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

Review: Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

‘I was alive, and from past experience I knew in time I would forget enough to again pretend that we could someday be free’

I recently put out a Tweet asking the wonderful hive to give me science fiction recommendations. I know I have mentioned endlessly how many books are sitting on my TBR but since this year I seem to be leaning heavily on the SF part of SFF, I felt the need to build up a list. But then I took no recs, and started listening to Borne by Jeff Vandermeer because I was stressed and needed some New Weird. Sound like me eh?

In a nameless City, ruled by a flying bear called Mord, Rachel is a scavenger and a survivor. One day while scavenging Mord’s fur she finds something that she and her partner, Wick, may be able to eat or even sell. But when Rachel brings this thing home and discovers it can talk, grow and think, she names it Borne. Paired with the ever looming threat of their sanctuary being rumbled, Rachel and Wick begin to navigate a new type of family life around Borne. But what is he? And what does he want?

The looming world of the City and it’s sheer decrepit squalor was hard to not fear as Rachel described it from her daily life. This isn’t quite a post apocalyptic world but it’s damn near close. Everything from children to foxes have been forever warped and changed by the biotech the City brought with them. I could definitely feel the danger looming at any second.

I really loved Rachel as a character and her little found family. She was resilient in a world that is otherwise stripped of humanity but is not without compassion. Her and Wick have an interesting,complex relationship that only complicates as the story goes on. However, the true stand out moments are those with Rachel and Borne. Rachel openly calls herself a mother to Borne in many places but as Borne grows and becomes more intelligent, the reader does get the sense that he (gender term assigned by Rachel) is of unknown origin and purpose. Then things become a little more sinister and you do genuinely feel like Rachel is consulting you on those decisions as the story goes on.

I will say my connection to any of the characters waned a bit as the story went and I became more fascinated with the biotech within this world, especially the Magician as she is called. I feel the Magicians story could have been more rounded but that is just a small criticism. The plot itself delivers fantastically and without giving you too many answers, Vandermeer does follow up with reasons why Rachel, Borne and Wick have been so mysterious the entire book.

One of my main motivators for finally reading this was that Vandermeer’s new release, Dead Astronauts, is actually a companion story to Borne. So naturally I read this first and I really enjoyed it. So that will hopefully be soon on the blog, but regardless I highly recommend this book on audio.

★★★★.5/5

Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

‘One Flesh, One End. Say it loser.’

Have you ever had a book rip a hole in your very soul? Have you ever had a book that you threw (softly, because you love it and it has feelings) across the room for the damage it inflicted on you? Have you wept for your favourite characters because you want them to be safe? This was my experience of reading Gideon the Ninth.

Gideon Nav has a sword, some dirty magazines and serves the Ninth House. Gideon wants out of the Ninth and their necromantic business. When the ninth heir, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, is summoned by the Emperor Undying to take part in a trial that will secure her future, she summons Gideon to be her cavalier. As Gideon reluctantly follows her nemesis to the First House under a promise of freedom from the Ninth, both soon realise that some things are truly better off dead.

I am not exaggerating. This is my favourite I’ve read so far in 2020 and its only February. This is the gothy, mouthy SFF book my soul wanted so desperately. What Muir has managed here is a genre mash up with vibrant, memorable characters and a spinning plot. Like what is not to love, this is necromancers with swords people locked into a mysterious, empty house with one instruction; do not enter any locked door without permission.

Each of the houses are on different planets, all having to travel to the First house (Canaan House) for the trial. I do feel the world building lacked a little here but since the majority of the plot happened in Canaan House I didn’t mind as much. Hell sometimes I didn’t even notice because the house became its own character and was basically a giant puzzle box to be solved. Just think The Hellbound Heart but with no cenobites and skeletons instead.

Muir really shows her strengths here with her characters. Gideon as a protagonist made this such an enjoyable read. Readers may not gel with the sarcasm and sheer level of attitude that Gideon and Harrow have, but I am a sarcastic twat who always wants the last word so I can well and truly relate. The other cast of characters to begin with are very forgettable, since like Harrow, they have long aristocratic names that sound amazing but can blend together especially in the first half. This is why I would highly recommend the audio book of this since the narrator distinguishes each character beautifully. I’ll gush about Harrow and Gideon in a second but honestly outside of both of them I loved the members of the sixth house, Palamedes and Camilla his cavalier.

