Annie Bot

By Sierra Greer

(Mariner Books)

Interview by Diane Slocum

Annie’s body and her mind were designed to be a perfect girlfriend for Doug. She has an especially high level of artificial intelligence and a built-in obsession to fulfill Doug’s desires, whether in the bedroom or the kitchen. But she also has an increasing awareness of self. When she does something unforgiveable, she hides it from Doug. The more she learns, the more human she becomes, the more she questions her role in life.

AUTHORLINK: What gave you the idea for this story?

GREER: I was noodling around with ideas in a short story when Annie showed up as a secondary character. She had a surprising moral consciousness which opened me up to considering a robot who was much closer to human than I’d previously imagined. I followed Annie out of the story to her home where she lived with Doug, and the novel grew out of their relationship.

AUTHORLINK: How did you develop it from there?

GREER: Annie’s story evolved conversation-by-conversation, so I discovered the scenes along with her. Everything about the novel felt fresh and unusual to me, and I cared deeply about Annie from the get-go. Wanting to protect her and knowing she was in danger emotionally drove me to keep writing. Eventually, after I had a complete draft, I was able to go back and clarify, develop, and add scenes. The manuscript grew, shrank and grew again over many drafts. My editor, Kate Nintzel at Mariner, gave me great notes.

AUTHORLINK: What did you already know that helped you write this story and what did you have to learn? And how did you learn it?

GREER: It helped, I think, that I knew first drafts can be messy, and I allowed myself to try something that felt strange and uncomfortable. I had to learn how to write this particular book. I feel like I’m always starting from scratch this way, learning how to write a novel with each one I try. For me, this involves a lot of experimentation and dead ends, but it’s also deeply satisfying to find the right directions.

AUTHORLINK: It’s obvious that from the start Annie can’t be called a non-sentient being, and it’s hard even to consider her non-living. But what does that say about Doug’s treatment of her? What if she were human or animal?

GREER: As you’re suggesting, the novel would have been entirely different if it had started with the premise of Annie as a human. We have expectations for relationships between humans or with pets that would have influenced our reading. By contrast, Annie Bot sets up a stark simplicity where we all know she’s a robot, and then the novel shifts into gray zones that test our assumptions. It’s a bit of a mind game. Doug gets much more than he expects, andso does the reader.

AUTHORLINK: If you are familiar with the original Stepford Wives (1970s book and movie – which took place in Connecticut), other than not having to murder someone to replace her with Annie, how does that story compare and differ related to a person’s desire to have a non-human companion?

GREER: I’m familiar with the premise of The Stepford Wives, but I don’t know it well enough to offer an insightful comparison. If you look at today’s tradwife movement, however, you can see some people are embracing a lifestyle that idealizes womanhood with a narrow range of traditional skills like cleaning, cooking, and raising children. In these uncertain times, the desire for safety and predictability is real, and Doug certainly wants to be cared for in a classic, predictable way. He owns Annie specifically because she’s programmed to please him. The problems arise when real people feel compelled to conform to roles that don’t fit them, just to please others. We want to deepen our humanity, not limit it.

AUTHORLINK: One interesting detail of your story was how Annie related to other AI. Can you say something about how her cousin, her friend and Delta added to her development?

GREER: On one level, those side characters allowed me to show how Annie opened up to kind advice and humor, so from a craft perspective, they were vital. On another level, all three of these relationships were paid for by Doug, so they were programmed to support Annie strictly as his girlfriend. Since he could isolate Annie from them or not, at his whim, they served to box her in. Curiously, those AI entities grew, too, and their ways of supporting Annie became more nuanced as her needs changed. Delta, Annie’s foil, was one of my favorite characters, showing true joy at a key point when Annie needed it (Hint: rain).

AUTHORLINK: How do you hope your story might help people think about relationships of all types?

GREER: I believe Annie’s story resonates because it offers a window into a very intense, private relationship that feels very real, very believable. From what I hear, readers are connecting with Annie and finding Doug disturbingly familiar. I think the novel invites people to contemplate how desire, trust, and autonomy matter in a relationship. It invites us to consider how much we deserve to feel respected and happy.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

GREER: I’m noodling with a few ideas. It’s hard to say at this point where they might lead. Messiness is normal for me.
Thanks for inviting me to do this Q&A! I’d like to wish my fellow writers all the best with their projects.

About the Author: Sierra Greer grew up in Minnesota before attending Williams College and Johns Hopkins University. Annie Bot is her first novel and it has been honored as a March 2024 Book of the Month in The Guardian, The Times, and Amazon. Greer is a former English teacher who now writes about the future. She lives in Connecticut.