He, She and It: A Novel

He, She and It: A Novel

by Marge Piercy

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"A triumph of the imagination. Rich, complex, impossible to put down."—Alice Hoffman

In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman's marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions—and the ability to kill. . . .

From the imagination of Marge Piercy comes yet another stunning novel of morality and courage, a bold adventure of women, men, and the world of tomorrow.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780449220603
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/23/1993
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 201,504
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.01(d)

About the Author

Marge Piercy has written seventeen novels including the New York Times bestseller Gone to Soldiers, the national bestsellers Braided Lives and The Longings of Women, and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as He, She and It and Sex Wars; nineteen volumes of poetry including The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980–2010, The Crooked Inheritance, and Made in Detroit; and the critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. Born in center city Detroit, educated at the University of Michigan and Northwestern, and the recipient of four honorary doctorates, Piercy is active in antiwar, feminist, and environmental causes.

Read an Excerpt

In the Corporate Fortress
Josh, Shira’s ex-husband, sat immediately in front of her in the Hall of Domestic Justice as they faced the view screen, awaiting the verdict on the custody of Ari, their son. A bead of sweat slid down the furrow of his spine—he wore a backless business suit, white for the formality of the occasion, very like her own—and it was hard even now to keep from delicately brushing his back with her scarf to dry it. The Yakamura-Stichen dome in the Nebraska desert was conditioned, of course, or they would all be dead, but it was winter now and the temperature was allowed to rise naturally to thirty Celsius in the afternoon as the sun heated the immense dome enclosing the corporate enclave. Her hands were sweating too, but from nervousness. She had grown up in a natural place and retained the ability to endure more heat than most Y-S gruds. She kept telling herself she had nothing to fear, but her stomach was clenched hard and she caught herself licking her lips again and again. Every time she called up time on her internal clock and read it in the corner of her cornea, it was at most a minute later than when last she had evoked it.
The room glittered in black and white marble, higher than wide and engineered to intimidate, Shira knew from her psychoengineering background. Her field was the interface between people and the large artificial intelligences that formed the Base of each corporation and every other information-producing and information-eating entity in the world, as well as the information utility called the Network, which connected everyone. But she had enough psychological background to recognize the intent of the chamber where with their assigned lawyers they sat upright and rigid as tuning forks for the blow that would set them quivering into sound. Perched around them were similar groups in waiting: breaches of marriage contract, custody cases, complaints of noncompliance and abuse, each group staring at the blank view screen. From time to time a face appeared, one of those ideal, surgically created Y-S faces—blond hair, blue eyes with epicanthic folds, painted brows like Hokusai brush strokes, aquiline nose, dark golden complexion. It would announce a verdict, and then a group would swirl around itself, rise and go, some beaming, some grim-faced, some weeping.
She should not be as frightened as she was. She was a techie like Josh, not a day laborer; she had rights. Her hands incubated damp patches on her thighs. She hoped their verdict would be announced soon. She had to pick up Ari at the midlevel-tech day care center in forty-five minutes, some twenty minutes’ glide from the official sector. She did not want him waiting, frightened. He was only two years and five months, and she simply could not make him understand: Don’t worry, Mommy may be a little late. It was her fault, insisting on the divorce in December, for ever since, Ari had been skittish; and Josh bitter, furious. Twice as alive. If he had loosed in their marriage the passion her leaving had provoked, they might have had a chance together. He fought her with full energy and intelligence, as she had wanted to be loved.
Everything was her fault. She should never have married Josh. She had been passionately in love only once in her life, too young, and never again; but if she had not married Josh, she would not have had Ari. Oh, she felt guilty all right as she looked at Josh’s narrow back, the deep groove of his spine, vulnerable, bent slightly forward as if some chill wind blew only on him. She had promised to love him, she had tried to love him, but the relationship had felt thin and incomplete.
