The Future, Real and Imagined

Explore the future through the lens of science and fiction. Hear interviews with scientist Kelly Weinersmith (Soonish) and science fiction writer Sarah Pinsker (We Are Satellites).

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A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.

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The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics ClubOther music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.

Transcript

Emily Calkins:
You're listening to The Desk Set.

Britta Barrett:
A bookish podcast for reading broadly.

Emily Calkins:
We're your hosts, Emily Calkins.

Britta Barrett:
And Britta Barrett.

Emily Calkins:
And on this episode, we're talking about books about the future. First up, I chat with professor Kelly Weinersmith, who co-wrote the book Soonish, which looks at 10 emerging technologies and the things that might happen if we get them and the things that might stand in the way of those technologies being developed. Then I chatted with science fiction novelist, Sarah Pinsker about her new book, We Are Satellites. And finally Britta and I will have a chat about books about the future, both fiction and nonfiction.

Kelly Weinersmith:
I am an adjunct assistant professor at Rice University. And the main thing that I study is parasites that manipulate the behavior of their host. So parasites that make hosts do things that are bad for the host, but are good for the parasite. And I really love working on parasites, but I also really like having a diversity of topics that I'm thinking about in my life. One of my greatest fears in life is getting bored. So I'm constantly trying to find new things to keep myself busy. But my husband and I decided we were going to write a book and we decided it would be really fun to write about emerging technologies. And we wrote about 10 technologies, what hurdles still need to be overcome for these technologies to become part of our lives and the way these technologies could make our lives much better or perhaps much worse.

Emily Calkins:
The book came out in 2017 and you note in the intro that even as you were writing it, you were having to make changes because there were advances in the technologies that you were writing about as you were putting it together. And I'm wondering if you're keeping track of these technologies still.

Kelly Weinersmith:
Certainly SpaceX has managed to re-land a bunch of their boosters, they're dropping the cost of sending stuff up into space. So that's sort of an exciting advance that's happened since the book came out. Another chapter where advancements were happening pretty rapidly while we were writing was for augmented reality. So I'm guessing most people know what augmented reality is, but just briefly, it's when you have things that are sort of virtual overlaid on top of the real world. So the example that probably everybody knows about now, it's Pokemon GO where the app has a feature where you turn on your camera and it shows you the world. And on top of the world, there's a Pikachu that you can try to catch. You can add nice things like a Pikachu to your life, but you could also imagine using augmented reality to remove things that make you feel uncomfortable.

Kelly Weinersmith:
So for example, if you're walking around a city and there's homeless people and that makes you feel sad, you could block them out with augmented reality and maybe live a happier life, pretending that stuff like that doesn't exist. And that's probably not a great to go about living life because it does exist. And maybe you should feel like you want to do something to try to help with that situation. And then additionally, if you were to send soldiers to war, would they maybe be able to block out the faces of the people that they're attacking and, maybe that would be good in that fewer people would come home with PTSD, but maybe we should be aware of what we're doing so that we can weigh the costs of our actions appropriately. So I think augmented reality when it's used to block things out has maybe some complicated implications.

Emily Calkins:
Some of the potential outcomes are like really amazing and also kind of horrifying. So the one that stood out to me was neuro-cyber-connection.

Kelly Weinersmith:
We were researching brain computer interfaces. And the idea there is that there's a device that's reading the stuff that's going on in your brain and responding in some way. So for example, if you're a paraplegic, maybe you get hooked up to some devices and you have a brain computer interface where when you think "move my arm," the device could move your arm the way that you want it to be moved. So you can imagine that this technology can improve the lives of many, many people. And one of the questions that I asked all of the scientists that I interviewed was, "What is the longterm end game for this technology and how is it going to change all of our lives?" And the answer that I expected for brain computer interfaces was that, "We'll be able to give mobility to people who have lost their mobility or were born without it."

Kelly Weinersmith:
And I expected sort of a medical answer, but one of the answers that I got from Dr. Gerwin Schalk was that we could use these devices to connect our brains together so we can share all of our thoughts and ideas all the time. And that sounds awful to me. I don't want that. I think that part of why society functions so well is that there is a filter between the things that we think and the words that we say, or at least there's the opportunity for you to filter your thoughts before saying them, not everybody does, but it was funny because I thought that this guy was maybe going to be the only guy who gave that answer.

