Electric Forest: Interesting, but not one of Lee’s best

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsElectric Forest by Tanith Lee science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsElectric Forest by Tanith Lee

Magdala Cled is an unattractive disabled woman living in a world where genetic engineering has ensured that everyone around her is beautiful and healthy. She’s a genetic misfit who has no family, friends, or social support of any type.

When a handsome rich man offers to make her beautiful, she goes along with his plan. What Magda doesn’t know is that her new body is the clone of a scientist/entrepreneur that her benefactor is competing with and for whom he has some evil plans.

I greatly admire Tanith Lee’s style, so I was pleased to have a chance to read Brilliance Audio’s new edition of Electric Forest (1979).

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThis stand-alone novel, however, is not one of her better titles. None of the characters are likeable and their focus on beauty, luxury, and decadence makes the story feel shallow and pointless. It would be nice if we could sympathize with Magda, but her weakness, passivity, and attraction to the man who is exploiting and physically threatening her, is unadmirable and icky. It’s really hard to like her.

While the plot of Electric Forest was interesting, the science fiction concepts (e.g., genetic engineering, designer bodies, uploading consciousness to a different body) probably felt fresher in 1979 than they do today and there are many stories, including James Tiptree Jr’s The Girl Who Was Plugged In, that are more satisfying treatments of these ideas.

At the end of Electric Forest is a strange epilogue which casts everything in a different light. This seemed unnecessary and just weird, unless Lee was trying to cover for some slightly sloppy plotting…

I’m glad that Brilliance Audio is putting Tanith Lee’s work in audio format. She’s a beautiful writer, I’m willing to read any of it, and I’d encourage Tanith Lee’s fans to give this one a try despite my tepid response. It’s short (5.5 hours long) and not bad — just not one of her best. Electric Forest is narrated by Susan Duerden. Her voice is so pretty, but somewhat monotone.

Published in 1979. Audio version published in May 2019. Tanith Lee’s sci-fi classic of a woman’s quest for acceptance through the transfer of her consciousness to an artificial body. In the futuristic world of Indigo, reproduction is controlled by the government, guaranteeing that every baby is happy, healthy, and beautiful. But mistakes happen, and a rare few babies are accidentally born biologically, like Magdala Cled. Because of her natural-born features, Magdala is an outcast in society – abandoned at birth, abused in the orphanage she grew up in, and branded with the cruel name “Ugly.” But Magdala’s world turns upside down when she’s approached by Claudio Loro, a wealthy scientist who has created a beautiful artificial body. When he offers to transfer Magdala’s consciousness into the body, she cannot refuse the priceless opportunity for a new, beautiful life. However, unbeknownst to her, Claudio has crafted her new body to resemble Christophine del Jan, his rival scientist and former lover. Now Magdala must impersonate Christophine to infiltrate high society, court Claudio’s advances, and decide whose side she is truly on – all while maintaining her real body lest it die…and she die with it.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. Marion /

    I didn’t like this one at the time, and while Lee’s persistent female masochism worked for me in other books (like the Martian one), it really didn’t here for some reason.

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