The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
Can I share a secret? I really loved The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee. Title silly enough for you? Well, trying reading the blurb on the back. Yes, it really is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane falling in love with a robot (albeit an extremely human-looking and -acting robot). A robot love story.
Only, calling The Silver Metal Lover a robot love story is a bit like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground. Technically it is a hole in the ground, but the phrase doesn’t capture the essence of what the Grand Canyon is. And while there is indeed a love story involving a robot, The Silver Metal Lover was to me a glorious coming-of-age story rather than a romance.
The protagonist, Jane, is remarkably sympathetic for a melodramatic teenager. Though the book can feel a bit like a futuristic Princess Diaries at first, this tone sets up a very good picture of Jane: naive, sheltered, very young emotionally. Her circle of friends range from fascinating to downright irritating, but they’re all well-built characters, each with a separate dynamic in relation to Jane. In fact, though the book obviously has a setting, one could say that the people she interacts with — Silver, her mother, friends like Clovis and Egyptia, etc. — are Jane’s real environment. Like any naive, sheltered teen, these people are Jane’s entire world.
Jane’s story is one of conflicts, both external and internal. When she runs away from home to live with Silver, she moves in defiance of her own immature, scared self (internal) and her utterly overprotective mother (external). And this is what I mean by a coming-of-age story. Lee handles Jane’s development so masterfully that I found it impossible not to root for Jane as she learned to overcome her fears. In turn, her relationship with Silver grows ever more touching, with a sweet, naive quality about it that is less passionate romance, more tender first love.
There’s another thread to the plot, more subtle, creeping under the surface: The question of whether robots like Silver are too perfect, too good at what they do, and this is the other major conflict Jane has to face. It adds an interesting undertone that questions morals, ethics, the possibilities of the future, without being an overwhelming, anvil-like tract on the author’s personal views.
The Silver Metal Lover is just one of those books — the sort of book I love the more I dwell on it. It’s compelling, and Tanith Lee weaves a strange, strange magic that can pull in readers who would swear up and down that they’d never enjoy a robot love story.