Review:The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

‘I’m not very good at being alive. Sometimes I despair of ever mastering it, getting it right. When I’m old, perhaps.’

******Trigger warnings: Mention of rape, alcohol, self harm and suicide******

Cast your mind back to the October of 2018. What were you doing? I had just returned home from Canada from the trip of a lifetime and was looking to my first anniversary with my now partner. In the mean time, I decided I was going to attend my first Octocon (this comes up a lot), the Irish Science Fiction convention. (It should be this coming month, I’m quite emotional) While at it, I learned the guest of honour, Colleen Doran, was involved in the Kickstarter to reprint the graphic novel of this book. Which led me to Google this book and I’ve been in love ever since. Reader, I’m in love with a robot.

Love is made of more than mere flesh and blood….

Tanith Lee is one of the most thought-provoking and imaginative authors of our time. In this unforgettably poignant novel, Lee has created a classic tale–a beautiful, tragic, erotic, and ultimately triumphant love story of the future.

For sixteen-year-old Jane, life is a mystery she despairs of ever mastering. She and her friends are the idle, pampered children of the privileged class, living in luxury on an Earth remade by natural disaster. Until Jane’s life is changed forever by a chance encounter with a robot minstrel with auburn hair and silver skin, whose songs ignite in her a desperate and inexplicable passion.

Jane is certain that Silver is more than just a machine built to please. And she will give up everything to prove it. So she escapes into the city’s violent, decaying slums to embrace a love bordering on madness. Or is it something more? Has Jane glimpsed in Silver something no one else has dared to see–not even the robot or his creators? A love so perfect it must be destroyed, for no human could ever compete?

I read this way back when in 2018 I bought it and I distinctly remember being in a bit of a reading slump back then due to job stress so had trouble remembering the full details. I’m so glad I read it again now of all times. I loved this book, right down to the last words and finished it in 2 sittings. If you have ever avoided this because of the romance factors of the plot, don’t let it even stop you. I’m not a romance reader and there is so much more at play here.

Many writers manage to write decent dystopia, Tanith Lee is the only one I have read who manages a good utopia. Honestly you would think it’s easier but I struggle with even believing the few I have read, but this one is totally one I could get behind. People using a treatment called Rejuvinex to make them look younger, contraceptive injections for everyone not just women, a process of having a child and giving birth without the process of birthing. Why wouldn’t these be the things that people would try and use in the future? Contraceptives are already going in that direction slowly but surely.

I can also believe every bit of this world. A world where the wealthy live in the clouds and have the luxury of avoiding a contaminated river where the poorer people struggle to maintain living conditions with earthquakes, said river and the results of a planet change is something similar to what is happening now. The group of teenagers that Jane is associated with and she herself as one too, are some of the most selfish and confused creatures of the wealthy class. We do only see one parental figure, Demeta, Jane’s mother who is more present and a bit stricter with Jane but is still a big absentee. This is the same as Lev Grossman’s Magicians, if teenagers were left the amount of alcohol, freedom and money they wanted without guardianship, they would behave like this. Not to say any of them are bad (well 2 are but they are supposed to be) for doing these things, it a utopic setting we all might do the same.

The characters are a shining light (I see my teen self in Jane) and the romance is wonderful but something that Tanith Lee hits right on the head is discussions of consent and sexuality. Silver is a robot while Jane is a human and there is endless discussions across the entire science fiction genre about robot/AI characters and consent. This time, it was slightly flipped and took me by genuine surprise where Jane is lamenting that Silver doesn’t want her, he just wants to please her:

‘No, because you don’t want me, or your body doesn’t, which is more important.’
‘You have to make me happy.’ I got out.
‘I won’t make you happy by raping you. Even at your own request.’

There are slim picking in a lot of SFF stories so I’ll take what I can and this one genuinely took me by surprise. There is also a discussion between Demeta and Jane early on where she tries to discuss with her daughter about learning about her own sexuality and she encourages her to explore it herself since she isn’t seeing anyone. So if you like to see that in your books then, I implore you to read this.

I’ve made no secret of my love for Tanith Lee before, particularly on my Twitter but I genuinely think a lot of people sleep on this book for many reasons. Most of them are listed above but this book ticks so many boxes for so many fans of different tropes, discussions and genres that I would love to recommend more of her books to you all. There is a sequel, I finally found an acceptable copy! So hopefully I’ll follow up on this review with my read of that. Thanks for checking in guys! Happy reading!

★★★★★/5

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