Former Pixar Writer’s Book Follows Michigan Android’s Journey to Emotional Awakening

Screenwriter Simon Stephenson’s sci-fi “mystopian” novel, “Set My Heart to Five,” uniquely explores the narrative surrounding A.I. with feeling.


An advocate for the underdog, Simon Stephenson’s novel, “Set My Heart to Five,” puts a twist on the sci-fi style narrative that often positions androids as the villains and humans as heroes. 

“When you see the humans versus android story, it’s usually told from the human perspective. Jared is the opposite of that. He’s the hero.”  — Simon Stephenson, author

Courtesy of HarperCollins/Hanover Square Press
Courtesy of HarperCollins/Hanover Square Press

Instead, the former Pixar screenwriter opts for an adventurous read told from the perspective of Jared, a biological android, working as a dentist in Ypsilanti, Mich. 

Listen: Pixar screenwriter Simon Stephenson takes us inside his sci-fi novel Set My Heart to Five with Culturehift’s Amanda LeClaire.

Set in 2054, a society where Elon Musk has incinerated the moon and humans are locked out of the internet, Jared is legally forbidden from experiencing emotions. But, when a human coworker thinks Jared may be experiencing depression, they test out an experiment that leads him to watching some of the great films of the 20th century. Here is where everything changes and Jared unexpectedly discovers that he – in some mysterious way – has feelings. 

“He’s heavily influenced by the movies he sees – much like [humans] are,” Stephenson says. “The challenge for Jared is that in 2054, mainstream movies are really going to be one five hour long Marvel extravaganza about killer robots. But Jared finds these other movies from the 1970s and the common thread is they all have [authentic] heart.” 

That heart component sets Jared on a journey to rewrite the narrative surrounding bots with feelings. His mission to change the world and win the right to feel for himself and his kind, however isn’t without challenges.  And so, the journey begins. 

“It’s ultimately a story about empathy and having empathy toward people and things that aren’t the same as us,” Stephenson says. “Jared’s journey can remind [us] of the joy of being human and getting to have feelings and these experiences. I write things to hopefully entertain people, hopefully make them feel and make them laugh. In the bigger picture, I slightly wanted to portray just a mildly more optimistic version of the future than we often see.”  



  • Amanda LeClaire

    Amanda LeClaire is an award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. She’s a founding producer of WDET’s flagship news talk show Detroit Today, and a former host/reporter for Arizona Public Media. Amanda is also an artist, certified intuitive and energy healer, and professional tarot reader.

  • LaToya Cross