Here is the last part of our reading of Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover. My heart is still aching from what I just read, and now, I know why this book has received such attention. It resonates.
If you need to catch up or review, here are the links to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and part 8.
At five in the morning, an earthquake shakes the city. Jane and Silver are fine, but the damage from minor collapses, car wrecks, and the flyer rails collapsing slows down their escape. Jane worries about Clovis, Egyptia, and her mother, but when she tries to call Clovis, the communication lines are down too. Eventually, they use the last of their money to take a taxi. They drive by Clovis’s block and see that it’s mostly unaffected, and when they near the canyon where Chez Stratos rises into the clouds, it too stands solid and untouched by tectonic forces.
Reader Comments: Despite the destruction of parts of the city, this is all going too easily for Jane and Silver. The end feels almost upon us, aside from the fact that I’m only holding a few more pages in my right hand, and yet it feels unsatisfying if it’s this easy.
Writer Comments: Lee clearly needed a complication to throw Jane and Silver’s plans for a loop or, at least, make it more difficult. The earthquake worked, despite it being a bit of a dues ex machine, because she had earlier referenced earthquakes in the past, because she uses the earthquake to highlight Jane and Silver’s personalities again, and because she capitalizes on it as an opportunity to reveal that Jane still cares about the welfare of her friends and mother. It may be dues ex machine, but she wrings out every drop of usable story from it, as she should.
Jane and Silver arrive at the meeting site late, but the VLO, the vehicle Clovis’s friend Gem is to pick them up in, appears to simply be late as they never saw it fly in or out. As they wait, a car approached with five men inside. Jane tries to convince Silver to run, but he won’t leave her and does all he can verbally and physically to protect her. Swohnson, the man from E.M. Ltd. that Jane dealt with before, approaches them with his men. Jane and Silver can do nothing to escape. They’re trapped inside the steep canyon on a field of ice at the mercy of determined men. Clovis has betrayed them after all. Silver tells Jane that he loves her and that he’ll always be with her and she with him, that they’re a part of each other, and never to forget it. He tells her to live. And then he lets Swohnson take him away to protect Jane. Jane pleads with them to let her go with them. It will only take an hour, they say, to dismantle Silver and melt him down. No, she can’t come, and he’s just a hunk of metal after all. They abandon her with a mechanical cab. Jane sits in the cab and watches the clock for an hour while E.M. Ltd. murders Silver. Then she breaks the glass covering of the clock and uses one of the big shards to slit her wrist.
Reader Comments: It is actually painful to comment here. Silver’s death is painful, and every emotion is so subtly and wholly upon the page. I can’t quite believe that Lee took the story in this direction, and yet, Silver and Jane escaping might have been too easy. It certainly would not have left so impactful an impression.
Writer Comments: You have probably heard that you should run your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. You should always ask, what is the worst thing that could happen to my character in this scene? Now, what is even worse than that? Lee certainly knew how to employ these principles. She also knew how to do one more thing that is often very hard for a writer: She knew how to kill the characters she loved, and she let it happen.
Jane wakes briefly in a hospital and then, later, fully in Clovis’s spare bedroom. She still wishes she were dead, but she doesn’t have the energy or courage to try again. As she puts it, it takes a lot of effort and determination to die. She greets Clovis with, “Hallo, Judas.” But Clovis adamantly denies that he betrayed her. Eventually, Jane goes through her clothes that Clovis hung up for her. She finds the black dress that she wore the night she went to E.M. Ltd. to get Silver. The sleeve is torn, and she realizes that Jason and Medea had put the tracking devise on her even before she got Silver. She’d assumed it was after and so never bothered to check the dress, but Clovis found it and tore it out. She comes out of the guest room and demands an explanation from Clovis. He tells her that the earthquake struck during the after party for Egyptia’s play. The roof of the theater came down, and Egyptia was left standing there in the midst of the wounded, untouched herself. She asked Clovis worriedly about Jane. Jason answered that she was with her robot lover, and Jane realizes that Egyptia then must have realized that Silver’s kind were a threat to her, for they were superior in everything and would thus make her genius obsolete. She called E.M. Ltd. and let them know about Silver and Jason and Medea’s tracking device. E.M. Ltd. then took it from Jason and tracked Jane down themselves. Jane finishes her chapter realizing how utterly alone she feels and that none of the writing of her story brings her comfort.
