The Vestigial Heart

The Vestigial Heart

A Novel of the Robot Age

By Carme Torras

Translated by Josephine Swarbrick

A thirteen-year-old girl wakes up in a future where human emotions are extinct and people rely on personal-assistant robots to navigate daily life.
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A thirteen-year-old girl wakes up in a future where human emotions are extinct and people rely on personal-assistant robots to navigate daily life.

Imagine a future in which many human emotions are extinct, and “emotional masseuses” try to help people recover those lost sensations. Individuals rely on personal-assistant robots to navigate daily life. Students are taught not to think but to employ search programs. Companies protect their intellectual property by erasing the memory of their employees. And then imagine what it would feel like to be a sweet, smart thirteen-year-old girl from the twenty-first century who wakes from a cryogenically induced sleep into this strange world. This is the compelling story told by Carme Torras in this prize-winning science fiction novel. We meet Celia, brought back to life when a cure is found for her formerly terminal disease, and Lu, Celia's adoptive mother, protective but mystified by her new daughter. There is Leo, a bioengineer, who is developing a “creativity prosthesis” to augment humans' atrophied capacities, and the eccentric robotics mogul Dr. Craft. And there is Silvana, an emotional masseuse who reads old books to research the power of emotion. Silvana sees Celia as a living, breathing example of the emotions and feelings that are now out of reach for most people.

Torras, a prominent roboticist, weaves provocative ethical issues into her story. What kind of robots do we want when robot companions become as common as personal computers are now? Is it the responsibility of researchers to design robots that make the human mind evolve in a certain way? An appendix provides readers with a list of ethics questions raised by the book.

Instructor Resources

Downloadable instructor resources available for this title: teacher's guide and slides


$19.95 T ISBN: 9780262037778 264 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


Josephine Swarbrick.


  • Readers of William Gibson, Nnedi Okorafor, Pat Murphy, Neal Stephenson, and other cultural code-tweaking authors will find Torras's vision equally startling in its anticipation—and portrayal—of possible scenarios around complex social issues today's researchers and policymakers are only now beginning to recognize as imminent.

    Library Journal, STARRED


  • A fascinating and provocative speculative tale.

    Publishers Weekly



  • Richard Brautigan rejoiced that in future we'll all be watched over by machines of loving grace—but 100 years ahead thirteen-year-old Celia wakes from cryogenic suspension into a world where our robot guardian angels may be cradling us toward extinction. It's wonderful that this award-garlanded Catalan novel, full of insights, is now more widely available in English.

    Ian Watson

    author of the screen story for Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence

    los angeles review of books