Books

‘We Are Satellites’ by Sarah Pinsker: A Book Review

Most of us worry about the technology we use. Whether it’s good for us; whether it’s good for our children. We all wonder where things might lead. At what point will we be left behind? When will there be a tech-step too far? All these questions are examined in We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker. 

What is We are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker?

We are Satellites is set in a small city in North America. Not a huge amount happens there, but it’s the home of a brand new technology enterprise called Balkenhol Neural Labs. They invent the “Pilot,” a neural implant that helps you concentrate on multiple tasks at once. Essentially, dormant areas of your brain can be working on a different problem, whilst you’re having a conversation or driving to work. Pilots increase productivity and they make you better at school. You can be studying for your exams 24/7. 

With this in mind, what parent wouldn’t want their child to have one? David wants one. As more and more children in his class come to school with their Pilots, he feels himself to be disadvantaged. This opens up something of a family split. His mum, Julie, wants one of her own; she is a political advisor and she can feel the need to have a Pilot installed to stay on top of the game. His other mum, Val, is less sure. The technology is in its infancy. Barely been tested. Then there is David’s sister Sophie; prone to seizures, she’ll never be able to have a Pilot. How will she fare in a society without the latest technological advantage?

Why Read We are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker?

I like reading “social media gone mad” novels, which, whilst coming from a different angle, I would count We are Satellites as one. It examines a technological innovation that claims to revolutionize the way we live. One which there is a huge peer-pressure to obtain (Pilot wearers have a little blue light on their temple, so they’re easy to spot). The novel taps into a worry we have as parents; the continual balance of too much social media vs ostracising our kids from their peers by not allowing them enough social media.

Lurking throughout the novel is also the specter of large tech corporations and accountability, as well as the military applications of technological enhancements. After leaving school, David joins the military, where “Piloted” soldiers are sought-after, thanks to their ability to process information and predict likely behaviors. We are Satellites examines the political clout of large tech companies. The jobs that Balkenhol will bring to Sophie and David’s hometown are not insignificant. This gives the company lots of political leverage. It’s not dissimilar to the political ramifications of upsetting Facebook or Google. 

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I was taken by surprise in this novel. It’s not so much about tech gone wrong, but more an examination of the way in which technology can fracture human real-life relationships. In We are Satellites people who love each other keeps secrets from each other, largely because of the way they are (or aren’t) interacting with the technology in the book. These secrets cause misunderstandings and drive wedges between members of a loving family. The novel is about the perils of letting our technology define us. How the use of  Instagram  Pilots causes us to misunderstand others around us; to misconceive how their lives may be going. How social media and technology enable us to project lies about ourselves. 

Yet, of course, social media and Pilots aren’t all evil. They do bring the benefits they’re advertised to bring. What We are Satellites asks is, what costs do these benefits come at, and are they worth paying?

We are Satellites is a slow-burning novel. Do not expect a tech-thriller that grips from page to page, as you’re most definitely be disappointed. It took me a while to reappraise what Sarah Pinsker was trying to do with her novel, but I’m very glad I stuck with it. This is a book about technology with a very human core. It’s a quietly compelling novel that will leave you looking at your relationship with technology with a fresh pair of eyes (but not bionic ones). 

If you like to pick up a copy of We Are Satellites, you can do so here, in the US, and here, in the UK

If you enjoyed this post, do check out my other book reviews.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review. 

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This post was last modified on July 18, 2021 9:41 pm

Robin Brooks

Dad of boys, player of games, and reader of books. GeekDad and one half of Agents of Sigmar. Prone to starting things I can't fin

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