A science fiction/social commentary by Marge Piercy about a time travelling "lunatic" who compares her oppressive, miserable, present-day culture to an egalitarian, supportive, idyllic future.
Please note the author. Several of the texts in Singing the Living Tradition--a Unitarian Universalist hymnal and reader--are Piercy's. She is a socialist. She is a feminist. She knows what she's talking about in this book: Piercy is studying our social fabric and analyzing how it could be repaired.
Piercy experiments with new social customs and traditions in Woman on the Edge of Time. After reading the book, I find myself mainly reflecting on Piercy's ideas, like... how would our world be different if we eliminated elections? How could we more appropriately use technology?
The book is more realistic than most utopian or dystopian tracts. Piercy doesn't deny the usefulness of technology, for example: she instead suggests how technology could become less intrusive.
The First Few Chapters: Little Spoilers
The main character, Consuelo Ramos, attacks a man who was going to beat her niece. She's sent back to an insane asylum. Once there, she explores a newfound ability to travel forward in time.
Consuelo meets "Luciente," a future-dweller who serves as the foil for Piercy's commentary. Luciente, like his/her whole community, is sexually ambiguous. Piercy changes Luciente's language to reflect culture. Gender-specific pronouns like "him" and "her" are replaced by "person" and "per" in Luciente's culture, because gender is no longer important.
The culture has removed birthing, so that women don't have to experience the pain and so that everyone is willing to take care of others' children. Babies are created through machines that randomly recombine the DNA of respected ancestors.
Luciente lives in what we would call a commune. Everyone has their own smallish room, but there are larger shared outdoor and indoor living spaces where people spend most of their time. The commune randomly selects leaders, who may only serve one term. These leaders interact with other communes to set up trade routes and guide the society.
The Rest of the Book: Larger Spoilers
It turns out there are two civilizations in the future: Luciente's peaceful, egalitarian system of communes, and an impossibly unequal, unnatural, arch-capitalist metropolis run by the rich. Consuelo visits the unequal civilization once and speaks to a woman who must prostitute herself to survive. She then narrowly avoids what seems like the "thought police," who question Consuelo about her papers.
Despite the serenity of Luciente's people, the two sides fight. Consuelo witnesses a burial ceremony, and learns about other customs like the "coming of age" ceremony where children are sent into the woods for several weeks, alone, to learn to be independent.
Consuelo's present threatens the plot when the asylum uses drugs and threatens surgery, limiting Consuelo's ability to contact Luciente. Her last contacts with Luciente merge present and future to help guide Consuelo through the book's climax.
Amazon's reviews of the book--mainly for names.
"Marge Piercy homepage,"