When discussing Sentience, our captain mentioned her favourite book, The Silver Metal Lover, by Tanith Lee. She encouraged me to read it and the experience opened my eyes. For those who aren’t familiar, here is a review by Victoria Strauss.
One of the things I love about TSML is how Tanith explores the hard problems of consciousness without intruding on the story. It was only during times ‘away from the book,’ that I pondered her insights—how the erotic nature of love can grow souls.
When I say erotic, I don’t me pornographic. I’m referring to Eros, the god of love—the original meaning is something that brings two people together in such a way that it creates a lasting transformation. In this sense, sex is rarely erotic, but it can be, as can the non-sexual relationship between an artist and their craft or a teacher and student. In TSML not only is the sex erotic but so is the art, music and intimacy shared between Jane and Silver.
To begin with, Jane is far from individuated. She says, ‘My mother has a lot of opinions, which is restful, as that way I don’t have to have many of my own.’ Jane is sentient but has little self awareness. Then she falls in love.
Mother, I am in love with a robot.
No. She isn’t going to like that.
Mother, I am in love.
Are you, darling?
Oh, yes, Mother, yes I am. His hair is auburn, and his eyes are very large. Like amber. And his skin is silver.
Mother. I’m in love.
With whom, dear?
His name is Silver.
Yes. It stands for Silver Ionized Locomotive Verisimulated Electronic Robot.
Silence. Silence. Silence.
Silver has a sense of self from the start. I’m a robot, he says, but is he sentient? He’s like a toaster making lovely golden toast but then he explains a ‘cruel look’, showing he is more than the sum of his circuitry. ‘When something occurs that is sufficiently unlike what I’m programmed to expect, my thought process switch over. I may then, for a moment, appear blank, or distant.’ How ‘human’ is that?
By the middle of TSML I realised Tanith wasn’t writing about romance, or coming of age, or social inequality or advanced technology or environmental disasters—even though these themes are present. She was writing about the nature of being. In her beautifully woven story is a Cartesian thesis on mid-body dualism. Are we the product of our physicality—a result of biochemical reactions in the brain? Or is consciousness spirit, reflected in our capacity to transform through love?
When I reached page 232 I wanted to stop. Jane . . . Jain says, ‘I love him. He loves me. It isn’t a boast. I can hardly believe it myself. But he does. Oh God, he does. And, I am happy.‘
This moment reflects the perfect lightness of being, the epiphany before the fall—I longed to stay in this Eden of consciousness—the brilliance before expulsion from the garden. But Tanith holds us to our mythologies that say the ‘fall’ is necessary—separation is necessary for soul growth.
TSML is an extraordinary tale of erotic love and the lasting transformation it brings. Highly recommended. Who else has read it? Please share your thoughts!
Kim Falconer is the author of The Spell of Rosette, Quantum Enchantment Book 1. She lives in Byron Bay in Australia with two black cats. As well as writing, she runs Falcon Astrology, and I am sure wishes you all Happy Solstice for yesterday and Happy New Moon today! Her next book, Arrows in Time, Quantum Enchantment Book 2, is due out in August 2009. Look out for a post from Tanith Lee herself, coming this week, all about The Silver Metal Lover.