Kelly Weinersmith:
So I asked a bunch of other people and I expected, well, maybe this is just like the quirky guy in the field who has sort of like this offbeat idea. But most of the people that I talked to were like, "Yeah, probably we're going to end up going in that direction. Yes. We're going to do all the nice medical stuff we talked about, but, yeah, we probably will end up there one day," and I was like, "We should stop funding these people."

Emily Calkins:
So one of the things that's really clear in the book is that the technologies and the work that goes into developing them - they don't exist independent of the scientists who work on them. The technologies are shaped by these real people. Some of whom are quite quirky.

Kelly Weinersmith:
I remember, and this was still about brain computer interfaces is that there was a guy whose name, who I think his last name was Kennedy who studied brain computer interfaces and he was using it to study, I think it's called locked-in syndrome where people are still alert and they're having thoughts, but they can't really move their body. So it's almost like they're a fully functioning brain trapped inside a non-functioning body. So he was trying to use brain computer interfaces to communicate with people to give them richer lives. And for whatever reason, he ended up not being able to get funding or support for his research anymore. But he had a device that he thought was promising. So he decided, "I'm going to implant it in myself." And you can't legally do that in the United States.

Kelly Weinersmith:
So he went to some other country and he got implanted and he comes back and it's working for a little while and then it gets infected. And he knew that this was a possibility, but he starts having some problems. I think for a while he was having a little trouble with his speech and he ends up needing to get the device removed. You end up with these people who totally believe in the technologies that they're making and are totally invested. And in particular, the brain computer interface community is really into what they're doing and really passionate about it, which is awesome. It makes them so much fun to talk to and their passion is really improving the lives of a lot of people right now. But sometimes it gets into weird territory. And this guy, Kennedy, I think is a good example of a quirky personality that we came across while doing this research.

Emily Calkins:
I was thinking about asteroid mining, which is one of the other topics that you cover in the book. And I don't think that I've ever seen this included in science fiction, but you sort of mentioned in the book that one of the ways that we might harness asteroids is literally to harness that, literally to catch them in a net and then we could throw them at stuff, which is not great, potentially not great. I think it's kind of fascinating that I haven't ever seen that included in science fiction because it seems... Like if you're going to be writing about space battles, you might as well include people throwing asteroids at each other.

Kelly Weinersmith:
Yeah, huge missed opportunity there. You could choose if you're angry to fling asteroids, but you could also just not be good at your job and bring an asteroid too close to earth. So there are these proposals to go capture an asteroid, bring it close to earth and then do research on it and maybe mine it and see what's in there. But I guess you just have to hope that you understand things well enough that you don't get it so close that it ends up getting sucked in by Earth's gravity. And then you get to dinosaur level extinction events that would be bad. So Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress uses big rocks falling at Earth, but they're not asteroids. But it's a missed opportunity. Someone should write about that.

Emily Calkins:
You mentioned earlier that you co-wrote the book with your husband and I'm wondering what that collaboration is like/how you work with your partner without driving each other nuts.

Kelly Weinersmith:
It takes some practice and it takes two people who probably have more confidence than they ought to have because when your partner is critiquing the writing or you're disagreeing about what's interesting and what's important, it's important to not get your feelings hurt because it's just sort of part of the process that needs to happen. So my husband and I have enjoyed working on projects for a while. For a while, we did a sketch comedy troupe with some other people. And we worked pretty closely on that. And then we had a podcast called the Weekly Weinersmith and that was really fun. And then we had kids, our greatest collaboration, and our kids were too loud for us to do podcasting anymore. So we had sort of been casting about for a new project to work on together when my husband got approached by an agent who said, "Would you like to write a book? If so, I'll help you find a publisher."

