Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review of The Silver Metal Lover

The Silver Metal Lover
by Tanith Lee
304pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.27/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.51/5

The Silver Metal Lover by the prolific Tanith Lee was originally published in 1981. It has one sequel, Metallic Love, published about 24 years after the first book. The Silver Metal Lover stands alone well as a complete story, and Metallic Love, which focuses on a different set of characters, actually takes place twelve years after this one. From what I have heard, the second book is not nearly as good as its predecessor, but not having actually read it, I can't supply my own opinion on the matter. The basic premise of the story is a girl falls in love with a robot but The Silver Metal Lover is much more than that - both a bittersweet romantic tale and a coming of age story told from the perspective of sixteen year old Jane.

Jane is a wealthy teenage girl who has never had to think for herself: she's perfectly happy to adopt her mother's opinions as her own. She's rarely had to make decisions on her own since everything from her ideal hair color to the perfect weight for her body type have been made for her and are regulated through treatments and pills. Her life consists of keeping up with the latest dramas of her "friends" (most of whom she admits she doesn't even actually like) and pleasing her mother until she hears a singer on the street. When she sees his face, Jane thinks he is beautiful. However, he is not a man but S.I.L.V.E.R., one of the newest creations of Electronic Metals, Ltd., a manufacturer of robots who have a new line of machines that appear to be very human.

As much as Jane tries to forget about this robot, she keeps encountering him and eventually comes to the realization that she is in love with a machine. Although she is rich, Jane does have a monthly cap on her allowance to teach her responsibility and does not have enough money to buy Silver. Her friend Clovis concocts a plan to help Jane get what she wants from their friend Egyptia, who has rented Silver, but this time with the robot is fleeting. In desperation, Jane sells all her possessions and gives up her life of luxury in order to possess her one true love - and in the process, she grows up and learns a lot about herself.

The entire novel is a diary kept by Jane as she tries to resolve her personal issues with her love for the robot Silver and the likelihood of her mother's disapproval. In the beginning, Jane is exceptionally melodramatic and cries... A LOT. The first time she saw Silver, she cried. When he came over and talked to her, she started crying again. After that, she went to her friend Clovis's house where she broke down and wept some more. She is also not particularly independent and finds it comforting that her mother is opinionated so she does not have to be. Jane's identity is very closely tied to her mother in the early part of the novel, as she barely has a thought that is not followed by her pondering what her mother would say about it. These traits do indeed make her somewhat annoying to start with, but she is not a stagnant character. Once Jane begins to realize the truth about herself, she makes a confession to Silver:
"I'm very stupid," I said, "and very selfish. That's because I'm rich and I don't know much about real life. And I've been sheltered. And I have a lot of faults."
This was a real turning point for Jane. Not only does she come to realize some of her flaws, but from this point on, she does grow a lot as a character and becomes much more likable (and less weepy, fortunately).

Throughout the novel both Jane and Silver change as they both become less and less victims of the ways they are supposed to function. Jane loves Silver even though he claims to be a mere machine that is incapable of emotion, a commodity that has been created and programmed to please any human being he is interacting with. Yet mainly because of Silver, Jane discovers who she really is underneath all the ways she personally has been programmed throughout her entire life. Likewise, Silver learns that he is not exactly what he has always believed due to his relationship with Jane.

Lee's prose is beautifully poignant without being terribly dense, a combination I rarely see. The Silver Metal Lover is a fairly short, easy read, but there are some nicely written moments, such as Jane's revelation that she is in love with Silver as he walks away from her:
And there was only him. Everything else became a backdrop, and then it went away altogether. And he went away and nothing came back to replace him.

I've written this down on paper because I just couldn't say it aloud to the tape. Tomorrow, my mother will ask what I wanted to discuss with her. But this isn't for my mother. It's for some stranger - for you, whoever you are - someone who'll never read it. Because that's the only way I could say any of it. I can't tell Demeta, can I?

He's a machine, and I'm in love with him.

He's with Egyptia, and I'm in love with him.

He's been packed up in a crate, and I'm in love with him.

Mother, I'm in love with a robot...
It is true that Jane is a bit extremely dramatic sometimes, especially earlier in the book, but I think it's perfectly fitting and believable for the diary of a teenage girl.

Although this story is touching and sweet at times, it is not all happy. Readers who enjoy neatly tied up happy endings will want to avoid this book. The ending did fail to affect me as much as I really felt it should have, but I think that is because Jane wrote about it after the fact so I had an idea of what was coming from how she opened that section.

