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).
This 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.
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.