Study Guide

Woman on the Edge of Time Science

By Marge Piercy


They had injected him with hepatitis and the disease had run its course and he had died. (1.150)

This is the first mention of scientific experimentation in the book. Claud, Connie's husband, was arrested and experimented on. Science, for Connie, even before the brain implants, isn't about progress and nifty inventions; it's about figuring out horrible ways to kill the people she cares about. (If you think this sort of experimentation seems exaggerated, you should read about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which ended only a few years before Woman On the Edge of Time was published.)

How that Dr. Redding stared at her, not like she'd look at a person, but the way she might look at a tree, a painting, a tiger in the zoo. (4.76)

The scientists in the asylum don't see Connie as a person. That's why they feel they can do anything to her; she's not really human to them. If they don't treat her like a human, does that mean she doesn't need to treat them as humans? Dr. Redding sets himself up for a lot of grief with that look. (Watch out for the coffee, buddy.)

"Is this all automated?" she shouted.

"Fasure," Jackrabbit shouted back. "Who wants to stuff pillows?" (7.16-7.17)

Science in the future stuffs pillows. It's not phasers or warp speed, but even Captain Kirk needs a pillow, right?

"…why not begin with her kicking around? After all, irrational violence is what we're about." (10.104)

Alice is upset because the scientists are filming her and she's bald. The scientists interpret her embarrassment, and her anger at being humiliated, as "irrational violence." The scientists get to decide what's rational and what isn't. That's not because they're smart and know everything; it's because they have power.

"Sticking a log in somebody's eye to dig out an eyelash! They had not even a theory of memory! Their arrogance… amazes me." She snorted. (11.86)

Luciente is pointing out that scientists in our day are arrogant, which seems fair. The bit about "They had not even a theory of memory!" is an offhand bit of goofy sci-fi technobabble though. We don't get many of those in this book; they're worth savoring when they pop up.

"Now that Dr. Morgan had lost his fear of her, there was something ugly in his demonstrations." (13.24)

Dr. Morgan uses the brain implant to control Alice; the suggestion is that he's getting sadistic pleasure out of it. Science here is a means of forcing people to do what you want, rather than a way to help people do stuff they couldn't before.

"They like to try out medicine on poor people. Especially brown people and black people. Inmates in prison too." (14.35)

Mattapoisett uses science to try to make society more equal. Connie here suggests that science in her own time is a way to make society more unequal—to hurt and weaken people who are already marginal and oppressed.

"In your time, I think people talked about effects and side effects, but that's nonsense." (14.36)

Luciente is arguing that talking about "side effects" is a way to pretend that there's a main scientific effect and then other accidental effects that don't matter as much. She wants to see science more holistically. That is, you need to consider everything that science does, not just bracket off what you want from what you don't.

"We weren't together at the front? Fighting?"

"Not in my life, Connie. Not in this continuum…With that device in your brain, maybe you visioned it." (19.32)

This is another bit of sci-fi techno-burble. Connie saw a future in which Luciente was at the front; Luciente says that didn't happen, but that it might have been in another continuum, or time path.

After a fight with another patient on the ward, causing mild concussion, this patient wandered out of the hospital and was lost in the woods for two whole nights and days. (20.25)

This is from Connie's medical records. Those records present a view of Connie as a scientific object of study; a case history, rather than a person. To the medical establishment, Connie never does anything of her own initiative; she didn't try to escape, she just wandered out. Science sees patients as victims and as things. To science, Connie has no future and no story, only symptoms.