choosing to fight for a world in which you can live without fear.
Through a clever conceit, sparky characters, and sheer force of will, their latest novella expertly tweaks the Western and dystopian genres ... Gailey often touches on the themes of identity and found families in their work, and never has it been more stripped down and authentic. The setting and plot are a little more bare bones than usual, but the tradeoff is a far more in depth exploration of a young woman on the verge of both finding what she’s been missing and losing everything ... Upright Women Wanted is as gritty as a Western, as oppressive as post-apocalyptic, and as idealistic as hopepunk. It’s so well-written, its characters so well-developed, and its world so compelling that it feels longer than it is. As much as I dream of future novellas to expand the series, I am wholly satisfied with just this single entry. It takes a strong, competent hand to be able to tell such a profound story in only 176 pages. Sarah Gailey continues their streak of awesomeness.