Kelly Weinersmith:
So we decided that writing together would be a fun thing to try. So the way we'd split it up is that for each of the topics, one of us would be assigned the job of doing the primary initial research. So we'd get a bunch of textbooks, we'd get a bunch of scientific articles and one of us would go through and read all of that while taking careful notes and then draft out a chapter that summarized everything and then we'd send it to the other one and they would decide, does this even make sense? Have you explained fusion clearly? So one of the problems with researching something is that initially it seems very confusing.

Kelly Weinersmith:
And then after you've been researching it for six months, it doesn't seem confusing anymore and you somehow forget what made it confusing in the first place. So having someone to remind you that like, "No, this is a complicated topic," is important. So we kept one person's brain kind of free and clear to do that read. And then I would go through and do interviews for each chapter and then we'd go and we'd do another round of editing. And then my husband is a very funny guy, so he would go through and add anecdotes, and add jokes, and he'd also add comics and then we'd send it out to experts to see if anyone could catch errors or ways we had not explained things quite correctly. And then we sent it to friends of ours who do not study those things so that they could be our sort of lay readers to tell us, again, are we explaining it clearly?

Kelly Weinersmith:
And that's pretty much how the collaboration went. It's a little different than how we're doing things this time, but it worked pretty well. And we would go on a walk every night and talk about what we had learned and try to get each other on the same page about things and discuss how to organize the book. So it was like a lot of dates that were completely about book organization, which isn't for everyone, but worked fine for us. Yeah, so it's great having a collaborator that you live with when you're writing about things that you both enjoy.

Emily Calkins:
One of my other questions was going to be about the process of distilling this really technical information into something that is accessible for lay readers. So thank you for speaking to that as well. You mentioned that you sent it out to experts and I'm wondering what the experts take on the tone is because the book is very silly and irreverent in a lot of ways, which makes it fun to read for someone who's not an expert in asteroid mining, or space elevators or whatever.

Kelly Weinersmith:
There was a fair bit of variability in opinions on that. So I think it was the asteroid mining chapter, we interviewed a Dr. Martin Elvis and we couldn't help ourselves. We made a bunch of jokes about how his name is Dr. Elvis. We drew him like he was Elvis and we thought we were really quite clever. And then I sent it to another expert on asteroid mining. And that guy was like, "Oh my gosh, this Elvis joke is ridiculous." And he was not at all impressed. On the other hand, Dr. Martin Elvis is now a friend of ours because I don't know if he thought it was funny or not, but he enjoyed the chapter and we had a good time. And one of the perks of writing a book like this and getting to meet lots of interesting people is that sometimes they stay in your life and you get to have fascinating conversations after you've written the book.

Kelly Weinersmith:
But yeah, so some people thought it was great. Some people accepted that they write technical stuff and humor is sort of a different way of connecting with audiences and they don't really need to like it. It's just different and that's fine. And then other people, I think, were not big fans. But when you write a book it's never going to be for everyone. And what we really wanted them to tell us was are the facts right or not? And for the most part, I think most of the experts had nice things to say, but not all of them.

Emily Calkins:
Can you talk a little bit more about the book you're working on now?

Kelly Weinersmith:
Sure. So the book that we're working on now, so when we were reading about asteroid mining and cheap access to space, we got really excited about space law, which - it's still, when I say, "I talked to a space lawyer the other day," that still seems like a job out of a Heinlein novel and not a real job that exists yet. But there are space lawyers and we became interested in, so for example, there's an outer space treaty that came out through the United Nations that says that, "Nobody can appropriate things or claim sovereignty of things in space." So you can't land on the moon and say, "This patch is mine and I'm putting a settlement here." That violates international law. But we're now at a point where people are talking about wanting to go out and settle space or people want to go out and mine the moon for various resources.

Kelly Weinersmith:
So now we're in this legal gray area where you're definitely not allowed to go out there and say, "This is mine," but can you go out there and say, "So this patch isn't mine, but I'm going to mine it for resources and then sell those resources, but I'm never claiming that I own this patch, but I'm still going to sell the resources from it." And that is, I guess, weirdly, a legal gray area.

