47 pages 1 hour read

Marge Piercy

He, She and It

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1991

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


He, She and It is a 1991 cyberpunk novel by Marge Piercy. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Science Fiction novel, telling the story of a romance between a human woman and a cyborg against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world.


Plot Summary


Shira and her ex-husband, Josh, are sitting in a courtroom in Nebraska awaiting word on the custody of their son, Ari. Shira is a psychoengineer who works with artificial intelligence. They live in Yakamura-Stichen (Y-S), a large “multi” administered by a large corporation. Most educated, affluent people live in a multi, subject to the laws of the corporations, but some free towns still exist. Outside of the multis and free towns is the “glop,” where the poor and uneducated scratch out an existence in a world whose climate and environment are no longer healthy.


When Shira learns she has lost custody of Ari to Josh, she decides there is no reason for her to stay in Y-S, and she travels to her hometown, the free town of Tikva. Tikva was founded on the explicit practice of Judaism. Shira plans to plot a strategy for regaining custody of Ari in the familiar environs of her home; however, she discovers that Tikva is under attack by information pirates seeking to gain access to the data on Tikva’s mainframes by force. To protect the town, Avram—the father of Shira’s one-time boyfriend Gadi—has been illegally working on a cyborg, along with Shira’s grandmother, Malkah. Avram builds the hardware, and Malkah writes the code. The tenth attempt at creating this cyborg (the first nine experiments failed) is called Yod. Shira agrees to take over the programming from Malkah and begins working with Yod directly.


Shira finds Yod to be a complex creation. A robot that can pass for human, the previous versions designed by Avram were destructively violent. He brought Malkah in to give the cyborg a personality and other human characteristics, including sexuality, to curb these problems. However, Yod still displays a disturbing amount of enthusiasm for battle and violence. Part of Malkah’s programming is a series of stories about a legendary golem created to protect the Jewish ghetto in Prague, which ended in tragedy as the golem fell in love with a human woman. Shira finds herself strangely attracted to Yod, and soon, they are having a sexual affair.


Avram’s son, Gadi, returns after being banished for seducing a young girl. Malkah, working on a defense against hacking efforts, experiences an attack staged by Y-S. Yod steps in, saving Malkah from harm and preventing Y-S from gaining access to Tikva’s mainframe. Y-S announces that Shira will be granted a new hearing regarding custody of her son. She travels with Yod, her mother, Riva, and others back to Y-S, but the hearing is attacked, and the Y-S representatives are killed, along with Riva. Shira and Yod take advantage of the chaos to hack the Y-S network, extracting files that demonstrate a conspiracy against Shira and all of Tikva. Wanting Yod and the technology it represents, Y-S plans to hold Ari hostage in an effort to persuade Shira to betray her family and community to save her son. It is revealed that Josh is a willing participant in this scheme.


Seeking more answers, Shira, Yod, and Gadi head into the Glop, meeting with an underground resistance group. They are shocked to find that Riva is not dead but working with the resistance. They orchestrate a raid into Y-S to kidnap Ari; Yod kills Josh in the process. They return to Tikva. Y-S contacts Shira, demanding that Yod be turned over to them in exchange for their safety; Avram agrees, believing he can simply create an eleventh cyborg to replace him. Yod agrees to a plan to destroy himself upon arrival at Y-S. Yod travels to Y-S as planned, but when he destroys himself, he also destroys Avram’s lab, killing Avram, and ensuring that no further cyborgs can be created.


Malkah leaves Tikva to seek medical treatments in Israel. Shira stays behind and begins to believe that Tikva is her home. She comes across copies of Avram’s notes on the creation of Yod and realizes she could recreate the cyborg. She begins to work on this project but slowly comes to realize that she should respect Yod’s wishes as she would any other sentient being—if he wished to be destroyed and to prevent further iterations of himself, she should follow those wishes. She puts Avram’s notes and his work aside, deciding not to create more cyborgs.