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Demand the Impossible

Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination


Tom Moylan

Although published in 1986, Demand the Impossible was written from inside the oppositional political culture of the 1970s. Reading works by Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and Samuel R. Delany as indicative texts in the intertext of utopian science fiction, Tom Moylan originated the concept of the «critical utopia» as both a periodizing and conceptual tool for capturing the creative and critical capabilities of the utopian imagination and utopian agency. This Ralahine Classics edition includes the original text along with a new essay by Moylan (on Aldous Huxley’s Island) and a set of reflections on the book by leading utopian and science fiction scholars.
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Chapter 6: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time



The anger of the weak never goes away, Professor, it just gets a little moldy. It molds like a beautiful blue cheese in the dark, growing stronger and more interesting. The poor and the weak die with all their anger intact and probably those angers go on growing in the dark of the grave like the hair and the nails.

— CONNIE (in Woman on the Edge of Time)

Utopian vision and an awareness of the denial of that vision in the everyday life of American society have been present in Marge Piercy’s writing and politics since her first book of poetry, Breaking Camp (1968). In that collection, her poem, “The Peacable Kingdom,” speaks to the contradiction between the images of pastoral utopia evoked by Edward Hicks’s painting of the same name and the destruction of humanity and nature by the United States at home and in Vietnam. Her closing lines reveal her awareness of the utopian dream promised in the new world and the dystopian nightmare actually delivered: “This nation is founded on blood like a city on swamps / yet its dream has been beautiful and sometimes just / that now grows brutal and heavy as a burned out star.”1 The belief in a beautiful and just world and the anger at the denial of it by the dominant power structure have persisted throughout Piercy’s writings. These attitudes have been strengthened and deepened by her political activism beginning with the...

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