Women Science Fiction Writers as Probing Pathfinders
Author Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time was written in 1976, and it has received critical acclaim for the science fiction future it depicts, but it was likely given literary wings by a bizarre science fiction tale written in 1818, according to a scholarly essay in Critique: Studies in contemporary Fiction (Seabury, 2001). The science fiction tale Seabury alludes to is in fact "often called the first work of science fiction," and that is the classic story of Frankenstein.
Additionally, Seabury uses a quote to tip the cap to Frankenstein's author, Mary Shelley, who, in penning Frankenstein, has written "perhaps the single most influential work of science fiction by a woman." And so, in the genre of feminist science fiction, even though Frankenstein is quite the opposite of feminine, to say the least, the author was clearly a pathfinder of tremendous significance for future female authors.
Meanwhile, one of the main differences between Piercy's work and Shelley's classic is that in Frankenstein, "the fantastic is reached through potentially credible science," while Piercy's novel "emerged from...the Computer Revolution, which has catalyzed us to see anew the radical changes we might anticipate." Seabury goes on to allude to Piercy's novel's alternative 2137 futures, which are "clearly possible outgrowths of our own science and technology" in a world where "medical technology gives us the power to alter behavior and manipulate genes." That power is quite a few light years away from Shelley's science fiction in Frankenstein, but no less entertaining for its jolt value in the 19th Century than was Piercy's in the 1970s.
To continue the theme that Piercy has plucked style and pointers from Shelly, Piercy's "Connie" certainly has some similarities at least in literary tone to Shelly's famous monster; to wit, on page 285, after Connie and Skip have had their brain operations, the great each other with "Hello monster." And a bit earlier, when Connie is drugged, and her speech is slurred and later she has a plate implanted - affixed with "sharp metal pins" (281) - her character is beginning to resemble a creature with bolts and metal plates, not that unlike Frankenstein himself, in all his hideous charm.
When Dr. Redding drilled on her skull, "It did not hurt; it was merely horrifying," Piercy writes on page 281. "Next they fitted a machine over her...and they pounded it into her head with three sharp metal pins as if she were a wall they were attaching a can opener to. Tap, tap, tap." And on page 282-283, a very Frankensteinian passage is offered by Piercy: "She would be a walking monster with a little computer inside and a year's supply of dope to keep her stupid." A key difference between Piercy's monster and Shelly's is that Piercy's is in the computer age, quite a leap from the 19th Century.
But, in looking beyond similarities between Shelly's work and Piercy's characters, in terms of science fiction sounding very much like real life, Connie suffers from what alert readers in 2004 know to be the all too common condition humans suffer from: unfairness and pain, and specifically, violence at the hands of family members. Connie's father beats her and she has a desire for love and for being mothered like her brother Luis was mothered. "Both Connie and the creature continue to be rejected by those who should be family," Seabury writes.
We often want love when we need something else," Connie says (86), "like a good job or a chance to go back to school."
Meanwhile, as to the real growth of feminist science fiction, in the book, Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science fiction and Beyond, reviewed by Phebe Davidson in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, the writer reports that eight of the thirteen science fiction stories of the 1970s were written by women. And of the 37 science fiction books published in the 1980s, seventeen have female authors. So, clearly, women are writing great science fiction, and being recognized.
However, one of the essays in Lost in Space (written by Marleen S. Barr) takes a shot at Piercy; it is titled, "Men in feminist Science fiction: Marge Piercy, Thomas Berger, and the end of Masculinity." Indeed, in response to Barr's shot across her bow, Piercy is quoted in the Davidson piece as saying that…