Tag Team Review: The Silvers by J.A. Rock

What humans want from the Silver Planet is water. What they find is a race of humanoids who are sentient, but as emotionless and serene as the plants and placid lakes they tend. B, captain of the mission, doesn't believe that the "Silvers" are intelligent, and lets his crew experiment on them. But then he bonds with Imms, who seems different from the others-interested in learning, intrigued by human feelings. And B realizes that capturing, studying, and killing this planet's natives has done incalculable damage.

When a fire aboard B's ship kills most of the crew and endangers Imms, B decides to take him back to Earth. But the simplicity of the Silver Planet doesn't follow them. Imms learns the full spectrum of human emotions, including a love B is frightened to return, and a mistrust of the bureaucracy that wants to treat Imms like a test subject, even if they have to eliminate B to do it.

(Note: This is a revised second edition, originally published elsewhere.)

Sheziss - 2.5 Hearts

I could have been but it wasn’t.

I can’t really decide what to think about this book.

This novel is depressing. It’s grey. It’s full of those inexplicable gaps experimental movies from the 60-70s had in order to show off their supposed intellectuality and fanciness. Those movies that usually end up making you roll your eyes with all that enormous effort to give that fa├žade an philosophical and existential background that explains it all when indeed it’s not that profound. Moments and scenes thrown at you so you figure it all yourself what it all means, the creator saying it’s art, saying nothing at all so you put the pieces together in your head.

That’s fun when it’s intelligently done, when the author gives you enough clues so as it doesn’t feel like cheating for the reader, but also not too many, so as to maintain the mystery and the sense of wonder.

It’s happened to me in movies. But I can count those with the fingers of one hand. When the ending is coming and I still don’t understand. And suddenly a sentence, or a glance, or a gesture, from one of the characters, makes it all pristine and clear like water. Suddenly I feel blood pumping in my ears, louder than the music flooding into them. Suddenly everything fits and everything makes sense. Like a blindfold being untied and watching your reflection on the mirror after a very long time.

The problem is that most people fuck it up. And it results in this arrogant and pretentious shell.

That’s exactly what happened to me. Here I was “What the hell has happened?”, “I don’t understand”, “Why don’t they talk, why don’t they communicate, for God’s sake?”. I guess this book kind of shows a meant-to-be relationship that seems to be doomed before it starts and unavoidably and slowly coming to an end. Until it’s not, until there is a turn that makes it all right again. Like a car that just needed fixing so it begins working smoothly at last and then it can carry you everywhere. Then everything seems possible. With the exception that I never really felt this was a meant-to-be relationship, I never felt this shouldn’t come to an end. I felt the car should be broken forever. This love story was depressing and grey to me. Like I don’t really grasp where is the magic in this, I don’t find the magic in them being together and belonging to each other.

It’s kind of frustrating when someone writes a book like this one. Those minutes of your time when you are left thinking about something that shouldn’t be a mystery at all. Minutes which could have not been wasted if the author ever cared about investing her time, not mine, in giving one or two or more conscientious paragraphs so I could understand the characters and their motivations. So I could understand their evolution and their hopeless feeling of an ending approaching.

I feel so profoundly cheated I don’t even know what to begin with.

B is a scientist studying the Silvers in their planet, whose behaviour arises more questions than not. They are a curious mix of dogs, kids and robots. They look like humans, but don’t have the whole human emotional spectrum. Their world is dichromatic and dull to human standards.

B finds a moribund Silver close to their spaceship, and saves him. He doesn’t know why, as no Silver has ever made him worry about them before. But he saves him.

I didn’t understand the pull towards each other. If it ever existed.

I felt nauseated, in fact. I felt B was a rapist, a molester. I felt uncomforable in his presence, in his head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we has taking advantage of Imms’ innocence and purity. B struck me as a cold and distanced bastard. And what happens in the following pages doesn’t make me like or love him whatsoever.

The author intended to build a character with issues, with problems in dealing with his emotions, a character that needs saving, a character only Imms’ selflessness could read and save. But I only felt repulsed and rejection. I never learnt to comprehend B, I never wanted to save him. I never understood why he lets Imms suffer, why he lets them both suffer.

I only wanted for Imms to be happy, to feel loved, to feel cocooned. But B never fulfilled that role. B was there for him but he wasn’t there at all.

Imms, on the other hand, represents the culmination of the human being in all senses of the word. He’s not human, but he’s more human than most. He doesn’t feel anger or jealousy, but he gets to know them quickly while on Earth. He’s awed at the variety of colors, of tastes, of sounds on Earth. I could live every little discovery with him, like the wise/crazy man coming out from the cave for the first time in his life and learning what real food tastes like. Like a The Matrix without a defined purpose, because life is like that.