Something I loved as well the necromancy. For a start there are different types of necromancy. This blew my mind since my experience with necromancy in books is limited to Garth Nix and some DnD one shots. Palamedes, and the entire sixth house, is an agent of medical necromancy. There are others, including soul siphoning (creep central), flesh constructs (also creep central) and so much more I can’t wait to learn about.

Gideon and Harrow. Holy shit. Watching both of these women who grew up together with a very distinct power imbalance along with lifelong trauma, learn how to trust each other and confront their own egos. Once the plot gathers into what is a murder mystery (more genre mashing!) they both have no other choice but to stick together. Muir has created some absolutely devastating character moments in this book, by the time the book reaches the final act you are totally connected to them.

The ending is a total payoff. The one common thread I think many who have finished the book and who didn’t enjoy the first two thirds is that Muir wraps up the plot wonderfully. I found myself in tears and well and truly shook by it. Before finishing this review, I read the last 100 pages again last night. I am still shook by the conclusion.

Have you read this? Are you going to read it? Are you someone who started this and didn’t finish it? I need to discuss this with someone and I love a good discussion of a book that people didn’t like but that I loved wholeheartedly. Thank you for checking in folks, happy reading!

★★★★★/5

Sunday Shorts: 3 Mini Reviews (08.12.19)

Good evening all and welcome back to Sunday Shorts! I’ve decided to try and run this section of the blog bi weekly and see how I get on. This week I have another novella, short story and a graphic novel for you all. And before you ask, yes. Neil Gaiman is in this one too.

In the wake of his infant daughter’s tragic death, Steve Brannigan is struggling to keep himself together. Estranged from his wife, who refuses to be inside the house where the unthinkable happened, and unable to work, he seeks solace in an endless parade of old sitcoms and a bottle of bourbon.
Until one night he hears a sound from his daughter’s old room, a room now stripped bare of anything that identified it as hers…except for her security blanket, affectionately known as Blanky.
Blanky, old and frayed, with its antiquated patchwork of badly sewn rabbits with black button eyes, who appear to be staring at the viewer…Blanky, purchased from a strange old man at an antique stall selling “BABY CLOSE” at a discount.
The presence of Blanky in his dead daughter’s room heralds nothing short of an unspeakable nightmare that threatens to take away what little light remains in Steve’s shattered world.
Because his daughter loved Blanky so much, he buried her with it.
  • Title: Blanky
  • Author: Kealan Patrick Burke
  • Genre: Contemporary horror

    After reading Sour Candy for the last round of Sunday Shorts I thought this would be the best follow up to reading Kealan Patrick Burke. Unfortunately this was a bit meh for me and it was a slog to finish. One aspect of the book is the discussion of grief and particularly the death of an infant. I do think that was handled very well but the story itself was not as good as I expected and the plot lacked in places. I still intend to read more of Burke’s work but this one was not for me.

★★★/5

In this standalone short story by N. K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Season, the winner of this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel, New York City is about to go through a few changes. Like all great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife…and how well he can learn to sing the city’s mighty song
  • Title: The City Born Great
  • Author: N.K Jemisin
  • Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

    This was a nice story and a bit of a different work than what I’m used to from Jemisin. This is set in a modern day as opposed to a further future that we saw in her Broken Earth trilogy for example and it is wonderful. For such a short work there is a great discussion of homelessness ,racism and police brutality towards black men. This is the shorter work that has beget Jemisin’s new novel due out in 2020, The City We Became and I can’t wait to see how she continues it.

★★★★/5

THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS is a comics adaptation of Gaiman’s original prose novella by the same name illustrated by Yoshitako Amano. This graphic novel was illustrated by the legendary P. Craig Russell. A humble young monk and a magical, shape-changing fox find themselves romantically drawn together. As their love blooms, the fox learns of a devilish plot by a group of demons and a Japanese emperor to steal the monk’s life. With the aid of Morpheus, the fox must use all of her cunning and creative thinking to foil this evil scheme and save the man that she loves.
  • Title: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
  • Authors: Neil Gaiman, P.Craig Russell
  • Genre: Graphic novel, fantasy, horror

    This is an obvious fact by now that The Sandman is my favourite series of all times in terms of comics and this one is the latest I have read in order to have the entire universe read and covered this year. This story, will hurt you. I cried like I did when I read The Kindly Ones and this story isn’t even about Dream. This story focuses on the characters that Morpheus just happens to find in his realm and as usual, what his duties really entail which we all know is making tough decisions.

★★★★★/5

That’s it this week for Sunday Shorts! Maybe next time I may have a few more works since I plan on introducing single issue comics to this too and I have a MASSIVE comics TBR at the moment. Tell me some of the shorter things you have read recently! I’d love to hear what I could read next.

Sci Fi Books Written by Women Authors that I Loved

In case you are new here, hi I’m Hedwig and I’m a lady that loves scifi and fantasy. I have also read an eclectic amount of both scifi, fantasy and horror written buy some wonderful women. I feel like sometimes I have read books that very few people seem to talk about that would make great books for discussions about various aspects of scifi.

So here I am with another list of some of these books that are firm favourites of mine that I’d love to be able to discuss with others at some stage. Just a not that I didn’t include Margaret Atwood since she is pretty well known. These are also just very good books you should check out anyway;

  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: You have no idea how quickly I voted for this in the Hugo awards. This book follows Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter of the Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation). The world we know has ended, destroyed by climate change and overrun with monsters, Gods and other entities. Maggie is then tasked with finding a missing girl and uncovers a much bigger threat to the entire tribe that she alone can fight. This book is AMAZING. Native culture is wonderful and not ever publicised enough in literature. All of the supernatural figures are not your usual greek or roman creatures which makes for a much more interesting book.
  • Kindred by Octavia E.Butler: Yes she may be known as Dame Octavia but noone is talking about her half as much as they should. This is the story of Dana who while moving into her new home with her husband, falls down nauseous and dizzy and wakes up in a river in 19th century Maryland which is a dangerous place for a black woman. Dana and her husband have to figure out why she is time travelling back to the antebellum South and how she can stay alive while she is there. This book is a hard but fantastic read. You are literally praying for Dana’s safety anytime she jumps back, you can’t put it down and the scenes are very raw descriptions of the tortures endured by people of colour during this time of slavery. Also a good introduction to Butler as an author.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: No. I won’t shut up about this book. This books details the mission of human male Genly Ai. Ai is an agent for the Ekumen, an intergalactic counsel and has been tasked of convincing the planet Gethen (or Winter) to join the council. Gethenians have no gender, choosing to be male or female once a month during a period known as ‘kemmer’ and we follow Ai on his mission to both learn and navigate his way on Gethen. Never has this book been more relevant with its questions of gender, sexuality and the nature of war. This a powerful, quick read that mixes political machination with growing a relationship with someone from a world you know nothing of.
  • The Beauty by Aaliah Whiteley: A short but powerful story that is firmly within the New Weird category, within this world all the women are dead. Taken by a sickness, the men that are now left are living with the Group in the Valley of the Rocks. Nate is the storyteller of the group and relives memories of days past each night with the Group. How will they continue in a world without women? I won’t say anymore and will firmly remind you this is a book within the New Weird so it is WEIRD. It’s so well written and has a very very different outcome to what you may consider could be in the book. There are some very relevant questions in this book about societal structures, politics and gender roles in society. Definitely worth a read.
  • Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill: One of Cork’s own writers, this is a young adult book that hits very hard. In a future world, girls are created in labs, made for men and educated for their pleasures. All girls are numbered, rated and punished when not ‘suitable’. This book follows Freida as she and her closest friend, Isabel, approach their final year. Then Isabel starts putting on weight. Then she disappears briefly. Then the boys arrive and Frieda may have to do the unthinkable to survive. I read this book in a night and cried for ages after finishing. O’Neill has written other books that push subjects that need to be discussed such as date rape, love and bodily autonomy but nothing will haunt you as much as this future that remakes The Handmaids Tale into something scarier.
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor: Phoenix is a 2 year old woman with the body and mins of an adult and a product of New York’s Tower 7. Phoenix lives in the tower with other ‘accelerated humans’ and questions nothing about her life. Until her partner, Saeed, commits suicide at a result of seeing something horrible Phoenix then begins to realise her home is prison and she will soon discover her true power and how she will change humanity forever. I love Nnedi Okorafor’s book and this is no execption. The world building ,the characters and the writing are so vibrant with a very powerful presence on the page. This book moves from America to Africa and is a prequel to Okorafor’s other novel Who Fears Death. Phoenix is an angry, powerful character who questions everything around her and stands by her decisions and her mistakes.

So theres my list, I’ll be making one for my fantasy recs as well as horror but I think that there is something in here for everyone.

Do you have any books that are less hyped scifi? Do you have any favourites? I’d love to hear your recommendations. Thanks for reading guys!