”The point of a novel about the future is not to predict it; I’m not pretending to be Nostradamus. The point of such writing is to influence the present by extrapolating current trends for advancement or detriment. Nobody is good at prediction. If we were better at guessing events in a year or even a few months or weeks, our divorce rate would be zero, we would not get into stupid relationships, and nobody would lose money in the stock market or to the racetrack. The point of creating futures is to get people to imagine what they want and don’t want to happen down the road – and maybe do something about it.”
Piercy wrote this as part of the introductory essay to the 2016 edition of her science fiction novel Woman on the Edge of Time. This is exactly why when pushed to pick a favorite genre I would choose dystopian. It is the freedom yet restriction in the genre that is so compelling.
There is nothing more frustrating to me other than we currently live in a world that is not working. Yet we all close our eyes to it and when challenged respond with “what else would we do? How else could the world work?”. When we put pen to dystopian paper we begin to realise that the society we are about to create can effectively be anything, and this is exactly how I feel about the society we live in. Society is man made.
When we consume a fictional dystopian or utopian story it works best when there is as Piercy states, an “extrapolation of current trends”. I feel that the success of dystopian fiction is often when there is an element that the consumers can truly relate to. Whilst we comfort ourselves in the fact that this is a constructed imaginary society and is highly unlikely to happen, we are gripped by the book, pawing through the pages; there is an element of our society we recognise – we can almost predict this element happening.
I liked how in Woman on the Edge of Time, the protagonist Connie visits both a representation of Utopia and a representation of Dystopia. I was disappointed in myself and my perception of my current reality when I realised that the dystopian future seemed far more realistic to me. A person’s negative attributes are more easy to swallow as truthful. When someone accuses someone of being a liar you are more likely to believe them – why would they make up such a statement? However, when someone compliments another as being nice it is easier to distrust this person – what has that person done to earn this loyalty? We almost require proof of kindness.
I found the book was very disorienting which worked well with the books implicated undertone of the protagonist’s madness. The book requires a large suspension of belief and ability to accept that where you are expected to be can change from sentence to sentence. I enjoyed this, relishing how even from the turn of one page or the linear break of a paragraph I could not be certain what to expect.
When visiting the future, the language was an adapted English. I’ve found myself using “fasure” many times since reading the book. The use of unisex pronouns in the future was a nice concept, and by the end of the book I found myself longing for it to become a part of everyday lexis.
It was the tag line that drew me to the book in Waterstones. The Classic Feminist Science Fiction Novel. I’m a prolific reader and I cannot lie that this normally means that I prowl the best selling fiction charts refusing to miss out on any recent literary smash-hit. There is still the wannabe hipster in me that wishes I did enjoy curling up cosy beside a fire with a copy of Jane Eyre. That’s not me, however, that part of me is what has led me to occasionally tread down the classic novel path. I have found a few modern classics enjoyable during my travels; The Time Machine, 1984 and Brave New World to name a few. The clear theme within these is the futuristic Sci Fi element, but all written and focused on males. I was surprised that the book had previously escaped my attention. Having studied English Literature I would have expected this to have been discussed as an integral part of the modern classic cannon. The combination of the female perspective meant that Woman on the Edge of Time was an unmissable purchase for me.
I haven’t particularly touched on the feminine perspective that the book holds and it’s influence on my consumption. Whilst it was refreshing to learn of alternative perspectives to sexuality and birth, I felt that the feminist undertone was not overly powerful and I preferred it this way. Piercy was not attempting to bang down doors thrusting feminist ideology down our throats, but rather requesting us to question our current perspectives on the inequality surrounding our sexes.
Another irresistible draw to the dystopian genre is the way in which the time of consumption can alter the inference of the text. It was with a gentle sadness that I realised that the current trends Piercy was extrapolating in order to criticise and encourage discussion have not gone away. Piercy touches on this nicely in her introductory essay;
“Woman on the Edge of Time was first published 40 years ago and begun three-and-a-half years before that. The early 1970s were a time of great political ferment and optimism among those of us who longed for change, for a more just and egalitarian society with more opportunities for all the people, not just some of them. Since then, inequality has greatly increased.”
This is why I so enjoy the reading of these novels, and prefer to write within this genre. I feel that texts within this genre are effectively a gift that keeps on giving. A uncomfortable unavoidable glimpse into the past, the future and the present all at once.
I could attempt and I would greatly fail to reiterate the wise words of Piercy in her essay. She encapsulates my fascination with the genre so greatly.
I would recommend this book for the freedom it gives it’s reader. I would recommend this book for anyone who sits and finds our current society unfair and yearns for the discussion for change and improvement. In a time when the 8 richest people own more than the 3.6 BILLION poorest I would hope that it would be the majority.