Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review of "He, She And It" by Marge Piercy

It's the near future and the Earth has been decimated by war and pollution. The world is run by huge corporations (multis) whose chosen employees adhere to rigid, stylized rules for dressing, working, and living. Most people, however, live in extensive, dangerous, poverty-ridden slums called The Glop. A few towns that are able to create and sell original technology to the multis remain free.

People around the world have access to an extensive computer network into which they can project themselves to obtain information, do research, play games, communicate, and so on. However, users of the network can be cyber-attacked and even killed so defensive computer technology is in high demand.

As the story opens, Shira, an employee of the Yakamura-Stichen (Y-S) corporation has divorced her husband and lost custody of her son, Ari. Devastated, Shira returns to her original home in Tikva, a free Jewish town. There she lives with her beloved grandmother Malkah - a whiz at designing protective computer technology, and takes a job with  Avram - a scientist who has created a humanoid cyborg called Yod, designed to protect the townsfolk from corporate raiders and assassins who want to co-opt its technology. Shira's childhood boyfriend Gadi, who broke her heart, is also back in town, having been suspended from his job  creating stimmies (recreational interactive holograms).

Much of the story revolves around Yod, who develops desires and emotions - essentially becoming more of a person - as he works with Malkah, Shira, and other townspeople. As the story proceeds the Y-S corporation perpetrates various shenanigans in an attempt to get their hands on Yod, going so far as to use Shira's child, Ari, as bait. Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, Malkah relates a story to Yod about a medieval Jewish ghetto in Prague where the  rabbi created a Golem (a powerful clay being) to protect the ghetto from raids staged by the surrounding Christian population. Like Yod, the Golem developed the characteristics of a human.

The book examines the question of what it means to be a 'real person' and whether an artificially created being has rights. I thought the various characters in the story were well-written and interesting and I cared about their lives and what happened to them. I also enjoyed the story though I felt it should have ended with more of a bang instead of a fizz.

It's a good book though, and I recommend it, especially to fans of sci-fi cyberpunk literature.

Rating: 4 stars

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