Overall, I found this novel very readable and flew through it, but I also felt like it was missing something, partially because it failed to truly sadden me the way I thought it should have. That may have just been because I've found I don't seem to get as emotionally involved in reading a story as I used to (or maybe I just haven't been reading about the types of characters that I can really sympathize with lately). Once I put it down, I didn't find myself thinking about it at all until I reread parts of it for writing this review. I actually appreciated it a lot more when I reread parts of it than I did while I was reading it and immediately afterward.

The Silver Metal Lover is a lovely story about love and growing up. As the journal of a sixteen year old in the process of learning about the world, it can be rather full of angst, but Jane does learn about herself and become wiser about herself and the world as she writes about her life and thoughts.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Goodreads Q&A with Neil Gaiman

Earlier today I saw that Goodreads just had a Q&A with Neil Gaiman. For an hour, Gaiman stopped by and answered questions fans put up on Goodreads. It was a lot of fun to read through and I wish I'd known about it beforehand to stop by.

I'm hoping to get a review up this weekend of either The Silver Metal Lover or Last Argument of Kings; I haven't had much time to read or review and probably won't have as much time until the middle of July. Unfortunately, I'm finding it really difficult to read In the Night Garden when I don't have much time for reading. It's not that it's a bad book because it's not at all; it's just one where reading a few pages at a time doesn't work very well - and that's exactly what I've ended up doing, just reading 10 pages or so before bedtime.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Shared Worlds: Real Life Fantasy/Science Fiction Cities

Shared Worlds sounds very interesting and is (almost) making me wish I were a high school student again so I could benefit from it. Basically, some students have a two week camp where they collaborate to develop a world and develop stories, games, and art based in it. That sounds like a great experience and a lot of fun!

This year World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer is participating and asked fellow speculative fiction authors Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, China Mieville, and Michael Moorcock the following question: "What's your top pick for the top real-life fantasy or science fiction city?" To see which cities they picked and why, read the interview.

Which cities would you pick? I haven't been to any of the cities mentioned but I rather liked Elizabeth Hand's answer (and I never realized she was from my home state until I read her bio with it). Maybe after next month I'll decide Las Vegas qualifies... I'll just have to wait and see!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Recommendations

I'm looking for fast-paced books that suck you in, keep you absorbed, and aren't difficult to get back into if you happen to get interrupted - basically, the type of book you would want to read on a long drive or flight (more specifically, the type I would want to read on an 8 hour flight to or from Las Vegas). Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Poll Closed

The poll for the book to read next is now closed since I finished Last Argument of Kings today. It ended up as a tie between Tim Powers and Catherynne Valente. Based on the comments on both books I have by those authors, I decided to go with the book by Valente this time. I've been curious about The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden for a while now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review of The Mote in God's Eye

The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle was published in 1974. This novel set in the CoDominium universe contains some hard science fiction and is a story about first contact between humans and an alien race. There is a sequel entitled The Gripping Hand (or The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye in most countries) that was released about 20 years after the first novel, and there are several other stories that take place in the same world written by Jerry Pournelle. The Mote in God's Eye stands perfectly well on its own, though.

In the year 3017, a rebellion on the world of New Chicago has just ended, thanks to a risky move by Commander Rod Blaine. After this, Rod Blaine is promoted and given control of the ship MacArthur. He is ordered to never make such a foolish move again and charged with bringing the ship to New Scotland along with two passengers, a Senator's niece who was a prisoner and a trader suspected of playing a large role in the uprising. On the way to New Scotland, Blaine receives a message that a suspected alien ship has been found - the first sign of alien life the humans have ever seen. Since the MacArthur is near the spacecraft, Rod Blaine is ordered to intercept it.

When Blaine pursues the spacecraft, he discovers it is heading straight for a sun and neatly captures the ship without burning his own. However, in the process the alien beings were killed. Some view Blaine as a hero who made the best choice available in a difficult situation while others view him as the villain who murdered the first aliens to come into contact with humans. However, his superiors believe he did the right thing, and Blaine is sent to God's Eye to make contact with the aliens, along with several scientists and anthropologists excited to study these intelligent beings. He is accompanied by a ship run by an admiral, who is supposed to keep his distance from the aliens just in case they are unfriendly - and ordered to fire upon the MacArthur if they compromise the ship somehow.

