The Organised Author

Lexi by Heidi J. Hewett

Lexi by Heidi J. Hewett

My review:
Five stars for this lovely, funny, and romantic sci-fi novel. John Michael Kirkpatrick, a scientist specialised in robotics, has built LX8000, or Lexi, a female bot with a witty mind and a caring attitude. She’s beautiful, smart, and with a sense of humour . . . and she loves John.
As John tries to figure out what to do with a robot that is developing a soul and with Celine, his persistent fiancée who wishes to marry him soon, misunderstandings, funny, rom-com situations, and hard choices take John and Lexi into a whirlwind of action and adventure that will keep you to the edge of your seat while laughing.
A great cast of characters completes this amazing novel that poses some interesting questions about the relationship between humans and machines, and the meaning of love through jokes, witty banters, and a male protag who isn’t the usual alpha male.
Also, a trip in the desert, and a clockwork dog.
Totally recommend this book!    

Interview with the author:

Hello Heidi,
Thanks again for answering my questions.

1.   In Lexi there’s a good blending of futuristic technology and real technology, from how to ride a bike to how to populate Mars. Which was the biggest challenge to write Lexi?
The big “gimmie” in Lexi, where the reader has to suspend disbelief, is the A.I. (also, the skin—you can bioengineer skin, but it wouldn’t last without the substratum), so my goal was to make everything else in the book as real as possible. Lexi’s pneumatic system, the aluminium bones, the elastomer ‘facial muscles’ are all current technology. I did extrapolate on occasion, making up later model numbers and scaling quantum computing down to something you could fit in a box. The climate change conditions of the future world and its tech, the speculations about terraforming Mars, are all based on research, or at least projections by experts. I’ve included links to these for interested readers in the bonus content on my website. I found doing the research fascinating, becoming particularly interested in the future of food, which convinced me to go vegan.
The hardest part was definitely the engineering! I wanted to show John Michael using his skills to solve problems, like in The Martian, which meant I found myself studying do-it-yourself satellite dishes, pitless adapters, car repair, even refrigerators. As John Michael says, “It was an education.”

2.   John Michael lives among wealthy people in a world where poverty is widespread. I loved how he described the rich society, people who had so much money that “the line between wanting and having was all but erased.” Do you think this is where we are going? A world where some people have absolutely everything they want and others live in absolute poverty?
One of the books I read while writing Lexi was Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland. Another was Martin Ford’s Lights in the Tunnel, about the very real danger of automation hollowing out the middle class. I do see inequality, definitely in America, expanding, which is always alarming, because it doesn’t feel sustainable. In fact, it feels a lot like The Gilded Age of philanthropist robber barons. There’s a really excellent book, Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas I read later, which echoes similar ideas, that there’s essentially a con game being played in which the richest portray themselves as benevolent stewards of humanity, which makes the grossness of the inequality more palatable not only to the rest of society, but to themselves as well. I think the American celebrity culture feeds into this as well. I think that’s one of the reasons voters in the U.S.A. are turning to so-called ‘outsider’ candidates, because they feel the system is by the wealthy, for the wealthy. Unfortunately, the ‘outsider’ candidates aren’t really that different, because they’re coming from the same circle of wealth and celebrity status.
I have a love-hate relationship with the “elite” world, which comes out in John Michael’s character. I went to an ivy league school and rubbed shoulders with people I’m sure will become shapers of American policy, but I hadn’t been born into it, I wasn’t rich, and it all felt very alien. I do often regret not being “elite,” not because I want money, or the lifestyle, but because they have such outsized influence.

3.   I think that Lexi’s personality, in a nutshell, can be explained by a line she said in the book: “Hello! I’m here to see the world!” She’s innocent and curious like a child. She’s ready to give her money—well, John Michael’s money—to a stranger, and she hates violence. Did you get inspired by kids when you create Lexi?
The line for me that sums Lexi is up is, “I’m programmed to help humans.” She is childlike, because she has such a limited experience (and is really only five years old). She’s fearless, and she gets a ‘reward’ sensation when she helps people, so she’s motivated to help others. (I would argue human beings also get a similar ‘reward’ sensation, but we have so many other fears that get in the way.) The book was always going to be about climate change in the background—I jokingly refer to it as my bittersweet-comic elegy for the human race. I wanted to show Lexi moving through this world, behaving in absolutely the opposite way most people do, which is to look out for themselves and be greedy—the behaviors that I think have produced climate change and keep us from taking effective action to reverse it. John Michael is on her to “stop being so nice,” because people will know she isn’t “real.” But to me, she’s pointing the way to how we could be: a machine teaching us to be better humans by being delighted with the world, curious, altruistic.

4.   Skippy, the bot dog aka MDS-3. I just love it. If you created a bot cat, how would it be?
I don’t know. There is work with developing robotic pets, often billed as ‘therapeutic.’ I’m not sure about this. What ended up interesting me most while I was researching the robotics was the wide-range of relationships humans develop toward them. I think our brains are hard-wired for relationships, and there’s something wrong about that when it comes to machines, but also something quite lovely. I remember one picture of a roboticist demonstrating his robot, and his face is just lit up with pride. You can tell he absolutely loves this little machine.
‘Skippy’ functioned in two ways for me. It shows that even in the beginning, John Michael is the kind of guy who gives names to and feels affection for machines. It’s also about ‘replacing’ (pets, people, planets)—and you understand when the story finally comes out at Christmas on his mother’s houseboat about the real ‘Skippy’ who died, who his father wanted to replace, and which has been gnawing a hole in John Michael’s heart ever since. I find the concept of ‘replacing’ robots incredibly fascinating: John Michael’s father has no problem selling this particular LX8000 unit, because a unit is a unit, but in John Michael’s eyes, the individual experiences shape the ‘identity,’ and ‘his’ Lexi is different from any another LX8000 unit. Interestingly, I remember reading this is an issue for Roomba repair. Most customers give their Roombas names, and they want the original repaired, even if it costs more, rather than receiving a new model.

5.   Let’s talk about Barry, or Wind-Walking-Through-Treetops, can you tell us something about his backstory? How did he become Wind-Walking-Through-Treetops?
Gosh! I don’t know that I thought too hard about backstory—for some reason, Barry still makes me laugh, and I love him. I suppose because he has an innocence, like Lexi. The concept of the book was of a road trip—John Michael is being stripped down, like layers of an onion, literally losing possessions until he has nothing and experiences a kind of death—but at the level of setting, it’s a trip across the continental U.S., descending down the socio-economic ladder, showing how different groups of people were coping with not just climate change, but a real sense that the Earth’s, or at least mankind’s, days are probably numbered. The ultra-rich are leaving, pulling up the ladder behind them so to speak—that’s their solution--but Bargetown is a ‘party like it’s 1999’ community. They’re irrelevant, they’ve entirely given up on saving the world, they’re not scientists or intellectuals, but they’re artists and friends. They have families and kids. What surprised me when I got to the end was that even though the wasteland is where John Michael finds himself, Bargetown is really where Lexi was happiest. She’s social in a way he isn’t.
Even though Ben, John Michael’s friend, isn’t the hero of the book, he’s the sanest voice in it. “Face facts,” he tells John Michael. “Enjoy life as we know it before it’s gone, maybe help a few people along the way.” John Michael rejects this: “There has to be a better way,” but I don’t think he finds one. By the end of the book, John Michael has found inner peace. He’s embraced irrelevance, presentism, manual labor and humility—he adopts the pseudonym ‘Mr. Asshole’—and it’s worth it to him because he’s has freedom and love, but I think the one to admire is probably Ben, patiently working away in the real world on developing algae into a food source, trying to feed a few million more people.

6.   And you know this was coming… can you tell us a joke?
Agh! I was wrong before. This was definitely the hardest part of writing the book—trying to come up with my own original jokes! I even read Reader’s Digest and several joke books, and still all I managed to produce was groan-inducing bits of a fictional ‘Clive Bonner’ late night show. Thank goodness Lexi’s jokes are supposed to be lame.
Okay. I’ll tell the one I hint around in the book:
Q: Why did the therapist tell the exobiologist to use a microscope instead of a telescope?
A: She thought he needed a new perspective on life.

Readers can find more extras for Lexi—character & setting pictures, video & research links—in the bonus content section of my website:
Thanks for visiting!
Thanks for answering my questions :)