Among the many joys of writing is playing with the art of storytelling. Simon Stephenson is clearly an author who gets it, probably from his screenwriting background with Pixar, among other studios. His debut novel Set My Heart to Five incorporates lots of fun ingredients that make the tale of Jared the bot jump out of the pages. Let’s start this book review with a brief introduction to the dystopian plot.
The year is 2054 when emotions gradually disrupt Jared’s normal routine as an android dentist. This awareness of his own feelings drives him to recognise the hatred and fear humans have for bots. And, based on his newly found love for “old” movies, he comes up with a solution: create a film that will endear androids to people. So he sets off for Los Angeles, takes on a human persona, and joins a screenwriting class, but what kind of hero would he be without a whole load of adversity?
This article contains affiliate links. The commission earned from purchases through these links comes at no extra expense to you.
Not only is there a sense of metafiction throughout the text, culminating to a gasp-worthy ending, but also a sort of Schrodinger’s cat effect. Additionally, the narration alternates between first-person prose and screenplay mode, sometimes depicting the same scene from both angles. But Set My Heart to Five is about Jared and mostly unfolds through his eyes and voice. This means that the prose has a distinctive bot charm, from unconventional paragraphs to literal and overly informative expression. This really is a fun novel to explore.
If you remember Bicentennial Man (1999) with Robin Williams, you’ll immediately understand the intrigue of an innocent android’s viewpoint. The humour and heartbreak of this book revolves around Jared’s voyage into human society in all its glory – occasionally admirable, but mostly weird, selfish, aggressive… You know how it goes. This bot designed with a complete human appearance represents otherness, outcasts trying to change the world’s representation and perception of them.
Caustic Societal Critique
It’s always interesting to look at humanity from a fresh point of view. Set My Heart to Five paints a very funny picture of our norms and ideals involving culture, language, geography, politeness and more. Jared experiences different things while trying to pass as human and we get to share in his frequent “bamboozlement” at all the amazing or absurb things he encounters. But the humour is also there to deliver the serious issues highlighted by this great debut.
Stephenson’s narrative choices make up a highly entertaining and moving story. If you enjoy quirky science fiction with character and clever laughs, this is a must-read novel. Set My Heart to Five is a wonderful addition to the world of fiction.
Paperback release date: 4 February 2021
More book reviews of fun science fiction await!