Kelly Weinersmith:
And some countries interpret that that's okay. So the United States had 2015 Space Competitiveness Act, I think is what it was called, where they were like, "It's okay for our companies to go out there and do work. We're not saying they're claiming sovereignty, but they can go out there and do the stuff that they want to do." So the international community, some people were not super comfortable with that, but nothing really ended up happening that was an extreme pushback.

Kelly Weinersmith:
So it looks like the world is moving forward with that interpretation. So Zach and I just sort of became fascinated in thinking about, "Well, like what is allowed out there? How does law have to change so that we could have settlements? And additionally, what is it going to be like when we live out there?" So there's no gravity, what does that do to our bones? There's a lot of radiation. What does that do to our brain or to our cancer risk?" So the book is sort of about what will our habitats look like? What might happen to our bodies, or what might we need to do to protect our bodies in space? Are there psychological problems when you're living in isolated and confined environments?

Kelly Weinersmith:
And we sort of go through the initial settlement stages all the way out to questions like, "Will we be able to have sustained populations where families have children and those children have children? Is that a thing that's possible in a high radiation, low gravity environment? And what might governance look like and what might the future of war in space look like if you have a settlement on Mars, for example, that's not happy with what's happening on Earth?" So we're talking about space settlements from the biology all the way up to government and war questions.

Emily Calkins:
I feel like that carries some of the same threads through not just in terms of the topic, but also it doesn't ignore sort of the ethical questions.

Kelly Weinersmith:
We were reading about these 10 technologies, we really wanted all of those technologies to work out because they sound awesome to us. But we are also nervous people who want to make sure that things don't go poorly. And we really feel like for a lot of these things, what's important is starting to have conversations way ahead of time so that you can steer the direction of these things and be at least aware and plan for the way things could go really poorly.

Emily Calkins:
So you mentioned that you have kids and I have two little kids too, and I'm wondering which of the technologies in the book, it sounds like definitely space sort of in general, but if there are others that we should be most excited or concerned about and our kids' lifetimes.

Kelly Weinersmith:
Oh, interesting. We didn't talk about self-driving cars, but I'm really hoping that that pans out before my kids are old enough to drive. Yeah, I think a lot of the technologies would make our lives neat. It would be really cool if robots were building more customized houses, which is sort of a chapter that we talk about. So as a parent who can reasonably expect that her children will be able to afford housing, I feel like a lot of these technologies are more exciting in terms of the hope that everybody will have higher standards of living. So the idea with these robot made houses is that it'll hopefully bring down the price of really nice housing and a lot more people will be able to get really nice housing.

Kelly Weinersmith:
So I'd like my kids to live in a world where there's more equality. So for some of these technologies, I'm excited... So like fusion, for example, if fusion works out, the hope is that you'll end up with an energy source that is hopefully not super expensive, but is producing a lot less greenhouse gases. So maybe that could mitigate the oncoming effects of global climate change. And I'd like my kids to live in a world where they don't have to worry about that. So I guess probably out of the 10 technologies in the book, I would hope that fusion would come along because it seems like we really need a nice solution to ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that might be the way to do it

Emily Calkins:
So the last question that we always ask people is, what are you reading now?

Kelly Weinersmith:
I am reading Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers, two brothers who wrote science fiction. They were both from the Soviet Union, I believe. And this book is just about life in this area where alien technology has come down and they're interacting with it. And I'm only like an hour into it, although I'm reading it for the second time, I'm really into Russian literature right now. And I read Monday Starts on Saturday is another book that they wrote, which is just sort of a fun, nonsense book about this ministry of people who are studying weird, out there things. And anyway, the Strugatsky brothers write really great science fiction.

Emily Calkins:
Well, thank you again for taking some time to chat with me today. It was really great to talk to you. It's fascinating stuff.

Kelly Weinersmith:
Yeah. Thank you so much for inviting me. It was really fun chatting with you and Zach and I love libraries so much, so it's great to be able to be on your podcast. And I appreciate that you wanted to read and talk about our books. So thank you very much.

Sarah Pinsker:
My name is Sarah Pinsker. I am a writer of mostly science fiction and fantasy and mostly short stories and novels.

Emily Calkins:
So your new book is called We Are Satellites and it's about a lot of things, but it's sort of about brain chips. What inspired you to write a novel about brain implants?

