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The Silver Metal Lover
Tanith Lee
Bantam Spectra, 291 pages

Kinuko Y. Craft
The Silver Metal Lover
Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee has written 58 novels and 9 collections of novellas and short stories. Her work has been translated into over 15 languages. She is a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award for short fiction, and she received the August Derleth Award in 1980 for her novel Death's Master. She lives in southeast England with her husband, writer John Kahne, and two cats.

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A review by Victoria Strauss

I read my first Tanith Lee novel when I was in my teens, and I've been eagerly devouring her fiction ever since. Sadly, a great deal of her work is out of print, and so it's an occasion for rejoicing when one of her books is re-issued. The re-publication of The Silver Metal Lover (out of print for more than a decade) is an especially exciting event, for it's one of Lee's best -- lush, sensual, dark, and utterly enthralling.

Jane is a pampered rich girl. She lives in a fantastic house raised high above the city on metal struts. Her doting mother gives her everything her heart could desire: luxurious rooms, fabulously expensive clothing, a bigger allowance than she can think how to spend, all the conditioning and cosmetics and beauty aids that money can buy. Jane has no idea that she's bored until she encounters Silver, an impossibly beautiful, impossibly human-seeming robot created by a company called Electronic Metals Ltd. Silver has been built to be a musician, and his exquisite singing stirs something in Jane that she has never felt before.

Jane knows it's crazy to fall in love with a robot. But she thinks she's seen something in Silver -- something more than clockwork and computer chips, something beyond the machine. When she discovers that Electronic Metals intends to dismantle Silver, because he hasn't checked out on their function tests, she persuades a wealthy friend to buy him. Together, she and Silver flee to the only place where they can live undisturbed: the city's decayed and violent slums. There, in a dilapidated apartment they transform into a fairy tale refuge, Jane begins to understand that she wasn't mistaken when she glimpsed a soul inside the metal body of her lover.

The accompanying literature describes The Silver Metal Lover as a romance. And indeed it is, capturing with breathless intensity the delirium of first love. But it's also a story of becoming human. Silver, acquiring free will, learning to feel love and fear, makes this journey; and so does Jane, who has spent her whole life cocooned in wealth, parroting the tastes and beliefs of those around her, pre-programmed by her environment and education just as Silver has been pre-programmed by his builders. Layer by layer they shed their conditioning, a struggle to freedom that parallels their unfolding love story, and lends it depth and poignancy.

Lee's prose is lush and lyrical, her settings exotic and powerfully atmospheric. There's a cyberpunk feel to the world she creates, with its machine-driven culture and huge gap between rich and poor, but unlike a lot of early cyberpunk, it doesn't seem dated. The characters -- Silver and Jane especially, but also the many secondary players -- are unforgettable, rendered with great feeling and delicious flashes of humour. The Silver Metal Lover is a feast for the mind and the heart, one of the most purely enjoyable reads I've had in ages. Bantam is to be commended for bringing this wonderful novel back into print, and giving a new generation of readers a chance to discover it.

Copyright © 1999 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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