Title: He, She and It
Author: Marge Piercy
Genre: Cyberpunk / Speculative Fiction
Release Date:1st December 2016
Publisher: Ebury Publishing – Del Ray
ISBN 13: 9781785033797
Completed: 19th November 2016
Summary: In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill…
This is a re-issued book rather than a brand new one. The released date provided is the release date of the specific edition that I have read and reviewed. Thank you to Ebury Publishing / Del Ray for sending me a digital copy of this book in return for a honest review.
All links take you to Goodreads.
Marge Piercy is best known for her speculative fiction novels and her feminist writing. He, She and It was originally published under the name Body of Glass outside of the US in 1991 and in 1993 it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award which celebrates the best science fiction novels published in the United Kingdom.
Also by Marge Piercy:
- Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)
- Gone To Soldiers (1988)
- My Life, My Body (Outspoken Authors) (2015)
He, She and It is set in what used to be the United States of America and Canada in the year 2059 where humanity has made great advances in technology and the human body is easily fused with pieces of tech or modified in other ways. There are several different groups of people in this novel: those that live in ‘multis’, those that live in ‘the Glop’, and those that live in ‘Free Towns’. Multis are multi-national enterprises that have their own social hierarchy. People who live in multis are often wealthy but the majority of the world lives in the glop where nature has been thoroughly destroyed and people are living in poverty. Free Towns are towns that operate outside of the multis and do not rely upon them in any way. These towns value the ‘archaic’ idea of freedom.
The novel opens during a court hearing about the custody of Ari, the son of the protagonist Shira Shipman and her ex-husband Josh. Both Josh and Shira are what’s known as ‘techies’ meaning that they live in a multi, Y-S, and do not do manual labour. They work on technological advancement and they’re able to project themselves into Cyberspace. However, Josh is a higher level techie than Shira and thus he is given custody of their son. This prompts a huge change in Shira’s life as her son is taken into space by his father, forcing her to return to her home town of Tikva which is known as a Free Town. The majority of the plot revolves around the creation of cyborgs and other lifeforms where humanity and technology are merged. It makes you question ideas of humanity, freedom, and love as Shira embarks on a mission to teach Yod, a cyborg, how to pass as human. She also builds up a relationship with Yod which turns sexual later in the novel.
The main plot, told in the third person perspective of Shira, is interspersed with chapters in a first person narrative telling the story of Rabbi Judah Loew who creates the golem Joseph from clay. This is Malkah, Shira’s grandmother, educating Yod and the reader at the same time. It’s incredibly important to read these chapters because they explain the reason behind Yod’s creation and they also explain his own feelings as he integrates more with humanity. The book also contains flashbacks to Shira’s youth with Gadi, her first lover.
The plot is truly fantastic and I was hooked from the very beginning. Piercy masterfully created a realistic world in which discussions of freedom, climate change, and even sexuality are similar to the discussions which take place in our own world. Piercy also seizes upon our fears of intelligent technology while highlighting our hypocrisy as we try to invent new technology which will obey humanity. It’s one of the best speculative fiction plots that I’ve ever read as Piercy imagines where our quest for improvement will take humanity. He, She and It is also full of plot twists that keep you on the edge of your seat while you’re reading.
The characters are amazingly well written and you become thoroughly invested in their lives. Shira is an amazing protagonist. She’s clever but underutilised at her job for Y-S, she’s unconventional as she gave birth to her son naturally, she’s passionate and jealous and she loves too deeply. She’s a devoted mother despite having no relationship with her own mother and her grandmother is her best friend. I loved reading from Shira’s point of view because she’s a truly feminist character in my opinion, strong but flawed in so many ways.
Malkah is another amazing character as she devotes her life to protecting her community from cyberattacks as well as raising Shira while her mother was absent. Malkah is the reason that Yod is a successful creation as she recognises the importance of socialisation and she insists on programming Yod in a way that he can socially exceed in the way that humans do. I think that Malkah is an incredibly interesting character, especially the representation of her free sexual nature, and I love that Piercy created an older female character like Malkah while still acknowledging how human men consider older women ‘sexless’ and unattractive. Also, the Jewish tale that she tells Yod is fascinating and her first person perspective was enlightening when Shira was struggling in the novel.
Other strong female characters include Riva, Shira’s mother, who is fighting for the freedom of information and Nili, a biotechnologically enhanced woman who is basically an Amazonian warrior. They’re both amazing characters and since they’re in a physical relationship when we first meet them they’re one of the only representations of a homosexual relationship within the novel even though they’re implied to be accepted by many different groups.
