By Seija Rankin
June 01, 2020 at 11:00 AM EDT
Credit: Harper Collins

Simon Stephenson's forthcoming sci-fi novel has yet to hit shelves in the U.S., but it already has big plans. Set My Heart to Five is on tap for adaptation by Edgar Wright, the director behind Baby Driver and the upcoming Last Night in Soho (set for an April 2021 release). The book is set in the year 2054, and follows a human-esque bot named Jared as he slowly becomes sentient and sets out to find his family (i.e. the programmer who created him).

EW is exclusively revealing the cover of Set My Heart to Five, as well as the first excerpt below.


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.

But humans rarely find this information calming.

Instead, they see a fellow human standing in front of them claiming that he is not a human.

This bamboozles them!

It often bamboozles them so profoundly that they exclaim, ‘But you look so human!’

I then patiently explain to them what they anyway already know: that my body looks human because it is indeed a human body. It is engineered from DNA and constructed of cells the exact same way their own body is. It has the same basic needs— food, water, oxygen, regular exercise—and it can be injured or killed in all the same comically outlandish ways any other human body can.

Yet I am definitely not human!

Because the precious thing that sets humans apart is their feelings.

And as a bot I am specifically designed and programmed to be incapable of feelings.

I can no more feel than a toaster!


BTW that is a hilarious joke because the programming language I run on was in fact first developed many years ago for use in the domestic toaster.

Here is something curious I have observed about humans: in-forming them I am incapable of feeling often makes them feel sad. I suspect they believe they are being empathetic, but in fact they are being paradoxical. After all, feeling sad in response to someone telling you they lack feelings is like running a marathon in response to somebody telling you they lack legs.

Truly, if I lacked legs and somebody ran a marathon on my behalf I would not consider them empathetic.

I would consider them confused!

Nonetheless, it makes them sad, and making humans sad goes against my core programming. If ever I accidentally render a human sad in this way, I therefore quickly employ self-deprecating humor to amend the situation with reassuring levity.

So I tell the human they can think of me as a microwave oven with feet!

A mobile telephone with arms!

A toaster with a heart!

BTW I mean a heart in the sense of a mechanical pump, not a bucket of feelings.

The hearts of us bots are only ever mechanical pumps. And they certainly do not contain anything as precious as a human ‘heart of hearts’!

Humans are only sad about our lack of feelings because they do not comprehend all the incredible advantages this gives us. To start with just one important example, a bot’s self-preservation instincts are based not on a human-type delusion that we are irreplaceable, but calculated on a rational cost-benefit analysis. It is hardly a coincidence that many bots have already made heroic and self-sacrificing contributions in fields as varied as nuclear firefighting, bomb disposal and NFL football-playing!

My own vocation of dentistry is also ideal work for a bot.

But this is not because we are expendable.

After all, dentistry is rarely fatal.

At least, it is not fatal for the dentist!


No, the primary reason bots make such excellent dentists is our complete inability to feel empathy. An empathic dentist-by which I mean a human dentist-could easily become distracted by inappropriate fear, criticism, or even mere crying from a patient. A bot is immune to all of these things and will get the job done every time. Even when it comes to wisdom teeth removal!

Of course, the other reason why dentistry is ideal work for bots is that no human wants to do it anymore. Humans prefer jobs that are creative, social, clean, luxurious, and can be completed from a home office between breakfast and lunch. They strongly dislike jobs which involve an actual office, weekend work, children, blood, screaming and the mouths of strangers. Therefore when the laws reserving jobs for humans were being passed, nobody spoke up for dentistry.

Especially not the dentists!


My dental practice was in the township of Ypsilanti, in the great state of Michigan.

That made me a Michigander.


Humans from Michigan believe ‘Michigander’ to be a hilarious portmanteau word. They are wrong. A portmanteau combines two words to signify a third thing composed of those constituent parts. ‘Michigander’ would therefore be an excellent portmanteau to describe a male goose from Michigan. But it is an inappropriate term for any human, regardless of their gender or where they come from.

Another collective delusion Michiganders share is a curious belief that the outline of their state resembles a human hand. Consider these contrasting data points:

/Michigan is 250 miles wide vs A human hand is approximately 4 inches wide.

/A human hand has a thumb and 4 fingers vs Michigan has Detroit and over 10,000 lakes. /Michigan was the 32nd state inducted into the Union vs A human hand has never been in-ducted into the Union.

By any reasonable interpretation of this data, Michigan does not resemble a human hand. Nonetheless, anytime Michiganders wish to demonstrate where a particular place is located in their state, they will invariably hold up their hand and point to a spot on it.

