Friday, December 27, 2013

Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Published: Random House Publishing Group (1993)
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“In the 21st century, the Earth is very nearly ruined.  People live within domes or wraps, and most wear protective clothing to brave the toxic wasteland that the world has become.  Most power resides with massive corporations, “multis,” who expect the indentured employees within their domes to shape their bodies, minds, and cultures to the company ideal. A small fraction of the Earth’s population are able to live in independent “free towns”, through selling their skills and products to multis, instead of themselves. The unlucky rest of humanity lives in the violent, poisonous “Glop”.

Shira Shipman has never embodied the physical or cultural ideal of her multi, and when custody of her young son is given to her ex-husband, she decides her future lies elsewhere.  She returns to her childhood home of Tikva, a Jewish free town, where she has a new job aiding in the development of an illegal cyborg protector, Yod.  As Yod struggles to understand his role in the world, he finds insight in a story of Prague’s Jewish ghetto in 1600, about a famous kabbalist who once created a golem protector.” ~Allie

Marge Piercy’s He, She and It is my final novel for WWEnd’s Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge.  Marge Piercy is a poet and a novelist, and her works range from science fiction to other genres.  I have read that her novels tend to focus on women’s lives, and He, She and It (also published as Body of Glass) is no exception.

My Thoughts:

He, She, and It was a science fiction novel with a strong character focus and an intriguing future setting.  The future world was very bleak and impersonal, except for the more vibrant free town of Tikva.  The free town seemed like an oasis of life in the wasteland of the Earth, with plants, small animals, and humans living freely.  It seemed like Tikva was also more thoroughly described, causing it to stand out vividly against the multis and the Glop.  There was a lot of interesting technology—virons, stimmies, the Net, other computing resources, human development, cyborgs, and more—but the tech was usually described in general, rather than technical, terms.  While most of the tech is still beyond reality these days, I thought it was neat that the story featured a universally available Net, considering it was published in the year that the WWW was declared public domain.

Within this future world, much of the story revolved around the life philosophies of different characters and their relationships with one another. There was quite a lot of romance, but I appreciated that the idealization of romantic love was not supported by the story. The novel began with Shira leaving her husband, whom she married largely because their relationship made sense on paper.  She was not over her childhood sweetheart Gadi, and her love life was soon further complicated by her involvement with the cyborg Yod.  From this point, there were some love polygons that sprang up and collapsed, but a lot of the romance focused on Shira trying to reclaim her passion from the rose-tinted memory of her first love.  I’m not usually much of a fan of romance, but I liked the relatively grounded approach the novel took to the subject.

In terms of non-romantic relationships, those between a parent and a child, or creator and creation, were very central to the story.  There were many examples of these kinds of relationships throughout the story, from close to distant and loving to resentful.  While Shira was influenced by various romances, she was also shaped by her desperate desire to reclaim her young son and her relationships with her mother and grandmother.  Another major topic of the story involved the ethicality of creating life to serve a set purpose, and the problems this could cause. This was shown in biological relationships, where a parent’s unmet expectations poisoned their relationship with their child.  It is also more thoroughly explored through the stories of the 17th century golem and the cyborg. They were both created to be physical protectors, and soon found themselves constrained by their creators and their assigned purpose.  I felt this was a very interesting perspective to take on these kinds of familiar stories of creation. 

While the book is very focused on the characters and their relationships, the story is also pretty exciting.  The ‘present-day’ story mirrors the tale of Rabbi Loew and his golem, and in each story the artificial man is created to protect a Jewish community at a time of great need. In both cases, the threat looming over the community seems certain to end in violence. There are other sources of conflict as well, such as Shira’s determination to recover her son through any means, and the schemes of Shira’s absent, high-profile activist mother.  The more action-filled scenes are well supported by the character building that occurs in the quieter parts of the novel, and I enjoyed both the faster and slower-paced parts of the story.

My Rating: 4/5

He, She and It is a very character-focused science fiction novel set in a wasted Earth that is dominated by multinational corporations.  Most of the novel focuses on relationships between the characters, including those of the romantic variety and parent-child relationships.  Similarly, through the story of the cyborg Yod, and the re-telling of the story of Rabbi Loew and the golem, there is an exploration of the fraught relationship between creator and creation.  The story captured me through its characters, and my investment in the characters made the action-filled scenes feel even more compelling.  This was my last novel for 2013’s Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, and I am glad that I was able to wrap up the year with such an excellent novel!  

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