He, She, and It – Marge Piercy

Cross-posted from my other blog:

Set in our world many decades after the world was devastated by plague and famine, He, She and It directly concerns the status of a person, as an individual, and as part of a community, and whether people can be the tools and pawns of corporations, of each other, and the moral implications of each status. It touched on the damage the people can do to people, the conflict person against person rather than against government, against god, against nature, or against oneself. The two narrating characters are women, of the same Jewish family, and both are brilliant program designers who work directly with the Net, which functions something like our own, with the added capacity for projection into the virtual world.

I’ve had trouble writing this review. The characters, particularly of Shira and Malkah, are what is important to this narrative; they are the point, the substance, and reason for this story. Yet, anything I say about them seems wrong, because they are full-fleshed characters and any impression that I give could detract from the experience of meeting them for the first time. That would be a dis-service to anyone who decides to pick up the book, for it was a joy to meet every character unawares.

This book is categorized as science fiction, which the trappings of a virtual reality Net and post-apocalyptic setting support, and brings out the spiritual and philosophical deep questions that dealing with a whole new world, and a new way of interaction, should bring out in science fiction. Those questions are the meat of the book, treated textually and as of immediate importance, rather than the more common treatment as subtext or theme. Action and violence are used only in service of the plot. The setting is shown off much more often, and caused me to realize that one of the things that makes sci-fi movies and graphic novels so prominent in their mediums is the ability to take three pages of text description of a place and make two pictures or setting-shots out of it and immediately transport the audience into the strange new world. The book is set apart from “standard” science fiction conventions by the Jewish culture, history, legend, and mysticism that Piercy draws on as the lens through which the narrator, and thus the reader, sees the events of the story. There are parallel stories of a cyborg created illegally in mid-twenty-first century New England, and a bed-time story about a golum created in secret in 1600’s Prague, and the parallel of these two stories showing both the expanding definition of a person, and the ways in which nothing has changed.

I enjoyed the philosophical questions as much as the technology and setting, probably more-so because the answers were very immediately necessary, to how the characters would react, and to the characters themselves. It was a satisfying read, a good literary meal rather than brain-candy.