Justina Robson has published quite a few novels and short stories. Many have been shortlisted for awards and she was the winner of the 2000 Amazon Writers' Bursary. In addition to her original works she is the proud author of The Covenant of Primus (47 North, 2013) – the Hasbro-authorised history and 'bible' of The Transformers.

Her most recent novels are Salvation's Fire, a fantasy (Solaris, 2018), and The Tales of Catt and Fisher (Solaris, 2020). She has a new collection, Our Savage Heart, due out from NewCon Press later this year.

Her stories range widely over SF and Fantasy, often featuring AIs and machines who aren't exactly what they seem.

Paper Hearts by Justina Robson

Are humans to be trusted with the important things: the structure of society, governing their own lives, meting out justice, etc, or would an AI be better suited to the job? If an AI really cared about humanity, would it be willing to sit back and watch us bumble along, making a mess of things, or would it step in to help us, to make things better?

Despite the best of intentions, could such intervention ever work? After all, we humans are flawed, limited by our vision and by the dictates of the society that helped shape us, and an AI is limited by its programming, which is carried out by humans... At the end of the day, are any of us – human or AI – truly free?

In Paper Hearts, Justina Robson has written a touching tale dealing with issues that may face us all one day; at times harsh, at times heart-warming, always enthralling.


Justina's one of the UK's best writers of science fiction, going all the way back to Clarke Award nominee Silver Screen in 1999. Here she turns her considerable mind on the eternal question of AI and human happiness, in a tale more relevant than ever. – Lavie Tidhar



  • "What a superb novella this is: imagine we put an AI globally in charge of our happiness and welfare. Are human beings so contrary and suspicious of outside control that many would then immediately want to undermine its success?"

    – Goodreads Reviewer 
  • "While Robson lays out these classic themes, which date all the way back to R.U.R., with admirable clarity and logic, she also grounds her tale by recurrently focusing on a few human characters, most notably Devorah and Domitia, Russian and Chinese gang leaders who become on-again, off-again allies, and Grace, whom we first meet as a teenager being raised by a nanny robot after her parents disappeared years earlier, later as an 18-year-old soldier in a carefully staged World War III... what Robson does achieve is a sharply articulated encapsulation, from an unusual point of view, of the problems facing a well-inten­tioned AI trying to deal with the chaotic likes of us."

    – Gary K. Wolfe in Locus
  • "…a tale that is sleek and sophisticated and ultimately very moving."

    – Amazon reviewer 




Grace sits in the window seat of her apartment in Scarborough. It's at the end of the North Shore and overlooks the sea from the top of the cliff.

'Do you think Dad is all right?'

Daisy #241 is an old model. She's folding the laundry. Two pairs of Grace's jeans, six pairs of socks, three shirts that need to be ironed go into the basket. It's a small load for a thirteen year-old girl. Daisy has links to other models in the block who wash twice that and then some. She's proud of Grace's economy, and worried now.

Grace is thinking about her parents who have both been missing for the last seven years. Seven years Daisy has looked after Grace by herself. Sometimes that includes fielding difficult questions and navigating difficult moments like this one. Daisy isn't cut out for that. She follows her protocol and says, calmly, 'I'm sure that he is.' She finds a lone sock, but there's nothing else left from the dryer. She tries to figure out where the other one is, and races through all the image files that show the sock being cast off Grace's foot, landing on the floor, getting picked up… No, getting pushed under the bed into the shadow, and forgotten. So it's there. She'll get it later.

Grace has Fuzzy on her lap. Fuzzy is an old toy she has had since she was a baby. He was a gift from an old lady who lived across the road when her mother and father shared a home together, at a faraway place, in another world. The old lady didn't have children of her own, and she'd taken a shine to Grace's mother. Fuzzy is a kind of a cushion, which is also a pyjama case, in the shape of a scruffy, long-haired grey and white dog. He once had a black plastic nose which was textured and shiny like a real dog nose, but that has long since fallen off along with most of his synthetic fur. He is nearly bald, except for his ears, which Grace strokes repeatedly. Fuzzy is a constant presence; the only one, except Daisy, who came with the apartment when I moved them here. It's my job to look after her, until she wants to look after herself. I do this through Daisy.

I am worried about Grace. Daisy's worry is my worry. I feel that I ought to tell her the truth, but I'm not sure what she remembers. It's true to say that Grace's father is fine.

'Where do you think he is?'

'I don't know,' Daisy says. 'People go all over.'

'When I'm sixteen I'm going to go and find him,' Grace says firmly.

At sixteen she will be free to go where she wants and I can't stop her. The world will be open to her, and she can choose any domain. She will be free to track her parents down, and I will have to help her do so. I want to protect Grace, but I can't protect her from the truth, if that's what she wants. Somehow I am going to have to figure out a way to prepare her for it. She's said it all her life. I've no reason to think she won't follow through on her decision.

'Would you even go to Tempest?' Daisy says, teasingly, to lift the mood. Tempest is a domain full of criminals, and once you go there you are not allowed out without special permission of the Tempest herself.

Tempest is me wearing another hat.

All the AIs are me. I split up to create a wider possibility field for myself.

'Yes. Maybe. I don't know.' Daisy gives all the answers because she is bound by a lot of possibilities.

Grace pulls on the long, ragged ear of the toy. 'Do you think he's there, Daisy? Do you know?' She looks across.

Daisy pauses, the ironing board out, her hand raised so that she doesn't burn the shirt beneath. 'I don't know. He could be there.'

Grace is frustrated, but also sad and vulnerable. She wants to get an answer, but at the same time she's scared of the answers. Why would her parents be anywhere else? Why wouldn't they be here? There aren't so many answers available to that question. But she already knows where her mother is. Dead and gone. Her fingers undo Fuzzy's zip. Inside his ancient pocket is a red paper heart folded down the middle which says on it in black pen:

To Grace.

Love you always, my Valentine.

Mummy. xxx

She touches the paper but she doesn't bring it out. She zips him up again.

'Can I go to Susie's for dinner?'

Susie is another orphan who lives on the block. Susan's Daisy will be happy to have them both. Daisy says yes, of course. 'Enjoy yourself!'

Grace leaves Fuzzy on the window seat. His orange and black glass eyes are lit like fire by the sun.