Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories
The Mount
Carol Emshwiller
Small Beer Press, 272 and 322 pages

Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories
The Mount
Carol Emshwiller
Carol Emshwiller was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She grew up in both Ann Arbor and in France, moving back and forth almost annually. She attended the University of Michigan which was where she met her husband, Ed Emshwiller, the famed SF illustrator. She alternates living in New York City (winter) where she teaches at New York University Adult Education and in California in the summer.

Carol Emshwiller Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Mount

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Carol Emshwiller's first short story was published in 1955 in Future Science Fiction. Her early work was published mostly in Robert Lowndes's magazines (Future and Science Fiction Quarterly) and in F&SF. She continued to publish short fiction through the 50s and 60s, achieving at least some notice with stories like "Hunting Machine" (1957), "Pelt" (1958), "Day at the Beach" (1959), and "Chicken Icarus" (1966), each of which was chosen for a Best of the Year anthology.

Much of this early work was clever but light, as with that first story, "This Thing Called Love", a 50s social satire in the mode pioneered by H. L. Gold's Galaxy. The narrator's husband wants to emigrate to the stars, but she refuses to accompany him: why should she abandon her crushes on the robots who star in TV shows, and who could love a real human anyway? Her slightly later story, "Idol's Eye" (Future, February 1958), is perhaps more characteristic of her later work. An apparently ugly, near-blind, young farm woman is being crudely courted by a brutish neighbor, but she discovers a special "sight", that makes her the appropriate consort for a mysterious man brought by aliens.

In the mid-60s, Emshwiller's work became odder, deeper, more experimental. Many of these stories were collected in the 1974 book Joy In Our Cause, including "Sex and/or Mr. Morrison", one of the creepiest and most memorable stories in Harlan Ellison's landmark anthology Dangerous Visions. There followed two more collections, Verging on the Pertinent (1989) and The Start of the End of It All (1991), the strange feminist fantasy Carmen Dog (1988), and two novels set in the American West, Ledoyt (1995) and Leaping Man Hill (1999).

In 1999, her stories began appearing again in F&SF, and she has published a generous helping of new fiction in the past few years, in F&SF, at SCI FICTION, and in anthologies such as Leviathan Three and The Green Man. And here are two new books: a story collection, and a novel, both published by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link's worthy effort, Small Beer Press.

Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories includes 19 pieces, seven of them new to this book. The reprints include seven from her recent in-genre outburst, with the other stories dating as far back as 1977. Throughout Emshwiller's lovely wry voice is evident, as are her quirky imagination, her warm regard for her characters: women, men, and other creatures, and her passionate interest in the relationship between the sexes.

Several of the stories reflect her interest in the Western landscape. (Emshwiller lives part of the year in a remote Western area.) Often these stories feature independent women coming to cautious accommodations with similarly independent, often mostly silent, men. The settings may or may not be the actual American West. (I have not yet read her Western novels, but I gather that this might describe these novels as well.) Thus vaguely SFnal stories like "Water Master", about the man who controls the allocation of water to a generally dry village, and the woman who becomes fascinated with him. Thus also "The Paganini of Jacob's Gulch", about a lame violinist from Scotland who moves to the American West and gets beat up for playing too well. And "Desert Child", about an old woman, an old man, and a near-feral child who end up together.

Emshwiller's range is wide, though. "Acceptance Speech" is one of the oddest and most SFnal of her recent stories, about a human kidnapped by aliens to write poetry. "Foster Mother" and "Creature" are related stories about a genetically engineered war-fighting monster who is also a child in need of love. The longest story here is "Venus Rising", originally published as a chapbook in 1992. It tells in Emshwiller's oblique, submerged, way of intelligent water creatures and their reaction to the arrival of a castaway, apparently a man, in their midst.

Other delights include "Prejudice and Pride", a striking and moving meditation on the sexual life of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy; two stories about yetis and other mysterious creatures: "Abominable" and "Overlooking"; and "Grandma", a look at a female superhero in her old age. This is a wonderful collection of short fiction, marked by tremendous variety, a wonderful, funny, knowing, and sympathetic voice, and a truly off-center imagination.

Emshwiller's new novel is The Mount, and unlike any of her previous novels it is fairly straightforward science fiction. In simplest terms, it tells of a revolution against alien invaders. These invaders, called "Hoots", are physically weak and small, but over generations they have bred humans to serve them as "Mounts". The humans, then, become essentially pets to the aliens, treated a great deal like horses are treated by present-day humans. Thus the novel explores, quite thoughtfully, human/pet relationships, master/slave relationships, and the question of freedom versus comfort.

There are a few different viewpoint characters, but the story is mainly told through the eye of Charley, an especially prized young Mount who is the property of the son of a very high-ranking Hoot. Charley is extremely proud, to the point of vanity, of his abilities as a Mount. And his relationship with his Hoot, who he calls "Little Master", is complex but largely loving. Loving, though, in an almost creepy Master-Slave fashion. Charley, it turns out, is the son of a rebellious human, who has gone off to live in the wilderness, and who plots to free all humans, but particularly his son. The novel's main action turns on the initial success of this scheme, and then on the ambiguous results. Charley is by no means sure that freedom is all it's cracked up to be, and moreover he misses his "Little Master". He's also jealous of his father's relationship with a woman not his mother -- his mother, of course, being basically a brood mare chosen by the Hoots.

The plot twists a couple of times from there, coming to a moving, thoughtful, and balanced resolution, if not exactly a terribly original one. The storytelling is clear and interesting. The age of the protagonist, the theme, and the relatively simple storytelling make this novel, I would think, appealing to younger readers, but it certainly will satisfy adults as well.

Carol Emshwiller is a real treasure. She seems underappreciated to me, but this late burst of productivity may help remedy that situation. Both The Mount and Report to the Men's Club are first rate books. I think I'd choose the story collection as the better book, for its range, complexity, and wit. But either way, I'm thrilled to see these books, and I look forward to many more stories from this writer.

Copyright © 2003 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide