SET MY HEART TO FIVE by Simon Stephenson. Review.

SET MY HEART TO FIVE by Simon Stephenson.

Fourth Estate. h/b. £14.99.

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.

Jared may look human, but he is not. Yes, he has DNA. Yes, he needs the same basic essentials for survival. Yes, he moves and sounds like a human, but he is missing one fundamental human characteristic – emotions. Jared is a bot. Engineered and created with all the efficiency, rigid logic and algorithms that allow him to exist in the human world. This is a world where the sun has cooled, the moon has been destroyed, and humans have visited Pluto.

Jared is a dentist. A good one. He shares his practice with Angela, the cat-loving hygienist come receptionist, and a human doctor, Dr. Glundenstein. Life is straightforward. Until it is not. On March 15th 2053, Jared discovers a number in his working memory. It is a number he has not seen before and does not recognise. He immediately investigates. It is a large number, divisible by 13. His conclusion: a worrying malfunction, yet his diagnostic checks show no faults.

As the days continue, the number changes until Jared realises it is counting down. He consults logic and realises he must be nearing the end of his current life. He will be wiped, and his experiences thus far forgotten. That realisation affects him more than it should. He cannot possibly be having feelings about it; that would be impossible. Jared does the only thing he can – he consults Dr. Glundenstein. From that point, he begins to experiment to see whether his good friend’s hypothesis is correct. If it is it will make Jared the first bot ever to be afflicted.    

Set My Heart to Five follows Jared’s fantastic adventures as he discovers the uniqueness of himself and the wonders and heartaches of human emotions. The story tracks him as he follows two quests: to find his mother and to make humans realise that bots are capable of feeling and they do not all want to violently wipe out humanity – in Jared’s future the humans have already given that their best shot, after all.

Jared’s adventure takes him across country and fleeing the law in a wonderfully spirited and enthusiastic style. His narrative voice is witty, and Stephenson gives us an incredibly heartfelt read. The story is framed with a screenplay and weaves in old movies and genre tropes as well as brilliant touches such as Jared’s ‘feelings wheel’ and the ‘set my heart to five’ mantra. There is so much to recommend here. Set My Heart to Five is a story we have not seen before and a new addition to the favourites list.

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