Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Metallic Love

Title: Metallic Love
Author: Tanith Lee
Themes: the nature of humanity, love, apocalypse, robots, science, slaves, the existence of souls, doubt, power, control, death
Rating: ***

Plot: As an orphan growing up in the slums, Loren read her clandestine copy of Jane's Story over and over, relishing every word. But Loren is no Jane. Savvy and street-smart, Loren could never be stirred by a man of metal, her passion never ignited by an almost-human-even one designed for pleasure.

Still, when the META corporation does the unthinkable and brings back updated versions of robots past-Loren knows she must see Silver. And just like Jane, it is love at first sight. But Silver is now Verlis. If he was perfection before, he is now like a god. Yet he is more human than his creators think-or fear. While Loren doesn't quite trust him, she will follow her twice-born lover into a battle to control his own destiny-own that will reveal to her the most astonishing illusion of all.

My Thoughts: Metallic Love is interesting because it is both an inversion, and a reaffirmation, of The Silver Metal Lover. For any who have not read The Silver Metal Lover it was first published in 1981-significantly before this "sequel." It stared a rich and naive Jane who fell in love with a very lifelike robot named S.I.L.V.E.R. and ran away from home to live with him. It's a poignant story of love, and an affirmation of the existence of the soul-even its potential capability to inhabit a robotic form. I have read from several sources that Metallic Love is of another spectrum of emotions, and likely any reader will like one book but not both.

Metallic Love picks up on Jane's world twelve years after S.I.L.V.E.R. and the other models have been disabled, with a very poor and "regular" girl who runs away from a strict religious community after reading The Silver Metal Lover/Jane's Story repeatedly. (I suppose I should note here that both books are written as autobiographies by the main characters, Jane and Loren.) When she finds the robots are being reissued she is compelled to see Silver in person, and so abruptly quits her job and leaves the city. When she does at last see Silver, and the others, she is recruited to help test his "capabilities." As the story progresses the reader witnesses the strange fondness and possessiveness Silver (reincarnated as Verlis, perhaps without a soul-or a different one) has for Loren (the anti-thesis of Jane). Several aspects of their relationship would be frightening if both were human; and they are even more frightening as Verlis is a robot. This combination of hate/love brings Loren deep within Verlis's struggle with his own position in society. He is superior yet a slave. He also plans to rectify that situation.

As Loren slowly unravels this plan, she comes to realize something quite important about herself (this is a very common trend in Tanith Lee's books, really the adventures all lead up to some self-discovery) which completely alters her perception of reality as well as how she perceives Verlis.

In The Silver Metal Lover sweet Jane falls in love with sweet Silver, and the book closes with an emphasis on how real that love was, and how special and human Silver was. Metallic Love has an ambiguous female lead, and a sometimes downright cruel Verlis, they struggle not only with the past (Jane's Story-is he Silver or Verlis?) but also with questions of power and societal position. The book closes not with humanity, but with its anti-thesis. In this way, Metallic Love is an inversion of The Silver Metal Lover. However. In the final chapter, readers will also find a small reaffirmation of humanity and the existence of the soul. I really feel like even that gives too much away.

Recommendation: Oh it's a quick read, just go for it. Especially read it if you have read The Silver Metal Lover, but it's really not necessary to have that background to understand and appreciate Metallic Love.

Random Excerpt: "Her conversation with him, and mine, was a double helix, and he was the axis.

I thought about that through the afternoon. The "comfortable" room was makeshift, the bed a mattress on the floor which, though clean, had already been slept in, and the bathroom gave only cold water. The kitchen-hatch downstairs had tea-making facilities. I drank mug after mug of Prittea." (page. 158)

Similar Reads: The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee, (several books I have not read but seem to have similar themes include:) He, She and It by Marge Piercy, Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Lee, Tanith. Metallic Love. New York: Bantam Books, 2005.

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