Set in 2054, when humans have locked themselves out of the internet by forgetting the names of their favourite teacher and first pet, Simon Stephenson’s dazzling debut, Set My Heart to Five, is a hilarious, touching, strikingly perceptive story of the emotional awakening of an android named Jared, and a profound exploration of what it truly means to be human.
My name is Jared.
I am sincerely pleased to meet you.
Also, I am a bot!
Unless you have been living under a rock in North Korea or New Zealand – Ha! – you of course know what a bot is.
Nonetheless I am programmed to relay the following dialogue to each new human I encounter:
Please do not be fooled by my human-like appearance.
I am a mere bot!
I do not have feelings or anything else that might be misconstrued as a ‘soul’.
Instead, I have been programmed to a high level of proficiency in dentistry!
Should you have any concerns please immediately report me to the Bureau of Robotics.
Simon Stephenson is a Scottish writer based in Los Angeles. He previously worked as an NHS doctor, most recently in paediatrics in London.
His first book, LET NOT THE WAVES OF THE SEA (John Murrays, 2011), was a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It was serialised as ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC Radio 4 and won ‘Best First Book’ at the Scottish Book Awards.
Simon moved to the US followed the success of his spec screenplay, FRISCO, a semi-autobiographical story about a depressed doctor who desperately needed a change. The script was at the top of the Blacklist – an industry-voted list of Hollywood’s favourite unproduced scripts – and opened the door to a screenwriting career in the US. In 2015, Simon was photographed alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge as one of Screen International’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow’. His friends never tire of telling him that Screen International were at least half right.
As a screenwriter, Simon nonetheless continues to be much in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. He spent two years writing at Pixar in San Francisco, and originated and wrote Amazon’s forthcoming feature film LOUIS WAIN (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy). Julia Roberts attached to his screenplay TRAIN MAN, and the film rights to SET MY HEART TO FIVE were pre-emptively acquired by Working Title Films, Focus Features, and Nira Park’s Complete Fiction Pictures. Edgar Wright is set to direct the film from Simon’s screenplay.
One of Simon’s most memorable moments from his time in Hollywood was taking a meeting with an actor he admired most, and then having said actor kindly insist on driving Simon home in his distinctive vintage Porsche while telling him about his mind-blowing stories about his canonical body of work. As a token of thanks, Simon then gave that car to the villain in Set My Heart To Five!
This is an interesting book, written partly in screen play extracts as well as the thoughts of bot Jared, who might look pretty human but doesn’t think or feel like one.
He’s in search for more than his humdrum existence as a dentist bot, programmed to provide excellent tooth based health care. It starts with old movies, then he’s on the run.
It took me a little while to get into the story because of the narrative voice – Jared has a very specific way of communicating and it took me a few chapters to adapt to the style.
But Jared is an endearing soul, with his cat and his desire to be someone and understand humans.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in this blog tour but all opinions remain my own.