Title: Set My Heart to Five (review copy)
Author: Simon Stephenson
Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Blurb from Goodreads
10/10 Jared does not have friends.
Because friends are a function of feelings.
Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about.
But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.
Soon his feelings will send him fleeing across the country, pursued by a man who wants to destroy him and driven by an illogical desire to share pathogens with the woman who bamboozles him the most.
And Jared cannot!
Because feelings will ruin your life, especially if you aren’t supposed to have them…
Oh how I truly wanted to love this book.
I thought I would because the premise is so intriguing:
Imagine a version of our world in the near future where ‘bots’ exist. Bots are androids with human DNA that look and sound human… but obvs are not. They can’t feel like a human does. They are programmed. And in this version of our future they are programmed to do certain jobs and tasks, don’t have the freedoms that humans have. Are prejudiced against etc. Very much thought of as subservient and are overall rather mistrusted.
But then there’s the main character of this book, Jared.
Jared is a dentist bot. He lives his quiet life through logic and reason… but then he begins to malfunction he thinks… but no, it’s not malfunctioning. He’s beginning to feel feelings for the first time. And takes it upon himself to try to convince humanity that bots aren’t soulless creatures that would rise up against humans and plot their downfall at the first available opportunity. And to do this he aims to write a film screenplay because if humans can see fictional bots are capable of feeling empathy and emotion in a film then the next logical step is that humans will see the real world bots in the same light and grant them respect and greater freedoms.
And I loved all of this!
I liked how Jared was trying to figure out human behaviour and how he was trying to be more human himself. It was very sweet and endearing... he was always despairing at what he perceived as illogical human behaviours with the phrase “Ha! Humans. I cannot!”
But WOW did this soon get tiresome.
What started as a quirky writing style really began to infuriate me. The first person perspective was written in the most stilted and prosaic manner… which yes, I understood initially because the author was trying to get across the robotic nature of Jared. But I desperately needed the prose to become more lyrical as the book went on. Instead it remained short and sharp, and entirely grated on me. Jared’s catchphrases were over used. If I never see a mention of “10/10” or something being “the worst” again it’ll be too soon. Also I have never read a book where I have gotten so annoyed by the proliferation of exclamation marks. It seemed like there was one finishing every second sentence! And I’m a person who ADORES over using an exclamation mark. Over the years as I’ve written my book reviews for Goodreads, NetGalley and my blog it has become self-evident that I am fond of an exclamation mark or twenty but dear god this book has almost single handedly destroyed that love affair of mine! (Well maybe not but it’s come close!!!)
By about the 30% mark I was so done with this novel. I desperately wanted it to be over. But as it was an ARC I committed to the read. I was hoping that the book would grow on me, that as Jared’s character evolved so would the narrative style… reader it did not.
I personally found the character of Jared to be too self-knowing. What I mean is that the book was trying to be desperately funny and witty especially with how it tried to insert foreshadowing into the novel but ultimately it just over-played its hand. The more the book tried to be an insightful commentary on human behaviour the more tedious it became and I was so pleased once the predictable end came. Too much foreshadowing meant that there was no twist to delight in and that there was no emotional connection with Jared’s character arc. It was all painfully signposted pages in advance.
This book was much too long. It could have made an interesting novella but at 350 odd pages it felt unnecessarily bloated.
I did somewhat enjoy the pop culture references. One of Jared’s methods for learning about humanity was to watch old Hollywood films and he would frequently reference these films in the story but without revealing their names. And I enjoyed trying to figure out what films were mentioned. References were made relevant to Forest Gump, Field of Dreams, Sleepless in Seattle and Bladerunner among others.
And I also enjoyed the romantic storyline in the plot. The interaction of Jared with Amber provided my favourite points in the novel and provided some much needed emotional connection.
However I am sad to say that these small moments of enjoyment were not enough and that overall this book wasn’t for me.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Publishing 28th May 2020 by 4th Estate