The male characters of He, She and It are equally as interesting because they’re varied and complicated. Yod is a male cyborg created by Avram and he is named after the tenth letter in Hebrew because he is the tenth attempt at creating a functioning cyborg. He’s inhumanly strong but also childlike because of his lack of human understanding. He eventually learns to pass as human through Shira’s help and he desires Shira. I was personally repulsed by Shira’s willingness to enter a sexual relationship with Yod because I considered him to be a machine rather than a person (note: I did not say human). However, Yod becomes increasingly self-aware and self-correcting and he’s passionate about Shira so it’s almost impossible to stay repulsed by the idea of them together because you realise that Yod is a person. He’s an incredibly interesting character because he’s not human and yet he still seems human. Piercy constantly draws attention to his lack of humanity while still emphasising that it is not birth that makes us people, rather it is our actions and beliefs. So, Yod was created to test the reader and to make the reader think about their own perceptions of humanity.
Gadi is incredibly annoying and very shallow. Shira falls in love with Gadi when they’re 13, although they met when they were very young, and she loves him desperately. She’s devastated when Gadi declares that he wants his freedom from her and their relationship by forcing Shira to catch him sleeping with another girl. Shira and Gadi remain friends but mainly because Shira only interacts with him virtually. When Gadi is forced to return to his home town as he is exiled from his own multi for apparently having sexual relations with a 15 year old, their friendship is tested as they both desire one another. However, Gadi moves on to Nili when he discovers that she doesn’t care about who he is or what he does and he becomes fascinated with her rejection. This seems to be a turning point for Gadi’s character as he finally meets someone who doesn’t care about his fame. However, this doesn’t last and eventually Gadi ruins his relationship because he can only think about fame. I didn’t like Gadi at all but this made him a fascinating character because he is so different to the other characters that Piercy creates.
Avram, Gadi’s father, is Yod’s creator and he has been attempting to create illegal cyborgs since Shira’s youth. He’s cold and cruel towards his actual son and he treats Yod like a slave, never once acknowledging him as a person but rather seeing him only as a weapon to use against the multis. He’s protective of Shira but only because he is attracted to her and he believes that women lose their appeal as they age. Avram’s character left me conflicted because I both liked him and disliked him. He’s truly awful at the end of the novel though and his actions made me feel ill and distraught.
I couldn’t believe how invested I became in each character that Piercy created in He, She and It but each character is compelling in their own way.
One theme of the novel is religion. I loved that the Jewish religion was at the forefront of this novel and Piercy draws upon the rich culture of the Jewish religion throughout the story, from the way funerals are held to the holidays that are observed. This sets Tikva (which means ‘hope’ in Hebrew) apart from the multis who do not believe in observing one religion. Piercy also draws upon the awful culture of suspicion around Jewish communities as Shira’s letters home are seized and translated to ensure that there’s no secret message hidden in the Hebrew and Tikva is targeted just because they want the ability to protect themselves.
Piercy also focuses on the idea freedom in this novel as Yod is treated like a slave just because he is not human. Also, Shira attempts to gain her freedom from Y-S, a place where she has never fully integrated, and the whole town of Tikva is fighting for its independence. Freedom of information is also an incredibly important aspect of this novel as Riva steals data from the large multinational companies to give to those in the glop. Information is a right, not a commodity, and this makes the novel incredibly relevant today as people are still fighting for the freedom of information.
This novel is exceedingly clever as the story unravels before your very eyes. Piercy weaved a complicated tale which keeps you on the edge of your seat while forcing you to question everything you thought was true. It’s the type of novel that opens your eyes to new ideas and new situations with its frank discussions of climate change, sexuality, freedom, and humanity. It’s a compelling novel and I read the majority of it rather quickly. It’s a real page turned and I wouldn’t have put it down if I didn’t have other responsibilities. It’s a wonderful piece of feminist, speculative fiction and it’s now one of my favourite novels.
I thoroughly encourage everyone to read He, She and It because it’s amazing and it makes you rethink your ideas and beliefs about so many different topics. For anyone interested in feminist fiction or speculative fiction then I think that it’s a must read. Also, if you’re into the cyberpunk genre then I can’t recommend this enough because it examines modified humanity, robots, cyborgs, virtual reality, and so much more. It’s just a fantastic read and I can’t praise it enough.
I will be purchasing a copy of this for myself when it is released.
Finally, I’d just like to comment on the cover of this edition. I love the contrasting colours of the purple and the mustard yellow and I love how the cover demonstrates the duality of the novel as humans and machines are placed together as one entity. It’s a genuinely beautiful cover.