Therefore imagine that I am holding my right hand towards you and pointing to a spot at the base of my thumb. If you were an orthopedic surgeon you would know that place as ‘the anatomical snuffbox’, a notoriously poorly designed part of the human body. If you were a Michigander, you would know that place as ‘Ypsilanti’.

Despite its unfortunate geography, Ypsilanti is a pretty town with a great amount to offer. It is best known as being the home of Eastern Michigan University and its terrible football team, the EMU Eagles. Ypsilaganders nonetheless frequently express civic pride by shouting ‘Go Eagles!’. They even paradoxically shout this in the off season, when the only place the team would realistically be going is on vacation.

Go Eagles-up to the lake!


BTW do not ask me why the team is not called the ‘EMU Emus’. That is exactly what I would have named them too.

Yet Ypsilanti boasts many exciting attractions beyond its imperfectly-named football team! Surveys have found that people traveling through eastern Michigan will detour up to sixteen miles to visit Ypsilanti’s water tower. This is not surprising: male humans are fascinated by objects that resemble penises, and our water tower was once voted the ‘Most Phallic Building in America’.

The inordinate phallic obsession of male humans fascinates me!

Perhaps it is because I myself do not have sexual urges.

After all, sexual urges are feelings.

Imagine if bots had sexual feelings and were able to reproduce.

The world would soon be overrun with little toasters! Ypsilanti’s more family-friendly tourist attraction is the Tridge, a three-pointed crossing at a fork in the River Huron. Unlike ‘Michigander’, ‘Tridge’ is a true portmanteau, appropriately combining portions of the words ‘Triple’ and ‘Bridge’ to denote a structure that connects three points of land over a body of water. Nonetheless, humans do not find the word ‘Tridge’ hilarious in the same way that they do ‘Michigander’. I can only hypothesize that there is something intrinsically hilarious to humans about a male goose but not a bridge.


I cannot!

BTW ‘I cannot’ is a human term I have adopted to put humans at their ease by seeming more human. It is used to express exasperation, but also as shorthand for ‘I strongly disagree’ and ‘This person or species is irrational and therefore irritating to me! Of course, the very best thing about Ypsilanti is the world-class dentistry.


Dentistry in Ypsilanti is performed to exactly the same standards maintained everywhere else in the country.

We bots are nothing if not consistent!

My appropriately average dental practice was called ‘Ypsilanti Downtown Dentistry’. It was housed in a small medical building on Main Street. The human I interacted with most frequently there was my assistant, Angela.

Some relevant data points about Angela:

/She was employed as both receptionist and hygienist, but resented the receptionist element of her job.

/She loved cats but believed she was allergic to orange ones. /It is not immunologically possible to be allergic to a specific color of cat. /That Angela believed that she was allergic to orange cats is what mattered /To humans, Feelings > Facts. Although Angela was the human I interacted with most frequently, the human I interacted with most deeply was Dr Glundenstein, the human doctor with whom we shared our premises.

Doctoring is an occupation reserved for humans. Bots are considered to make terrible doctors for the same reason we make such excellent dentists: our total lack of empathy. Empathy is so important in a medical doctor that it is even known by another name: ‘bedside manner’. Studies have consistently found that humans prefer ‘bedside manner’ to diagnostic accuracy and treatment efficacy. A sick human would rather have a fellow human misinform them they can be cured, than have a bot accurately state that they will soon surely die a gruesome death!

Some relevant data points about Dr Glundenstein:

/He was an excellent doctor by human standards, by which I mean he compensated for his diagnostic shortcomings with a good bedside manner.

/He was not merely a qualified doctor, but also held a minor in Cinema Studies from East Michigan University.

/He enjoyed drinking a Japanese whisky he inexplicably insisted on calling ‘Scotch’.

/He often wished he was not a doctor of humans but a director of films.

/He had a great deal of regret, and also possibly an alcohol problem.

I knew those data points about Dr Glundenstein because sometimes after our evening clinics he invited me into his consulting room across the corridor ‘to shoot the shit’. ‘To shoot the shit’ means ‘to patiently listen while a human drinks alcohol and complains about their concerns and grievances’.

Nonetheless, I always cheerfully accepted the invitation. When a human invites you somewhere, the polite thing to do is to accept. Unless they are inviting you for the sake of politeness itself. On those occasions, the polite thing to do is to decline! Human interaction can be best understood as a never-ending arms race of politeness. Holding a door open too long can all too often lead to the next Hiroshima.

Or Auckland!

Or Pyongyang!


Excerpted from Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson © 2020 by Simon Stephenson, used with permission from HarperCollins/Hanover Square Press

Related content: