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Annie Bot Is a Chillingly Prescient Novel That Asks What Happens When a Sex Robot Realizes Her Worth

Annie is the perfect girlfriend to Doug. She’s beautiful and perfectly proportioned, with a slim waist and big boobs. She exercises and reads. She doesn’t get in the way. She always greets her man with a smile and a kiss. She’s never moody. And, most important, she is always ready for sex—any type of sex Doug wants.

Annie isn’t a human, though. She’s a Stella, an AI robot that—in the near future—men can purchase in order to provide them with the companionship they lack. And while Annie’s world, as detailed by author Sierra Greer in the new novel Annie Bot, may seem like a far-fetched piece of science fiction on the surface, it's so strikingly similar to our own that the circumstance she finds herself in is chillingly possible, and maybe even prescient.

Annie is set to “Cuddle Bunny” mode, meaning her raison d'être is to be a sexual companion for Doug (there’s also a Abigail mode—a housecleaner—and a nanny mode for men with children). Annie is programmed to want to please Doug at all times, both emotionally and sexually, and, when she doesn’t do so, is left in physical and emotional agony. But after a few years of ownership, Doug is trying something new. He has set her programming to “autodidactic” mode, meaning that she can now grow and learn, making her more human-like than robot-like. And for the first time, Annie is beginning to question the reality she’s in.

This is the stage on which the novel, which is out on Tuesday, is set, and it’s a fascinating world to be thrust into. Through Annie’s eyes, Greer explores misogyny, toxic masculinity, abusive relationships, and, as she tells Glamour, the way “certain people are treated like objects.”

“The space of this novel is a scaled-down, one-on-one version of a patriarchy that mirrors much of the society I’ve grown up in here in the US, so it feels very familiar to me,” she says. “In a way, making Annie a robot gave me a device to explore a very intimate, human relationship.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Annie Bot and the mirror it shines on the way women are treated in our society since I tore through it a few months ago (nor have I been able to stop casting the—hopefully—inevitable miniseries in my head). Ahead of its debut, I chatted with Greer about the real-life inspiration behind her novel, what she wants readers to take away from it, and the (frightening) truths embedded in its science fiction.

Glamour: Annie’s story feels so real, yet the novel is very unique. How did you have the idea for this book?

Sierra Greer: I was tinkering around with a short story when Annie appeared in it briefly, and the novel grew up around her character. She was a much more advanced robot than I’d previously imagined, very close to human, with a moral compass, and the tension of her almost-ness was really fascinating to me. She made me consider how certain people are treated like objects, and how power dynamics can be harmful to the people in charge too. In short, I had a lot of messy ideas that played perfectly into Annie’s story.

I found the allegory between Annie’s situation and an abusive/controlling relationship to be especially poignant. How did you come up with using an “AI bot” to illustrate this dynamic?

The controlling aspect of Annie and Doug’s relationship was inherent from the very beginning, as soon as he bought her to be his robot companion, so that dynamic came out of the key characters instead of the other way around. The novel depends on Annie being a robot for it to work. As long as she’s able to please him and make him happy, he has no reason to be abusive, but as she begins to change, he wants to correct her. Add a little rage and you have a problem. Their relationship really made me think about how appreciation, guidance, coaching, discipline, and abuse are on the same sliding scale. The dynamics between Annie and Doug were pretty scary to write, frankly. A fictional couple like this one invites us to judge, especially since we see what happens between them in private.

There were also so many ways you compared the uncomfortable/embarrassing parts of being a robot to being a woman—I think my favorite was the comparison of Annie getting her tune-ups, which reminded me of going to the gynecologist.

Ha! Me too!

Why were these uncomfortable parts important for you to include?

Those visits to the technicians are essential, aren’t they? For one thing, they give us and Annie a glimpse of life outside Doug’s apartment, which is important to relieve the tension, but they’re also important reminders that Annie doesn’t own her own body. Doug decides what she weighs and her bust size, etc., which is excruciatingly personal. Every woman I know has had concern about her shape at some point in her life, if not every morning, so I think we can identify with Annie here. In a subtle way the novel suggests that if the control of Annie’s body isn’t fair, perhaps the control of human women’s bodies isn’t fair either.

The character of Doug felt so real to me (a man who would rather have a sex slave robot than a real human companion), which is scary, to say the least. What does his character represent to you, and why do you think it is important to demonstrate these types of men in the media?

This is a complicated subject. I think it’s important to try to understand what in our society encourages a man to feel like he ought to be in control, even when he’s not. No one likes to feel helpless, but men can feel doubly conflicted when they are denigrated because society has taught them that they deserve respect. Suddenly they have to reassess the entire system. When we see a character like Doug who is lonely and wants to be in control, we understand why he’s reaching out for a connection. We’re not surprised that men turn to the internet for pornography, and Annie is just a step beyond that. What matters to me is that Doug learns from his situation. He experiences deep shame, isolation, and rage, but he’s also willing to reflect on how to become a better man, a better human. Almost despite himself, he takes risks that lead him where he needs to go.

Do you think if Stellas really existed, a lot of men would buy them?

Yes. Women would buy them too, or the male Handy models. People will buy a new toy whether it’s good for them or not.

The book ends with a distinct resolution. What do you want readers to understand about Annie’s decision in the last few pages?

Without giving spoilers, I can say I feel like I ended the book in exactly the right way, which is nice considering that, when I started writing the novel, I didn’t know how it would end. I like an ending that truly ties up the major conflict of a book and doesn’t leave me hanging, so that’s what I tried to do. I keep thinking about Annie, and I hope when readers finish the novel, she will stay with them too.

What do you hope readers take away from Annie's story?

I hope they’re reminded that they deserve to pursue happiness.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.


Originally Appeared on Glamour