Off The Shelf - "Electric Forest"

by Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Rather well known for her Unicorn and Paradys series, Tanith Lee has been a fantasy/sci-fi writer for some time. Her Unicorn stories especially are known far and wide and some have even suggested similarities between her forms of the spirit-horse and that found in the movie "Legend," granted by many as one of the most lovely examples of this mythical beast.

But besides all that, Tanith Lee has dwelled off into other short stories and novellas as well. One of these is "Electric Forest," a short novel that takes place in the far future on an Earth Conclave planet. While other authors will spend large amounts of time developing their world sets and off-earth communities, the scope of "Electric Forest" is more concerned with the characters and much time is spent developing them further. The result is a psychological drama and thriller with the science fiction/planet qualities almost downplayed - they're just there for flavor, like adding a dash of cinnamon to the pot. You can even forget these issues without much trouble to the book. Other sci-fi qualities take on a major role however, with medical/biological plots a large portion of such.

Magdala is a freak by society standards. In a time when selective breeding was at a high, Magdala was born out of the loop and therefore raised the bar of ugly in a society where beauty and poise was tantamount. As such, she is approached by a man named Claudio Loro, who claims to have a solution to her ugliness. Wanting to see what it was like to feel beautiful just once in her life, Magdala finds her consciousness transferred to a new body by a machine of Claudio's creation. What continues takes on the aspects of a spy thriller moreso than science fiction.

Thrust into an intrepid character, and becoming more obvious that she is a clone of some other person, Magdala is surrounded by the intrigue of warring scientists determined to discover each other's secrets for the success of mind transference projects - while at the same time being that ultimate success herself. The implications of such a device for use in espionage is high played giving the storyline a high-stakes appeal as drama and plot twists revolve around her new and improved body. The result is a thriller with an excellent plot head - the use of consciousness transferal to steal away into the secrets, offices and even lives of your enemy.

The ending has a brand new twist, unexpected and, frankly, unnecessary. It would have done well to end where it did prior to going into the epilogue. The analysis of the characters as done in the epilogue was quite well, but it just leant a way-too-cheezy ending twist to "Electric Forest." Nonetheless, I enjoyed the story. While it doesn't make me jump for the Unicorn and/or Paradys series she is more well-known for, her style is quite easy to follow and flows rather well. The book read swiftly with well-developed characters, interesting twists and lots of subtle and interesting changes in direction.

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"Electric Forest" by Tanith Lee
Published by DAW Books, Inc.
"Electric Forest" Copyright (c) 1979 by Tanith Lee

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