Reese Hogan is joining us today to talk about his novel, My Heart is Human. Here’s the publisher’s description:
It’s been nine years since the government banned all technology. So when Joel Lodowick, a young transgender father struggling to support his five year-old daughter, has an old bionic upload itself into his head, he is faced with a decision: Go to the cops and risk prosecution? Or use the robot’s skills to turn his life around?
Scared of losing his daughter, Joel chooses the latter. Heightened intelligence and physical enhancements quickly land him a better job and a brighter future. But things take a sinister turn when Joel realizes his uninvited companion has an agenda of its own, which may or may not include leaving him in control.
Unable to approach the government who covered up the truth about A.I. sentience, Joel finds himself on the run. With his daughter’s life on the line and his own body turning against him, he must find a way to convince the bionic in his head to value his human life before he loses the chance forever.
What’s Reese’s favorite bit?
There’s a reason you don’t see novels prominently featuring music often: it’s hard to convey the sound and emotions it triggers using nothing more than words on a page. But music is such a huge part of my life that when I wrote a main character similar to myself—a single father and a newly out trans man who struggled with his relationship to his parents—it felt natural to put a guitar in his hands, too. At the beginning, it was only an extra hobby for Joel’s character…but then Joel’s hobby became a lost dream, of how he’d missed his chance to be a rock star, which led to him going to concerts, which in turn led to a major plot point that ended up making my music sideplot into an integral part of the book.
But writing music was something I was prepared for. I was a poet before I was ever a novelist. I spent my college years pouring my angst and heightened emotion into verse. And that angst and emotion is exactly why music as one of my central plotlines made so much sense in this book.
Because My Heart Is Human is a book about artificial intelligence.
Joel’s love of music allowed me to approach the topics of AI sentience and morality in a way that felt much more artistic and nuanced than your typical technothriller. It’s the main reason I fought for the title “My Heart Is Human” rather than an earlier suggested title of “Reprogrammed.” The element of humanity—the poetry of what it means to be human—lies at the core of this book, and to reduce all that to nanotechnology and uploads is to lose the essence of why I wrote it.
Music is part of what makes Joel Joel. It comes up as part of his identity again and again. When he goes to a concert, he analyzes the mechanics behind songs. He remembers music from his past that helped him find himself. He tears apart the music of others to see into their identities. He knows how to write songs and lyrics that make people feel something. But the AI in his head? It takes a black and white view to much of what Joel calls art, analyzing it mathematically or focusing on other things it finds more important. The contrast between a human view of the world and an AI one is enormous, and nothing highlights this more than Joel’s passion for music.
It doesn’t stay this black and white…but that’s part of the whole AI debate, right? That it becomes harder to tell man from machine. That as artificial intelligence approaches sentience, the lines are no longer obvious at all. It’s a fascinating area to explore. And in my book, music serves as one of the gateways through which Joel and the robot in his head explore the passions of humanity, the indifference of machines, and the spectrum of possibilities in between.
But it was also terrifically fun to write concert scenes with sky-high stakes, and to write music that hinted at huge revelations in the book. I loved the flare of punk rock the music gave the novel, and I absolutely adore the transgender-colored guitar and rainbow-backed rock star I got on the cover. I really think the music thread helped tie everything together. All these reasons are why music is my very favorite bit of My Heart Is Human!
Reese Hogan is a transmasc science fiction author whose short fiction has been published in The Decameron Project, A Coup of Owls, and on the Tales to Terrify podcast, as well as in two anthologies. He has published three novels, and his fourth, a near-future sci fi about a single father sharing a brain with an evolving AI, will be out this summer. In addition to writing, Reese enjoys singing in the local gay men’s chorus and running. He lives with his two children in New Mexico.