Review: We Are Satellites

Sarah Pinsker, having picked up a Nebula Award and Philip K. Dick Award for her previous works, returns with We Are Satellites, a family driven novel with flavours of Black Mirror. Parents Val and Julie question what’s best for their children when their teenage son David turns up from school begging for a ‘Pilot’– a new brain implant that that enhances the brain’s ability to multi-task. Everybody’s getting them he says. The book tracks the rise and spread of Pilots across the population, as Val and her youngest Sophie hold fast to their belief that nothing good will come from the implants. It turns out that they may be right.

The beauty of science fiction is how it can deploy the unknown and the “impossible” as subject matter that interrogates core human conflicts that are common to readers. We Are Satellites is one such novel. The advent of Pilots and their sweep across the nation echoes that of any technology we know today such as smartphones and tablets. The book asks whether we sacrifice some of our humanity in exchange for the advanced technology that makes our everyday lives so much easier. Do we become more distracted and more detached from each other when using these devices that seek to connect us?

With a Pilot implant, people can read articles, listen to podcasts and hold conversations all at once. But not everyone experiences these benefits the same way, causing protest organisations to rise against the corporate giant who produced the technology. We live in something of a tech war in our own world, or at least edge towards one, so this plot, in which Sophie is centralised, feels very real.

We Are Satellites focuses on an endearing family whose relationships are strained to breaking point as they fall on different sides of the Pilot battle. It deals with the challenges of parenting, military PTSD, epilepsy and other sensitively played issues. Through all of them, the core connection of this family is a love that feels true and authentic, from Val and Julie’s marriage to David and Sophie’s changing sibling dynamic and their complex relationships with each mother. Yet, technology threatens to fracture the family.

One of the most beguiling things about the book is how Pinsker effortlessly dances between the four character perspectives; Val, Julie, David and Sophie. As the book spans several years, Pinsker writes David and Sophie’s narratives from childhood to young adulthood, and she does so very convincingly.

Pinsker asks urgent and daring questions in We Are Satellites relating to where technology may take us and how far it can go. In true Black Mirror-esque fashion, it leaves you sceptical of your own attachment to your devices. This clearly well-researched novel charts the rise of an entirely new technology, which haunts and unsettles its reader while offering a compelling narrative of the growth of two children into adulthood as their parents struggle to adapt to their changing relationships. It is honest, recognisable and eloquent in its storytelling.

By Rory McNeill