And I absolutely loved how the “after” is displayed. Once the Earth knows he’s there, there are questions, anger, anxiety, wonder, and above them all, there is fear. And when the human being fears something, they want to control it, to defeat it, to govern it. I liked seeing how he is watched and required to make test after test in the scientific facility, how people manipulate B and Imms into indulging them, or else. How people “dehumanize” a non-human being.

I loved the TV programs, the Halloween disguises, the kid pictures, the alien coming into a restaurant or a grocery story or a big cat shelter and saying “hello”. The reactions he provokes with his mere presence but also the ones people answer with just by interacting with them. Family, videogames, Christmas, dogs, cliff diving and other unimaginable activities he sees everywhere and they are all normal and they are all amazing. Above all, I loved seeing it all through his eyes.

Maybe I love E.T. too much.

What I couldn’t comprehend was the desperation to be together. The “rightness” of being together. The love story. It was unbalanced, unhealthy, un-everything. It was missing, it was wrong.

So, yes, the book is not exactly a bad book, and that’s what upsets me the most. This book has a good premise, and the writing is very good, so it’s disheartening seeing the result. The failing in the execution. Or maybe it’s meant to be that way and I’m simply not supplied with the proper antennas to catch these intangible waves.

Optimist King's Wench - 4 Hearts

He came here to avoid Alone, but Alone is under his skin and branches through all of him.

This book is a study in contrasts. Beauty contrasted with ugliness. Kindness contrasted with cruelty. Selfishness contrasted with benevolence.

There were things I enjoyed and things I hated and more often than not I felt melancholy while reading it. Rock's critique of humanity is harsh and discommodious. She's turned a mirror on contemporary society and revealed the dark underbelly, the places that none of us want to dwell on and how that obliviousness allows atrocities to continue. How we judge people on first appearance. How we pigeonhole them. How xenophobic we can be. How violent we can become in forcing those anomalies to conform. And how through that forced conformity a little bit of that person dies each day. How that oppression engenders shame. How it can foster mental illness and a violence unto its own.

Imms is her vehicle in this story. Imms is a Silver and as a race the Silvers do not hate or fear nor do they love. They have somewhat of a hierarchical clan society that instills survival rather than interdependence. They are highly intelligent, though not emotional. They excise those that do not conform as they could pose a threat to the clan. They are more comfortable with numbers than abstract concepts, so the question then becomes can you teach someone seemingly incapable of emotionality emotions? Hate? Love? Anger? Sadness? Shame?

Imms is a bit of an anomaly in that he wants to be human, but can never be physiologically, though he is more humane than many humans. He possesses a childlike wonder and that enthusiasm is both infectious and denounced in someone considered to be an adult. He needs to "grow up", "act his age", not trust people, don't talk to them, danger lurks around every corner; yet, most of the interactions he's allowed with strangers are positive.

He and B must maintain a clandestine relationship that's built on lies. They can't show affection towards one another. They are constantly being monitored by the NRCSE (National Research Center for Space Exploration) with the threat ever looming that Imms will be taken away to be "studied". For his own protection, of course.

Imms and B's relationship is a quiet one; they do care for each other, but they are both complicit in the dysfunction present in their relationship. This is not a romance and if you're looking for it to be you'll be disappointed. There are romantic elements, but it's more of a dissection of how a relationship can sustain itself inside the pressure cooker of societal expectations. How these circumstances can alter the trajectory of a relationship. How they can sour a relationship by keeping someone in a cage. How secrets and lies can poison even the purest of emotions, even when those secrets are kept for benevolent reasons.

Doesn't it stand to reason that the nuances of love are lost when it is forced through two atmospheres?

It's well known that I've become something of a J.A. Rock fangirl over the past year and half; she's virtually an auto-read for me. However, I don't think this is her best work. It's brilliant and insightful and filled with the metaphors and analogies that always inspire introspection, but it didn't grip me like The Grand Ballast or Take the Long Way Home.

The writing style has a simplistic quality that I thought befitting Imms but felt incongruous from B's perspective. Also, I couldn't reconcile how Joele could've passed what I imagine had to be rigorous physical and psychological testing to be approved to go on a mission of this magnitude. And do the Silvers call themselves Silvers and their planet the Silver Planet? I would've liked knowing what they called it, but at the same time I wasn't surprised that no one ever asks. The secondary characters both added and detracted from the story and I found some of the mundanities of their lives tedious.

Even though I didn't love the characters and the story could've been tighter I still think The Silvers is a gestalt. Sometimes the experience of having read it, taking something away from it and finding that valuable, maybe even being enriched by it supersedes all else.

Copies were provided by NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.

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