Science fiction novelist Sarah Pinsker believes she owes the late Ursula K. Le Guin an apology.
About thirty years ago, Le Guin discussed his essay, “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” during a question-and-answer session with an author in Toronto. A fourteen-year-old Pinsker raised her hand.
“Are we still afraid of dragons or is speculative fiction more accepted?”
“I’m not saying ‘speculative fiction’,” replied Le Guin. “I say science fiction.”
“Well, I don’t! Pinsker snapped.
Pinsker has carried the guilt with her ever since. Fortunately, that didn’t stop her from pursuing her own career as an award-winning songwriter and songwriter. The daughter of a reconstructive rabbi, Pinsker grew up reading science fiction and fantasy. She graduated in history from Goucher College and became the lead singer of “Stalking Horses”, a Baltimore-based rock band.
Pinsker has written articles for Uncanny Magazine and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, including the acclaimed short story, “The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province”. In 2019, her collection of short stories, “Sooner or later, everything falls into the sea” (Small Beer Press, 2019) was awarded by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.
In 2020, Pinsker became the second Jewish woman to receive the Nebula Award for Best Novel by American Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers. “A Song for a New Day” (Berkley Books, 2019) was Pinsker’s first published book after years of writing novels. The heroine is a Jewish musician in a world ravaged by a pandemic, a frightening coincidence considering what real life has in store for us.
“When you write something like that in the near future, you try to do a lot of homework – at least I do – and you try to ask a lot of questions, like, ‘What would happen?’, Explained Pinsker on the phone. The author was sitting in her family’s home in Maryland. “I think I had to ask the right questions and… there have been times when we have had a pandemic very similar to the one I was writing in many ways. But I didn’t particularly want to experience it and hoped not to, but here we are.
Pinsker has undoubtedly done his homework by writing his latest book, “We Are Satellites” (Berkley Books, 2021). “We Are Satellites” follows an all-American family adapting to the latest technological fad: surgically implanted brain chips called “Pilots” that allow the wearer to multitask at an extraordinary rate. Pinsker became interested in the role of technology in treating neurological disorders while working with the Chesapeake Region Epilepsy Foundation. She discovered devices implanted for people with epilepsy that “normalized” brain cells through neuromodulation. After attending various briefings, Pinsker was inspired to start typing the first draft of “We Are Satellites” at a cafe.
“I was scared the whole time life would catch up with this book before I had a chance to write it, which was a very real risk,” Pinsker laughed. “The near future that I write is so close to the present that there is a great [risk of] to be bathed in the real present.
Maybe someone is even designing a real “pilot” right now.
“I know Elon Musk has brain implants on his mind,” Pinsker pointed out. She’s not wrong – the billionaire CEO is currently developing real brain computer chips. Google Glass failed, but there are other things people can do. And these companies have ethics officers, but profit is still their motivation and the question will always arise, “Will they listen to the ethics officer? Will ethics think of everything? And I think that’s where science fiction comes in sometimes – we can ask some of these questions.
Ursula K. Le Guin would certainly agree.
Eve rotman is a writer on the west coast.