Sarah Pinsker:
So I had day job where I worked with people with epilepsy. And one of the things that I did was I went to neurology and epilepsy symposiums and listened to doctors. And there was this doctor who talked about an implant that had been in the process of being developed for epilepsy, but it turned out not to have a good epilepsy use. So it was being used for something else. And I started thinking about how frustrating it would be if you have a type of epilepsy and you're waiting and waiting for this thing that might work, and then they decide it's not going to be for you after all. And I went from there to, but at least if it was going to another medical condition then you can say, "Well, at least it's helping someone." And what would you feel like if then they said, "Well, actually there's no medical application, but we have this great commercial application." How frustrated would you be if they develop something that completely excluded you that had been initially started to help you and everything sprung from there.

Emily Calkins:
So the world of the novel is very similar to our own. And one of the things that I appreciated about it is the technology doesn't in a lot of ways seem that far-fetched. Can you talk a little bit more about the research that you did after you had the initial idea? How did you go about researching what might be possible?

Sarah Pinsker:
Yeah. So I did have all these brain doctors at my disposal. So I talked to a few of them about what I could do with a brain implant. And there's a blue light that I wanted as sort of a status indicator so that the company would be able to, it would sort of be an advertisement for the company that anyone who had this blue light on their head. And it turned out that the exact like blue light that I was picturing, like right at someone's temple was actually at the right spot for a fairly convenient place that the doctors I was talking to said that I could put it. And then I did a lot of research about medical devices, which I had also thought would be a limiting factor, but it turned out to be quite an eye opener on the differences between how medical devices get to the market versus medications. And it turned that it was a really ripe place as well for telling the story because there was a lot more leeway than I expected with medical devices. It's the wild west.

Emily Calkins:
So sort of related to that, the novel is a pretty damning portrait of corporate greed and the way that corporations prioritize profit over everything else, including safety. So there are tons of examples of this in the real world, but I'm wondering if there's anything specific that inspired that element of the story.

Sarah Pinsker:
Nothing super specific, but we do see it everywhere. Most of the big tech companies in theory have ethics officers, but the question is how much do they listen to them? If you pay the money to develop something, will you listen if people say "stop"? And I think, I think you could point to just about any aspect of technology right now and ask that question. Elon Musk wants to put things in our brains right now. So which of these things do we actually say no to?

Emily Calkins:
The novel is very much about technology and corporations and all of that but it's also really about this family and family dynamics and the way that different family members respond to the technology. So there's this family at the center of the novel it's moms Val and Julie and they have two kids, David and Sophie. And I'm wondering what made you interested in exploring familial relationships in a sci-fi novel?

Sarah Pinsker:
So I think you could take this idea of this technology and you can write the tech thriller, or you could write the medical thriller, or you could write the political thriller, or you could write the murder mystery. There are all these things you could write, but at the end of the day, the stories that I like writing and that capture my interest at novel length are the stories that have to do with family dynamics, just people living their lives and having to deal with something. I'm not into the chosen one narrative and the person who saves the day. I just want to know how people are coping with this and how it changes their lives.

Emily Calkins:
So I want to pivot a little bit and talk about your first novel, A Song for a New Day. It's set in a future where large gatherings like concerts have been banned because of violence and disease. So all human connection is happening virtually, which sounds disquietingly similar to our present day. And I'm wondering just like what it's been like for you living through the last year, having spent so much time creating a fictional world that was dealing with some of the same sort of restrictions.

Sarah Pinsker:
The funny thing, given the timelines of when you do all of this stuff, when you finish a book you let it go and then you're done with that world. And then it kind of comes back to you a little more when the book comes out and you do interviews and you do readings. So then you get to be in that world again and then sort of let it go again. And this was like a boomerang or a basketball that kept bouncing back into my face. It was a world that you have to inhabit it while you're writing it. And I was ready to not be in it because it was a very disquieting place to live. So I was ready to move on and then it kept coming back and it became the reality that we've lived for the last year is remarkably similar to that book, but also to a middle of the book that I didn't quite write, because my book is more concerned with the before and the after.