The Mote in God's Eye was a book that I was very hesitant to read. While I love space opera, hard science fiction makes me nervous since I like to read about characters, not dry descriptions about technology. My eyes start to glaze over and I find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again for twenty minutes straight because I am anal and feel like I will miss something if I just skip it and move on. For the first 100 pages of this 560 page book, I had that problem a lot. It would start to interest me and then I'd come across something like this:
NEW CALEDONIA: Star system behind the Coal Sack with F8 primary star catalogued as Murcheson A. The distant binary, Murcheson B, is not part of the New Caledonia system. Murcheson A has six planets in five orbits, with four inner planets, a relatively wide gap containing the debris of an unformed planet, and two outer planets in a Trojan relationship. The four inner planets are named Conchobar, New Ireland, New Scotland, and Fomor, in their order from the sun which is known locally as Cal, or Old Cal, or the Sun. (pages 32-33)
This, is of course, just the beginning since this description in its entirety goes on for about a page and a half (I remembered it as going on for much longer; I suppose it was because I kept reading the same paragraph over and over again as mentioned above). Many times during the first hundred pages, I considered putting this book down or taking a break to read something else. However, I stuck with it - and I was glad I did since once it got to the interaction between the humans and aliens, I found it very readable without a dull moment.

It is still not a book I would read for stellar characterization. None of the characters are very fleshed out or three dimensional. There are various scientists and engineers, a rich merchant who wants to develop trade with the aliens, the dutiful commander of the MacArthur, the strict admiral who follows orders to the letter even if it means butchery, and one female anthropologist/love interest for the commander. I liked the characters well enough but was not particularly attached to any of them since none of them were very vividly drawn. The aliens, their culture, and the mystery surrounding their intentions was by far a better reason for reading this one.

First contact stories interest me since I enjoy reading what an alien culture might be like and the struggle to find a common ground between societies with differing worldviews. Once it got going, I found The Mote in God's Eye a fascinating portrayal of a civilization very different from humanity. It also had some great suspense since it kept me guessing about whether or not the race was malevolent and exactly what their intentions were.

The aliens, who were dubbed the Moties for their location in the area known as the Mote in God's Eye, were very intelligent and divided into several different areas of expertise. The first Motie the humans encountered was an engineer, who had a knack for developing items that were fitted perfectly to an individual and worked exceptionally well. Most of the Moties the humans interacted with were mediators, who not only studied the humans but learned to mimic the person assigned to them so well that it was difficult to tell them apart if not looking at the Motie or the human speaking. There was some confusion as the Moties had difficulty understanding that humans did not strictly fall into one category. The society was very imaginative and reading about the study of the Motie culture was the best part of the book.

The Mote in God's Eye started slowly with a bit too much description of planetary atmospheres for my taste, but once it introduced the alien race, it became very readable. The human characters were not particularly well-developed, but the Motie civilization and the secret of their intentions made for some entertaining reading.


Read Chapter One

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Borders Sci-Fi Blog

I've been following Babel Clash, the new Borders blog for science fiction and fantasy, for a few days now and thought some of you may be interested. Last week's guest was Kim Harrison, the author of the new book Once Dead, Twice Shy and The Hollows urban fantasy series (that reminds me I still need to read book 2 since I just got a hold of it recently). Kim discussed horror and phobias since her books are often shelved in horror even though she doesn't write it. This week Brandon Sanderson is discussing the line between familiar and overused tropes in fantasy - he doesn't like elves or dwarves yet there is something about dragons that he can't help but love. It's been interesting so far and I'm looking forward to seeing what other authors they have lined up.

On the subject of Kim Harrison, I read recently that she also writes fantasy under the name Dawn Cook. I've seen books by Dawn Cook several times and wondered how they are. Has anyone read any of them? If so, what did you think?

In other news, I'm still working on my review of The Mote in God's Eye. It's about halfway done but I haven't had much time to finish it lately (at least when I'm not too tired to think straight).

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Wolverine Files Winners

The giveaway for The Wolverine Files has ended and the five winners have been selected using The winners are:

Pamela M., Texas
Jake L., New York
Shaun D., California
Summer P., Canada
David L., New Jersey

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy the books. Although I haven't had a chance to read it yet, I have looked through it and it is a very nice-looking book.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Little CJ Blog Award

Orannia has presented me with the Little CJ Blog Award. Thanks, Orannia! I am honored (and frightened by Little CJ's threat but more pleased than scared).

Little CJ has ordained that I must pass this award on to only two blogs, thus proving she is truly diabolical in nature. Only two of the many fantastic blogs I read? That's really tough. So I decided to use the same method Orannia did - which blogs have added a lot to my TBR list. After looking through the wishlist and recent purchases, there are two blogs that stand out as major contributors:

The Book Smugglers
Fantasy Debut

Good work for keeping me from ever getting near the bottom of that to-read pile!