(2021) Sarah Pinsker, Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, 384pp, ISBN 978-1-800-24388-0
Life is changing and humans are changing, evolving, improving, thanks to a new brain implant called the Pilot, which everyone is getting. Don’t get it, and you are left behind. Don’t get it, and you are left out, excluded, not one of a rapidly growing crowd. That’s the dilemma facing a modern family when one of the children, David, asks for the Pilot to be implanted into his brain so he can keep up with his studies. What to do, do you go with the flow, or do you make a stand because of your own experiences, your own prejudices, and what if you should make a stand for another reason completely, that you think there is a sinister reason behind these implants and their roll out?
Balkenhol Neural Labs have developed the Pilot, which when installed in the user’s brain allows them to multitask at an advanced levels – no standing with a hoover in one hand while you read a book in the other hand, this is true multi-tasking, the ability to divide your attention into different areas, ideal for studying, ideal for the workplace. Pinsker presents us with an average American family in an average American town in the near-future where the children – David and Sophie – are almost a reflection of their parents – Julie and Val – in that one adult and one child is ruled by their head, while the other parent and child is ruled by their heart. David is a trier, but he just hasn’t got it, and he feels he is falling further behind his implanted peers, and after he gets the implant, Julie follows, because she works in politics, and that’s what you have to do to keep ahead of the game. All of this gives rise to increasing tension within the household, especially when Sophie takes a clear anti-implant stance, perhaps fueled by the fact that because she suffers from epilepsy, she can never have the implant.
Pinsker delivers her story over 70 chapters and an epilogue, homing in on the minutiae of family life and the differences between the four major characters by telling the tale through their multiple viewpoints over the years with the children possibly offering the most compelling narrative from the viewpoint of the epileptic, rebellious, Sophie, to the very different perspective views and thought-processes of David, post-implant. Poor David, poor because his Pilot seems to be faulty and he can’t stop the noise going on inside his head. Even the tasks he wants to concentrate on have sub-tasks, he is stuck in Hyperfocus but doesn’t want to have his Pilot taken away, even though he struggles under its influence and struggles to convey the problems he has because of it.
The years pass, society changes, the family changes. David joins the military and then the company who developed the Pilot, Sophie’s stance becomes more extreme. Tensions rise, a crisis looms, and the plot really takes off, and all the while Pinsker weaves the family bonds between the four major characters with wider societal concerns about the use of technology, the divisions in society it creates, where disabled people fit in, and where the non-Piloted fit in. Secrecy, privacy, concerns about what is truth and what is real, about addiction and loss of control, but it all comes back to individuals and their family bonds and how technology impacts on their lives, when there is no escape from its effects, especially when the technology is inside you.
We Are Satellites is a very timely book as we already have implants that can help people with disabilities and memory-loss, so the Pilot implant seems a natural step forward, but also, we have CoVID-19 and a debate about vaccines and what is being injected into us – things that can track us, things that can change us. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pinsker’s novel adapted by a streaming service soon. Recommended.
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