He, She and It

Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom

The time is the middle of the twenty-first century. The place is what used to be North America, now Norika: a vast toxic wasteland dotted with huge environmental domes, enclaves of the monolithic corporations-the “multis”-that have replaced governments and whose employees have become an indentured citizenry; the far fewer “free towns,” independent settlements where the remarkable technology of the age has not yet been turned against the individual; and the “Glop,” the overwhelmed stretches of megalopolis where nine-tenths of the Norikans live – violent, festering warrens unprotected from the poisonous atmosphere and ruled by feuding gangs and warlords.

It is in this world that Shira Shipman struggles to find her place. Shira is a woman who longs for the traditions of her upbringing even as she breaks from them; a woman whose life has been “shattered into bright dangerous shards” by the loss of custody of her young son. Now, as the novel opens, she is returning to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she was raised. . . but she finds no easy respite in going home. Her part in the creation of an illegal cyborg – more nearly human than any created before, given life in order to protect the town, but truly brought to life by Shira’s deep and startling involvement with it – places her, her young son and her elderly grandmother at the center of a deadly battle for information, the most important commodity of the time. If the cyborg is man-built, it is woman-programmed, and that woman has been a lifelong rebel and sexual iconoclast. 
Read the First Chapter


As Shira’s adventure unfolds, we hear, as well, a tale told in the voice of an extraordinary artist and Shipman, a feisty and sensual mystic. It is the story of a great kabbalist in Prague’s Jewish ghetto in the year 1600 who, to protect the people from attack, defied the laws of the land and of nature and gave life to a golem. Interweaving these two stories, Marge Piercy creates a vast physical and emotional tapestry, playing the ancient against the futuristic, the mythical against the technological and the most fundamental relationships-child and parent, grandchild and grandparent, woman and man-against the most startling: human and that which is made by human hands.


HE, SHE AND IT is a feat of imagination and story-telling: at once a remarkable love story, an extraordinary vision of a future we are galloping rapidly toward and a profoundly moving exploration of our indelible ties to the past.


“Piercy’s vision, in addition to being broad and serious, is playful. This novel reaches its apex as a dangerous vision when it retells the story of manhood. Piercy depicts a more than human man-made man who is programmed by women. HE, SHE AND IT, which describes Yod the perfect lover/father and house-work-free domiciles, is a woman-centered fantasy. HE, SHE AND IT, a ground-breaking example of Jewish feminist fabulation, is a triumph.”


“Marge Piercy has written a marvelous story of love and robots…. Piercy adds family and religious values to the cyberpunk core of multinational corporations and information pirates. The result is one of the best novels of the year.”
–Fred Cleaver, Denver POST


“Also in evidence is Piercy’s customary skill in focusing on the minutiae of human thought and interaction, and it is this attention to inner psychological conflict (even in the case of our two golems) that pulls the book out of its sci-fi trap and makes its world of tomorrow ominously real.”
–Alison Bass, The Boston GLOBE


Yod is.. “the most articulately introspective “monster” in fiction since Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. It is these Golem sequences that Piercy’s sophis-tication is most manifest. They reflect Malkah’s concerns as much as they do Yod’s. They prefigure, becoming meta-fictional commentary on the novel in progress, and ultimately they give HE, SHE AND IT a mythic depth rare in science fiction. It is a powerful and memorable mixture, worth the attention of science fiction devotees and people who have never read a science fiction novel..”
–Darrell Schweitzer, The Boston PHOENIX


“Piercy’s vision of a post-greenhouse-effect, nuclear-blasted world interlaced with the Prague ghetto of 1600, and the efforts of certain people to stay human in both, is threaded with the questions: What is it to be human? … What does `life’ mean?… What are the limits of creativity? As always, Piercy writes with high intelligence, love for the world, ethical passion and innate feminism.”
–Adrienne Rich

“Stand aside William Gibson and Bruce Sterling! Body of Glass (He, She, and It in the United States) is a combination of future history and cyberpunk that is a match for Neuromancer in excitement and breadth of vision, but it is also a far greater novel. Not only is it better written, with a less artificial plot and deeper characterisation, but it also works through the consequences of its ideas in a far more sophisticated fashion. Shira has lost custody of her son to her husband, and has left the Y-S “multi” that employs her to return to her home “free town”. One of the town leaders, feeling danger threatening, has built Yod, an illegal cyborg (full artificial intelligence in a human shaped vehicle) to defend them. But Y-S is after Yod… The narrative contains enough political intrigue, biologically enhanced assassins and data piracy to keep the cyberpunk fans happy, but it also has some serious meat in it. It tackles head-on some of the philosophical and ethical dilemmas likely to be involved in the development of artificial intelligence. Interlaced with the main story is a secondary narrative. This is the story (as told to Yod by Shira’s mother Malkah) of a Jewish Rabbi in 17th century Prague who creates a clay golem to defend his people from a threatened pogrom. This sub-story is both simpler and bleaker, but has the same compelling drive as the main story, and the two complement one another superbly. I can’t recommend Body of Glass too highly. It is one of the best science fiction novels I have ever read, though Marge Piercy’s earlier Woman on the Edge of Time perhaps had more of a bite to it. Now I have to go and find the rest of her novels…
Danny Yee’s Book Reviews