There were times when I was so frustrated with the main character. She was driving me crazy. She was walking through an entirely different world and assuming everything was the same. I realized why this was bothering me - I was wanting and expecting her to react more like a science fiction reader. (And many science fiction characters.)
I spend a great deal of time exploring new societies as posited by SF
writers, for fun. I like to question the whys and wherefores of
everything around me, and to see what authors have made for me to play
in. It's a habit you pick up.
Connie, however, was not a science
fiction reader. Nor a traditional protagonist - she was ground down,
poor, Latina, traumatized, a recovering addict, a woman who had been
committed to a mental institution in the past, and on her way to being
so again. (If you can trust her as a narrator, not because she deserved
to, but because, once in the system, it's easy to be remanded to it
again and again.) She'd been hurt in every way she could be hurt, and so
being invited to see what the future could be like, she was deeply
suspicious of everything she was shown, expecting it to come from the
same core of exploitation, hierarchy, and hurt that she knew.
Woman on the Edge of Time
is part of an era of feminist science fiction, projecting a future
utopia without a gender hierarchy. It also shows a dystopia of what
could happen if we don't shape up and start paying attention to this
But what I want to discuss is not the specifics of her
utopia, whether it would or could ever happen that way. I enjoyed
reading about that society, and being part of it while I was immersed in
the book, and maybe it wouldn't happen that way, but it was a beautiful
What I want to talk about is the place that dystopias
have in our pop culture these days, and how few people are even daring
to dream utopias. Dystopian literature and TV shows are everywhere -
what we do after the apocalypse, what society will be like, whether the
end comes from zombies, or alien attack, or the electricity turning off,
or any of the muddy pasts of the genre of dystopian Young Adult
literature. Dystopiana is not, in itself, a bad thing. It can be an
examination of what authors think make us human, what is threatened and
must be preserved. But there's so much of it. We all seem to be on the
edge of our seats with pessimism, betting on what the end will be.
utopias are seldom dreamed. It's not fashionable, it's not seen as
realistic. To write a utopia, look around. What kind of idiot must you
be? Well, the kind of idiot I try to persist in being. I'm not after
perfection. I'm not after trying to change everything in one fell swoop.
But I am after wanting to make things better, in whatever ways I can,
despite pain and obstacles and people telling me I must be crazy.
When I need to, I return, time and again to Spider Robinson's essay "Pandora's Last Gift" (included in User Friendly) to hearten me.
is why, even if Marge Piercy's 1970 utopia might never happen the way
she wrote it, even if attempts to change our living patterns might fail,
they hearten me. Why do we scoff if something isn't an utter success?
Why are we happier with doomsday predictions?
I enjoyed this
book, even though I found the ending deeply unsettling. But it's good
for a book to challenge me in that way, to examine when and why. And
Piercy allows the reader to decide whether Connie is or is not mad,
whether she is or is not experiencing what she thinks she's