During their courtship, she had thought he was beginning to learn to talk to her, to respond more sensually and directly. In the born-again Shintoism of Y-S, they were both marranos, a term borrowed from the Spanish Jews under the Inquisition who had pretended to be Christian to survive. Y-S followed a form of revivalist Shinto, Shinto grafted with Christian practices such as baptism and confession. Marranos in contemporary usage were Jews who worked for multis and went to church or mosque, paid lip service and practiced Judaism secretly at home. All multis had their official religion as part of the corporate culture, and all gruds had to go through the motions. Like Shira, Josh had the habit of lighting candles privately on Friday night, of saying the prayers, of keeping the holidays. It had seemed rational for them to marry. He had been at Y-S for ten years. She had come straight from graduate school, at twenty-three. Y-S had outbid the other multis for her in Edinburgh—like most of the brightest students in Norika, the area that had been the U.S. and Canada, she had gone to school in the affluent quadrant of Europa—so she had had no choice but to come here. She had been lonely, unused to the strict and protocol-hedged hierarchy of Y-S. She had grown up in the free town of Tikva, accustomed to warm friendships with women, to men who were her pals. Here she was desperately lonely and constantly in minor trouble. Often she wondered if her troubles were caused by the particular corporate culture of Y-S, or if it would be the same in any multi enclave. There were twenty-three great multis that divided the world among them, enclaves on every continent and on space platforms. Among them they wielded power and enforced the corporate peace: raids, assassinations, skirmishes, but no wars since the Two Week War in 2017.
Josh had been born to an Israeli couple, survivors of the Two Week War a terrorist had launched with a nuclear device that had burned Jerusalem off the map, a conflagration of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons that had set the oilfields aflame and destroyed the entire region. He had been orphaned at ten, wandering without a country in the period Jews called the Troubles, when the whole world blamed them for the disasters that put an end to oil dependence in a maelstrom of economic chaos. Nothing had come easy to him in his life. The more he opened to her and told her, the more precious he seemed to her, in that fervid courtship, and the more she felt herself absolutely necessary to him. She was astonished that at first she had thought him cold. How he had suffered! He needed her like air itself.
He had seemed to be opening. Shortly after the marriage he had insisted upon, he began changing back. He acted happy. He seemed delighted with her; but from a distance. As for getting to know her better, as for sharing his inner life or taking an interest in hers, those pastimes seemed uninteresting to him, lacking in urgency. Ari was supposed to mend that breach. Since the birth of their son, all Josh’s after-work energy focused on Ari. She often suspected that if they did not have Ari, they would have nothing to talk about. Their silence roared in her ears. Soon she was boiling with resentments. They fought forty skirmishes a day about nothing. As her grandmother Malkah had warned her when she married Josh, she had made a costly mistake. Living together combined for them the worst aspects of living alone and living with a stranger. Their major activity together was disagreeing. She had grown up in a benign household, for Malkah was feisty and opinionated but also loving and funny. People did not have to live unremitting desperate wars. Shira had summoned her energy and left him.
She called up the time on her cornea. Only four minutes had passed since she had last asked. Finally the long-skulled face appeared and spoke, in its uninflected way, their names: Joshua Rogovin and Shira Shipman, re the custody of child Ari Rogovin. Even in Y-S, with its male dominance, women did not change their names. Marriages were on the basis of five- or ten-year contracts, and name changing without purpose was inefficient. Still, Shira felt an odd chill as she heard Ari’s surname given as his father’s. That was not how she had registered him at birth, but Y-S had ignored her preference.
“In regard to this matter the judgment of the panel is to award custody to the father, Joshua Rogovin, status T12A, the mother, Shira Shipman, status T10B, to have visitation privileges twice weekly, Wednesdays and Sundays. This verdict rendered 28 January 2059, automatic review on 28 January 2061. Verdict recorded. Out.”
Josh turned in his seat and glared at her. His lawyer was beaming and slapping his shoulder. “What did I tell you? In the bag.”
“They can’t do this!” Shira said. “They can’t take Ari!”
Josh grimaced, almost a smile. “He’s mine now. He’s my son, he’s a Rogovin.” His light eyes, somewhere between gray and blue, seemed to read her pain and dismiss it.
“Your ex-husband has a higher tech rating than you do,” her lawyer said. “I warned you they would take that into account. You’ve been stuck in the same grade for three years.”
“I’ll appeal. Ari needs me.” And I need him, she thought.
“It’s your choice, but you’re throwing away your credit, in my opinion. Of course I’ll represent you if you choose to retain me.”
Josh and his lawyer had already swept out. Shira’s lawyer stood over her, impatiently tapping his foot. “I have another client to see. You think about the appeal. I can start the process tomorrow if you choose.”
Suddenly she rose and rushed out, realizing she was late to pick up Ari. “Start the appeal,” she called over her shoulder. “I won’t let him go.”

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