Big Echo

Critical SF

Interview with Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is a poet and novelist. Her Science Fiction includes Dance the Eagle to Sleep, Woman on the Edge of Time, and He, She and It (also published as Body of Glass). 

From your historical novels, particularly the French Revolution in City of Darkness, City of Light, through the 60s and 70s of Vida and other contemporary works, and into your more purely speculative novels you have pursued overtly political, even radical and revolutionary themes across time and genre. In He, She and It you’ve even integrated and account of early modern Europe into the science fiction narrative. I am curious if you have a particular philosophy of time that underlies your storytelling? What is the relationship of past, present and future in your work?

I am very interested in how we got where we are. I’ve always felt that in order to change things, you have to understand the forces and choices that created the PRESENT, therefore I write about times in the past that I find very relevant. You didn’t mention Sex Wars but that falls under the same rubric as City of Darkness, City of Light and Gone to Soldiers and the historic parts of He, She and It. I’m especially interested in those times that I feel made changes in direction or tried to.

In relation to periods of change and revolution, I'm wondering where you would locate the origins of those shifts; is it in mass movements and global exchanges? Or in local situations, face to face relations?

 Grass roots organizing is always very important, but if there isn't a mass movement, nothing changes. The powers that be always push back, so an ongoing struggle can't work from isolated groups.  

In one of our interviews for this issue, Cory Doctorow suggested that Marxism was inherently (even essentially) techno-utopian, that it sought social transformation through technological revolution. Would you agree with that position?

I don’t see that. And Marxism has many different strands. There is no monolithic Marxism. Think of all the splinter groups on the Left at any given time.

Is it possible to write about the future without fetishizing technology?

Of course. Apocalyptic science fiction has always done so. When I started reading sci fi in the late 50s, at least half of what I read were After the Nuclear War scenarios.

And I feel in Woman on the Edge of Time I hardly fetishized technology. The people of Mattapoisett used technology but weren't driven by it. They had rejected its use in some fields.

How would you characterize your political/ideological origins? How has your political trajectory changed over time? Would you characterize your project as revolutionary?

I’d never characterize my trajectory. That’s for other people to do. Especially when I’m dead. My political ideas changed when feminism of the second wave developed. I had read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex partly in French, then far more easily in English as soon as it came out. But there was almost no context then for my feminist leanings until in 1967, we began to organize in women’s liberation. I learned a lot from Marxism but probably lean more toward syndicalist anarchism

I feel like science fiction in general has a hard time with religion. It is almost always represented as either a sort of false consciousness or thin gimmicky cultural veneer. But in your work (I am thinking especially of He, She and It) it is elegantly incorporated into both the world-building and the psychology. Any thoughts on the dangers and pleasures of writing religion in science fiction?

Everything is of a piece for me. I use the same craft to produce a love poem, a poem about poverty or war, about Yom Kippur, about loss and death and birth and nature and my cats.

In Woman on the Edge of Time, I had people in different villages celebrate different cultures that often included specific spiritual or religious practices. In a golem novel like He, She and It, of course religion is important. When you remove religion from the golem, you get Superman.

In an interview with Michael Swanwick he suggested that in his writing transcendence or radical transformation often occurred at the intersection of religion and technology and your comment that if you remove religion from the golem you get Superman reminded me of this, can including religion in SF be a way of justifying or reinforcing the persistence of hope in otherwise bleak futures?

Religions have done far more damage over the centuries than good.  Religion may help individuals to bear hard times and trouble and loss, but institutionalized religion of all stripes quickly becomes dangerous. Established religion always seems to breed a them vs us mentality that has lead to crusades, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, the Inquisition, genocide, civil war, and legal discrimination.

Woman on the Edge of Time is sometimes identified as a precursor to cyberpunk , and while I could see why William Gibson would identify it as influential to him, I also see very significant differences between what you were doing and what those folks did. Any comment?

Cyberpunk very much influenced He, She and It. The Glop is a cyberpunk notion. When I was doing a residence at Loyola in Chicago, one of my students turned me on to cyberpunk and I read a big bunch of it, continuing my interest in Gibson long afterward.

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