A startling fusion of science fiction and feminism selected by Dave Randall
It is astonishing how prescient Marge Piercy’s ‘Woman On The Edge Of Time’ still seems more than forty years after its publication. The feminist sci-fi novel depicts a post-class utopia where citizens live in a deeply democratic society, in harmony with nature, sexually liberated, technologically savvy and using the non-binary gender pronoun ‘per’.
It also describes a very different possible future – a dystopia in which the environment and human lives are choked by commerce and women are commodified, genetically modified and powerless.
Our hero Connie is a working class Woman Of Colour who finds herself separated from her child and trapped in a brutal system for those deemed to have mental health problems, somewhere in 1970s New York City. Respite comes with the appearance of Luciente, a visitor from the future who befriends Connie and transports her through time.
Piercy’s writing is in turns visceral, enchanting and utterly compelling. Much like Rosa Luxemburg’s formulation ‘socialism or barbarism’, her contrasting futures serve as a stark rebuke to political complacency or passivity. This is a work of science fiction which demands action in the real world.
For me the most inspirational aspect of the book is its delectably rendered utopia. Currently, dystopian warnings about our collective fate abound in popular culture. But there are few visions of the future which excite, empower and give hope. This is probably because many contemporary writers find it easier to imagine the end of the world than systemic change, while those on the left who do think another world is possible are understandably wary of offering prescriptions.
We reject blueprints for post-capitalism because we recognise that a better world must be forged from below – from the collective experience of struggle and mass participation in new democratic structures. But utopias in fiction are not political programmes. Rather they are very useful catalysts for the political power of the imagination.
As Piercy puts it in the introduction to a new edition of the book;
'Utopia is born of the hunger for something better, but it relies on hope as the engine for imagining such a future. I wanted to take what I considered the most fruitful ideas of the various movements for social change and make them vivid and concrete – that was the real genesis of Woman on the Edge of Time.'
Dave Randall is a musician and author of Sound System: The Political Power of Music.
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