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Review: Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

Lee's novel, a romantic science fiction novel or a science fictional romance novel (saying whether the SF or the romance is more central is meaningless; Silver Metal Lover intricately and simple entwines them), is beautiful, poignant, and powerful.  It is, in some ways, perhaps a little dated; and in others, a little clunky; but it is, overall, simply beautiful and incredible.

The novel is centred on the character of Jane, who grows, over the course of the slender volume (240 pages, thereabouts) told in the first person from a spoiled child who lives in her mother's shadow to an independent, strong, intelligent woman in her own right.  This kind of character development can be very badly done - Mary Sue tendencies, or jerky, unrealistic personal growth - but Lee manages it brilliantly; there is an organic process, a combination of internal and external factors, that drives Jane's development, and we see it through her eyes, naturally more clearly than she herself does.  The other major character, Silver, is a different being; an android, he develops humanity - and it is a fascinating, fantastic process to see his and Jane's discovery of this developing humanity.  The relationship between them is the central point of which everything else hangs off; the development of their characters is caused by the relationship and their feelings, the other characters - especially the brilliant, bitchy, kind and spiteful Clovis - revolve around the relationship, in varyingly obscure ways.

The plot is relatively simple, and it is the story of Jane's character developing into itself, and of the relationship between Silver and Jane.  It's a simple, small and quiet plot; there are a number of elements - the independence Jane seeks, the fear of the androids exhibited by the general populace (or at least, feared to exist there), the actions of Demeta, Jane's mother, and Clovis' serial relationships and cruelty (albeit never, really, to Jane) - which variably tie in or divorce themselves from the main plot but all add up to deliver the essential point of the novel, which is the characterisation.  Silver Metal Lover, in that regard, reminds me of a number of Pixar movies: the point is subtly made, but made all the same, that non-humans can have souls, and it's made through the style and characterisation, rather than beating us over the head with it.  That there are no real antagonists is a strong point, although rather undermined and subverted at the end, perhaps.

Tied into all this is Lee's writing style, which makes Silver Metal Lover such a beautiful book to read.  Jane's first-person narration shifts style as the story goes on and she grows up, and it works incredibly well; the prose style is beautiful and poignant, and the focus on detail and aesthetics - fabrics are described in such a way that we can really imagine and see them - is powerfully effective in making the world real, as real as the characters and their emotions.

Silver Metal Lover has to be one of the best, most human books I have read this year, or indeed ever; thank you, then, to the_corbie and his FList for recommending Lee, and this particular novel, and it is a recommendation I am more than glad to second.

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