Sarah Pinsker:
So living through the part that I didn't write I felt was kind of my punishment. And it's a music-oriented book. The two main characters are musician who started out in the before and remembers before and after. And then a young woman who's grown up in this after where the restrictions and the lockdowns didn't end and the danger did end but the lockdown didn't, "for your own safety," I say in quotes. So she's never known anything else. It's been interesting as the thing extends, but also just because I told it from a musician's point of view and a music fan's point of view, I think it's resonated a lot with people because music is one of the big capitals, things we can't have right now, live music that is. So it's resonated a lot with the people who are missing live music and the people who make live music.

Emily Calkins:
So you've written about a pandemic future, and a brain chip future. And I'm wondering what you're working on now, or what you're going to write about next.

Sarah Pinsker:
So my dirty secret is during this pandemic I have not been able to write a single future-set story. I cannot do near future right now. So the novel that I'm working on right now, which I had been planning in any case to be my next novel is contemporary and historical. I had to turn back, but I was going to in any case. So I can't say it's entirely the fault of the pandemic, but in my short fiction, I also haven't written any near future this whole year.

Emily Calkins:
So this interview is going to be part of an episode about books about the future. That's one of the themes for our reading challenge this year. So I'm wondering if you could share some of your favorite books about the future, whether they're fictional or nonfiction.

Sarah Pinsker:
Sure. And helpfully, I'm sitting in front of my bookshelves. The Future of Another Timeline is a really good one, Autonomous by Annalee Newitz also. Charlie Jane Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night. Cadwell Turnbull's The Lesson, Blackfish City by Sam Miller. LeGuin. If we're talking older books, LeGuin's science fiction, Ann Leckie science fiction, those are in the more distant futures, I guess, as opposed to the near futures.

Emily Calkins:
Those are all great recommendations. So we'll put them in a list in the show notes. Thank you for sharing those.

Sarah Pinsker:
You as well. Thank you so much. Those were great questions.

Emily Calkins:
I think historically people have understood science fiction and fantasy to be two different things. Like fantasy kind of has magic and science fiction is based in some kind of scientific reality. And there's a famous quote about how there's a point at which science becomes magical to people because you don't understand, the lay person doesn't understand the difference or doesn't understand how super advanced technology works so it feels like magic. Often science fiction and fantasy now are lumped together in a genre that people call speculative fiction. That's sort of about like things that are not happening in our current world, but maybe could happen in some other world or in our future.

Britta Barrett:
I feel like there's a generation of people who grew up on science fiction and then brought that to life. When I think about cell phones, the earliest models were totally designed after the Star Trek communicator. You can now drink a meal replacement called Soylent, which is gratefully less ghoulish than its fictional counterpart. There are people like Elon Musk who has a company that makes flamethrowers. And like when he launched the Tesla Roadster into space as a dummy payload for SpaceX, included Isaac Asimov's foundation trilogy, I believe and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in there, just in case aliens found it, "This is us. This is what we made. This is important." That science fiction has just such a strong role in shaping our future. It's like that mantra, you can't be what you can't see, but also for the entire civilization.

Emily Calkins:
When I talked to Kelly Weinersmith about Soonish, one of the things that was really clear to me in it was how much the evolution of technology is shaped by individual scientists and whatever thing they're interested in. And of course, it's also influenced by this broader ecosystem, but I think you're right, that there are so many people who get interested in science and science fiction as kids. And then it kind of puts these ideas in their mind about the kinds of questions that they want to ask and the kinds of problems that they want to solve.

Britta Barrett:
So one of those technologies that existed in science fiction that's now becoming a reality that you talked about in your interview with Kelly was neuro-cyber-connection. And that's really interestingly explored in a book called Made for Love by Alissa Nutting. It was recently adopted as a limited series for HBO Max and describing the premise, I'm going to give away some light spoiler. So just a heads up in case you want to go in completely blind to reading or watching it. Essentially it's about a young woman who is partner to a tech billionaire who decides that he wants to mind-meld with her.

Britta Barrett:
And he ends up doing this against her will and installing a chip that allows him to see through her eyes. And when she realizes what he's done, she decides that she cannot abide by this relationship anymore. She tries to escape which turns out to be really difficult when your partner is someone who owns all of these technologies and can track you everywhere. And it's an absolutely wild ride of the story that also explores these really interesting issues around consent, and privacy, and surveillance, and totally recommend that one. Are there any recent sci-fi books that you would suggest?

Emily Calkins:
Did you read The Resisters by Gish Jen?

Britta Barrett:
No.

Emily Calkins:
Okay. So this is a novel that came out, I think it came out in 2019 and it's set in what used to be the United States and is now called AutoAmerica. So one of the hallmarks of this book is that everything has these kind of weird, cutesy names, which on one hand, you're like, "Well, that's really silly." There's like an anti-immigration policy that's called Ship'EmBack and that kind of stuff, which on one hand feels silly. But then when you think about how much of our social interaction has been commodified into the platforms that we use to do it, like, "Oh, we're going to Zoom." We're already kind of doing that. But anyway, so in The Resisters, society's been divided into the haves and the have-nots and the have-nots are referred to as the Surplus, unsurprisingly mostly Black and Brown people and they live on land that's slowly disappearing underwater as climate change accelerates.

Emily Calkins:
So the story is about a Surplus family. So it's a mom who's a lawyer, the dad is a former professor, no longer working, and they have a daughter named Gwen. And Gwen turns out to be an incredible pitcher. So they start this underground baseball league and she's basically discovered by the haves who are called the Netted and then the Olympics are reinstated and as a matter of national pride, AutoAmerica is assembling a baseball team. So Gwen is recruited for this team and it's maybe an opportunity for her family to have entry into the other side of society. And it looks at like, what does that really mean for them? What would they gain? What are they giving up?

Emily Calkins:
But one of the things that I really loved about this novel is that even though on one hand it feels like so over the top, it's also very discomfiting because it's not hard to see how each piece of the world that Jen has built is extrapolated from our contemporary society. So it feels like this really kind of sharp satire, but it also has really great characters, which is, I can't read a novel if I can't get interested in the characters.

Emily Calkins:
So it has this great family story and also this satirical future world that's in some ways probably not realistic at all, but also is directly tied to troubling trends, or existing social inequities, or that kind of thing. One of the reasons I struggle with non-fiction is because it can be really intellectually engaging, but I need something that's emotionally engaging as well for me to really stick with a book in order to actually finish it. And I think that's what fiction is good at. Right? One of the things that fiction can do really well is make you care about people and the way that their lives are being impacted by technology.

Britta Barrett:
And I think the non-fiction I'm attracted to can do that too. The kind that I like to read is often memoir or a blend of memoir essay writing. And even when it does discuss technology, thinking about books like Algorithms of Oppression, or Invisible Women, they're telling the story of how data collection impacts personal lives and the human element behind that. And it may seem like a kind of odd choice for a book about the future, but I'm also going to shout out Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, who's one of my absolute favorite writers. Something that came up in your conversations was this idea of the world we're leaving behind for children and youth, and how important that is to you and other authors who are parents. Even as a child-free person, I'm super interested in being a good ancestor.

Britta Barrett:
And I think there's a lot of both fiction and nonfiction that can teach us something about that. But I wanted to share this quote from Hope in the Dark that is super emotionally resonant for me, "Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think that everything will be fine without our involvement and pessimists adopt the opposite position and both excuse themselves from acting. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and what it may happen, who and what it may impact are not things we can know beforehand. We may not in fact know them afterwards either, but they matter all the same. And history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone." All right. And on that note, thanks for listening.

Emily Calkins:
If you read a great book about the future, we want to hear what it is.

Britta Barrett:
You can tag us on Instagram or Facebook.

Emily Calkins:
You can email us at deskset@kcls.org.

Britta Barrett:
And depending on exactly when this comes out and when you hear it, it may be Summer Reading season.

Emily Calkins:
Visit kcls.org/summer to learn about our summer reading challenge and how you can be entered into a drawing to win a gift certificate to a local bookstore. Happy reading.