Reader Comments: I’m so glad that Clovis didn’t betray her after all. Jane needed at least one person in her life that genuinely cared for her and her emotional health. Yet, like Jane, I can’t quite hate Egyptia. Because of how Lee portrays Egyptia, I know she didn’t do it out of maliciousness, just pure selfishness, which makes me angry at her but also pitying.
Writer Comments: Jane cries a lot in this book, so when Lee kills Silver, she must do something different. So Jane can’t cry. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot shed a single tear. Only after Clovis explains everything and Jane is standing before his window in the same spot that she first mouthed the words, “I love you,” to Silver, do her tears fall. And then, Lee makes it that much more impactful because Clovis, who cannot stand the touch of another outside of the bedroom, very gently holds Jane while she weeps.
Jane holds an imaginary conversation with her mother. She informs Demeta that she wishes her to use her great wealth to buy the Senate so that Jane can safely publish her manuscript about her and Silver. Naturally, as all conversations go between Jane and Demeta, nothing is resolved and Demeta resists.
Reader Comments: Perhaps this is where Lee will take the story, some sort of resolution between Demeta and Jane and where Jane finds a way to share the story. That might be okay, but I’d still rather she had Silver back.
Writer Comments: In this page, Lee infuses Jane with a sense of purpose again. Though she closed the last chapter on such a low note of anguish, loneliness, and futility, she quickly brings the tone of the story back around enough, at least, to keep a reader’s interest. Be careful not to let your characters wallow too long.
Jane spends the next month healing at Clovis’s and trying to figure out what she’ll do with herself. Her mother has restored her line of credit, but Jane refuses to use it or go back. She tries to write at Clovis’s prompting, but nothing will come together. At last, Clovis gets tired of his latest live in lover and decides to hold another séance to get rid of him. Jane grudgingly participates again, but during the séance, things don’t go quite as expected. The cup makes words as before, but this time, they’re for Jane. At first, Jane accuses Clovis of doing it as some horrible joke, but Clovis is as freaked out as any of them and swears he isn’t. He even lets go of the cup, and when Jane and the live in do the same, it keeps moving. As proof that the speaker is Silver, it spells out the words of a song that Jane wrote that only Silver knew and that Jane never recorded anywhere, so Clovis couldn’t have used it. Silver tells her that he is indeed a spirit, a soul and that they will see each other again when she dies, but until then, she must go on living for him. Jane is shaken and relieved, and Clovis does what he should have done ages ago. He informs his live in directly that they’re breaking up and he wants him to leave. He also tells Jane that the table wasn’t rigged because Austin, in a fit of rage, had destroyed the rigged table and Clovis had had to get a normal one. For Silver, Jane starts to put her life back together. She finds a new place to live and meets up with some of the musicians they used to play with. She writes her songs and performs with them. She even agrees to meet her mother for lunch one day. She does not know if she’ll manage to continue on with this living for the rest of her life or even a year, but she knows one thing for certain. She will see Silver again.
Reader Comments: What a truthful way to end the tale. Lee does not resolve all Jane’s emotional issues. She gives her real grief that lingers, yet she gives her a reason to live on. I’m still hurting a great deal for Jane, but now, I cannot imagine another ending. Yes, a happily ever after would be nice. I’d love to see Silver and Jane living contentedly poor in another city and loving each other fiercely, but then, it would just be a nice book. This, this painful tragedy makes it a book that lingers, and those are the best type because they make you remember and they say something greater about the human experience.
Writer Comments: Lee does one last thing in this book that nudges it up that last bit to resonating level. She connects it to a greater, universal context without sounding preachy. She never answers the question of how a soul ended up in a robot’s body, but through Jane, she points out that, eventually, when rejuvinex and artificial parts become so ingrained in human bodies, how much different will they be from the mechanical parts of Silver? Does it really matter whether the body is flesh or not for a soul to live within it? The soul is what loves and hurts and lives, not so much the exact composition of the body. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Lee’s premise here, but it is an interesting idea and one which Lee explores well and to great effect in The Silver Metal Lover.
I hope you enjoyed this reading of Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover. There are of course parts that I glossed over or left out entirely for lack of time and space. I recommend the book for Lee’s wonderful use of emotions to propel a story, for its curious exploration of love and humanity, and for the questions it raises about the spirit, life, and what it means to be human.
Next Monday, join me for the start of our reading of Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey. As I previously mentioned, right now I’m focusing on female authors of speculative fiction. If you have any suggestions, please leave them as a comment.