Saturday, January 01, 2005

Return of The Silver Metal Lover

I do not believe I have ever read anything by Tanith Lee. A friend of mine lent me her first novel, The Birthgrave, not long after it was published, and I thought its opening chapter so inept that I set it aside. She went on in the late seventies to become a prolific DAW author, whose books (in the late seventies you could still pick up and look at almost every SF title to appear on the newsstand) seemed to be aimed at a different readership than me. Probably I have read a short story or two, since they have been widely anthologized, but I don't remember any.

I know that her early novel The Silver Metal Lover found a large audience, and inferred that it was an SF novel (most of her fiction seems to be fantasy, perhaps sometimes with SF rationales) that also worked as a romance novel. Friends (all women) have told me that they had read it in high school or college, or that it was a guilty pleasure for them: a novel that got past their literary sophistication. I believe that Maureen McHugh has said that her Nekropolis was informed by the effect The Silver Metal Lover had on her.

Well, a few weeks ago Bantam sent me the galley of Metallic Love, a sequel to The Silver Metal Lover. (Forthcoming, it says, in March.) Evidently the original book, despite its popularity, eventually went out of print with DAW, and Bantam reissued it. I'm not going to read the new novel unless I read its predecessor (which I have no plans to do), but the galley is interesting. The back pages include an excerpt from The Silver Metal Lover, and the book's sell line is: Here is Jane's Story -- the Story that changed Loren's life. Now, let it change yours. It seems safe to say that such a line could only have been crafted with female readers in mind.

Here are the opening two sentences of Metallic Love, each its own paragraph:

"You're not going to like me.

"I apologize for that."

This seems to signal very strongly that the novel is aimed straight at an almost exclusively female readership, one whom it promises intimacy of a familiar kind, nothing surprising or disrupting. (The rest of the brief opening section, all told in quite short paragraphs, reinforces this.) Genre writing, in other words. A genre book that, in the manner of genre, is aimed at existing receptors, not at offering something new. And these receptors -- though I am very familiar with genre SF -- are all angled in a way that they just miss me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nekropolis is very much informed by The Silver Metal Lover. The Silver Metal Lover is about a poor little rich girl, under the thumb of her domineering mother, who is given an expensive toy--a protype android/AI. He (he is called Silver) is the perfect, selfless male--beautiful, perfectly attuned to her needs, but able to take control of her life in a way that will help her mature and grow. They fall in love, run away, she becomes self-actualized. Stuff happens.

A friend gave me this book to read and I read it with sort of horrified facsination. On one level it pushed a lot of buttons for me. On another it made my skin crawl.

I thought about what would happen if I had the perfect lover--one who put my life and my needs first. And I realized I would turn into a self absorbed bitch. When people ask my what Nekropolis is about, I tell them it's about a girl who finds the perfect, selfless lover and how it works on her and her family like crack cocaine addiction.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Sorry, didn't mean to post that anonymously. That was, of course, me.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Oddly enough, given that I've written and read genre stuff off and on since my early teens (romance, SF, mystery, Fantasy...not Westerns, alack) I could never read The Silver Metal Lover. As I roomed for a couple of years with a man who was supposedly the source of the character, I tried to read it several times, but it rolled right off my back.

I have weird blind spots. I cannot read Tolkein for any length of time unless I'm reading aloud. In the same way, I tried for years to read Little Women and was unable to until I skipped about two hundred pages in and read to the end, then went back again. I don't know what stops me, but something does.

I'll add that there are only one or two things by Tanith Lee (short pieces, not novels) that I have ever managed to negotiate my way through. After a while, I stopped trying.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tanith Lee is highly hit-or-miss for me. SML is one of those misses, despite a couple attempts at the urging of different female friends. Her consciously YA novels seem to work best, possibly because the form controls her prose.


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