In We Are Satellites, the sole science fictional element is a device called a Pilot, which has a blue glowing light and is implanted in a person’s head to supposedly optimize their awareness and productivity. The story is told in the alternating viewpoints of a four-member family: two mothers, a son, and a daughter. One of the mothers gets a Pilot and one doesn’t. The son gets one and then joins the military and later becomes a poster boy for the Pilot manufacturer. The daughter, due to her epilepsy, is unable to get one and joins an anti-Pilot movement. What we as readers learn about the public’s reactions to the Pilot program is all through the thoughts and activities of these four people.
At first I thought that Pinkster was going to get into the generic evil corporation trying to take over the world story, but her focus is more subdued – which strengthens the narrative. The corporation is doing evil things to make a profit, yes, but not much more than many corporations nowadays that create a pseudo-need and then convince consumers that they have got to have the new device. When I first started reading I supposed that it would turn out that the Pilots were only a prelude to government mind control. I had recently been reading the Book of Revelation in the Bible as research for a novelette I was writing. In chapter thirteen it talks about the mark of the beast on the forehead that the Antichrist would force on everyone. I thought that’s the direction that Pinkster’s story was going to take. When it didn’t, I was relieved; there are too many stories like that out there already.
The power of this novel is in the fragility and vulnerability of its characters. Sometimes the blatant mistakes they make are annoying: for instance, one of the mothers starts shouting at a military recruiter during a school event and as a result loses her teaching job; the daughter steals something important from her brother; the other mother lies to her family to cover up some mistakes. But then, even the best of families are sometimes dysfunctional; it is not perfection that unites them but acknowledgment of mistakes, repentance, and forgiveness.
This novel is a welcome relief from louder, brasher science fictional fare by writers who feel there have to be battles and explosions every few pages or readers might lose interest. Despite the technological gimmick at its core, it is a story about humans and their relationships with one another. Something like the Pilots posited in this tale could be introduced anytime in our real world, and even now there is technology we have to cope with that is every bit as intrusive. We are confronted with innovation every day, and we are continually forced to make decisions as to how we will react to it all. This novel reminds us that our relationships with those we love are what give us strength and meaning, not the profusion of gadgets by which we are surrounded.