Review – The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
Series: Silver Metal Lover #1
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? Goodreads
I was a little apprehensive about reading The Silver Metal Lover, just as I am with all of my childhood favourites. Will they be as good as I remembered? Will they have aged terribly and be out of touch with 2020? This feeling was even more pronounced as Silver was one of my first teen book crush. I didn’t want to regret rereading now and tarnishing the memory that I hold dear.
But after telling myself I’m not a wuss and pulling up my (big girl) socks, I got reading. As you’ve likely gathered, I have the tendency to overthinks things.
The Silver Metal Lover includes two of my three favourite genres, science fiction and romance. Horror makes a brief appearance in aspects of human behaviour but it isn’t front and centre. Yes, the science is dated but it still works, because the world building is that good.
Show not tell
I know that the art of writing is technical and can be quantified, however on the page of this book it looks effortless. And when executed well a paragraph, a sentence even can reduce you to dread or to the heights of sublime joy. It can tell you so much about the world, situation or characters in the roundabout, offhand way which is the best method to get to know your plot, themes and characters.
Within a couple of pages, we already know much about Jane, she has the trappings of wealth and ease but is lonely, insecure. Living a constructed, prescribed life in an artificial world. She is ripe for love.
I’m not very good at being alive. Sometimes I despair of ever mastering it, getting it right.Jane
Sometimes I’ve been told I’m pretty or attractive, but I’m never sure. I wish I were someone else really.”Jane
Silver is part of a new range of robots who are programmed to have more humanlike capabilities but not their limitations. 70 pages in, only two brief direct encounters, yet his presence through Jane’s desire, obsession, fixation means he dominates the book.
You are attributing human reactions to meSilver to Jane
We have been imbued with Jane’s perception of Silver, and this colours our interaction before we have the opportunity to really know him. But when we do, we grow to love Silver too; He is perfect in all ways. His development from pristine factory made robot to evolved human consciousness is central to one of the book’s main theme:
Jane accurately sums up her mother as a woman who had lots of options so Jane didn’t have to. Just reading that hurts, cuts deep What does that tell us about their relationship?
Demeta is a very busy woman, her diary is scheduled and slots are reserved for spending time with Jane. It makes you wonder why she had a child. What was the purpose of Jane? An extension of Demeta? A living doll to mould and shape?
An enduring memory from this book is Demeta saying in response to Jane not remembering something ”that’s because you don’t want to.” Their relationship is too clinical. It is parallel rather than intertwined. The mother daughter relationship is dissected at fleeting intervals but even the little we see is enough – it is overt. It is clear that parental influence modifies our frames of reference. Jane is almost like a project that Demeta is refining.
Jane’s limited friendship network are real individuals, faults and unpleasant attributes too. For the most part they are unlikable: a product of their time aimless trying to forge a path where there is nothing to do. Money alleviates this to some extent but an existence without purpose or firm interest is a slow living death. This world if you are rich and are exempt from working, is one where you thirst for any excitement and feign enthusiasm for the sake of something to do.
Why I love it so, even though it breaks my heart
From the first time to this last time, reading The Silver Metal Lover has always brought me back to this troubling question, What is the purpose of humans?. If robots can do all the essential job, technical tasks – routine and mundane, what are humans supposed to do with their lives? Here in this world humans take on creative work, making new and fresh content or reinterpreting old classics. Yet that will soon become a redundant skill as the new types of robots will be capable of doing that and undoubtedly better too.
What does it say about us, by that I mean humans? We hate that which we know or think is different or perceive to be better than us. We would rather destroy than see achievement celebrated elsewhere.
The Silver Metal Lover, is in my opinion the most beautiful love story, telling us about a relationship where you also find yourself. Jane and Silver together become better, being together makes them both introspective – they begin to understand themselves more. Perception of their own character allows their relationship to develop to a pinnacle – the very opposite of a folie a deux.
It is bittersweet, it smarts in places but is the real deal.
A masterpiece , it can only be 5 stars.