Heard on CultureShift

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

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Image credit: Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

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

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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, Host, CultureShift

Amanda LeClaire is Host of CultureShift and is a founding producer of both of WDET’s locally-produced daily shows. She’s been involved in radio and the arts in Detroit for over a decade.

amanda.leclaire@wdet.org Follow @amandalee_lec

LaToya Cross, Producer, CultureShift

LaToya Cross is a Producer and writer on CultureShift with a passion for highlighting creatives using their platform to shape, shift and analyze society through an artistic lens.

Latoya.cross@wdet.org Follow @ToizStory

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