Woman on the Edge of Time is a blunt and brutal attempt to reflect and foreshadow humankind’s—particularly America’s—ailing social condition. Utopian science fiction often does this sort of thing, but (and I say this with my very limited experience reading science fiction) few so blatantly evoke a sentiment of such fierce anger towards a degenerating society. The culprits blamed are many: sexism, racism, environmental ignorance, capitalism, even the family unit. Separating this book from similar utopian science fiction novels, however, Piercy argues for violent insurgence to invoke a shift in societal change. Her protagonist, Connie Ramos, is a complicated and sometimes awkward—though effectively intriguing—central figure to the novel that many (myself included) would have a hard time cheering for. The perplexing nature of her psyche and the ambiguousness of her mental stability make the reader even question if this is a science fiction novel at all, or simply a psychological thriller grounded in social insurrection.
This novel demonstrates a clear beef that Piercy has for social subjugation, a fury for oppression that not-so-subtly pervades every shadow of American culture. Through Connie, and the representatively gay figure Luciente, Piercy unashamedly argues that a white-dominated, sexually focused, patriarchal capitalism has spun us into a tailspin that will inevitably produce nothing but social ruin and that currently engenders a loss of humanism and respect for the human being. Social class systems where race divides the poor from the rich, the healthy from the sick, the educated from the ignorant are unacceptable. Oppression is observed under patriarchy where women and gays are marginalized and under capitalism where the socially weak acquiesce to those in greater position. One of the most persistent attacks Piercy makes on society’s course is that of familial relationships. A dichotomy is introduced that polarizes the family into two extremes: on the one hand, families run by men in patriarchal units lead to broken homes, abuse, female submissiveness, heartache, and bitter mental turmoil. On the other, families raised in non-traditional, sexually-equal parenting situations offers what appears to be superficial love but structured and nonetheless happy. Piercy seems to suggest here that the oppression that marginalized communities experience is in part routed in the idea that the family unit—the nuclear family structure—is unnatural an ineffective. Or, even if it is natural, isn’t justified.
While her arguments are interesting and Women on the Edge of Time is a compelling and engaging fiction, it still is very much a fiction. Admittedly coming from a conservative, religious, and “practical” perspective, I confess that I find her arguments less persuasive than a mere rant. And I have had this issue with all the stories we have read so far. Piercy has an incredible ability to show the oppressive nature of the human being through Connie’s struggle with Geraldo, Dolly, Angelina, the various mental institutions, and her relationship with Luciente. The arguments here are powerful, engaging, and real. But I am left to wonder about the overtly socialist, feminist, environmentalist, and “anti”-racists perspectives of her alternate futures. Like much of the problems I find myself having with science fiction, I ask myself again here: why make it a fiction? At least, why make it unrealistic? If the issues are as she says they are and there is, in fact, something we can do about it, why not keep us on the ground, talking about the issues, rather than floating around in time and space? This is where she loses me and where I begin to lose faith in her tirade.