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The Mount
Carol Emshwiller
Small Beer Press, 232 pages

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
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A review by Donna McMahon

The Mount by Michigan writer, Carol Emshwiller, has been getting a lot of attention lately. This polished, perceptive novel will be labelled by some as "science fiction," but few SF readers are likely to take it that way.

Charley is a "mount" -- a teenage human bred and trained to carry an alien rider on his back. There is nothing that Charley wants more than to win glory for his stable by becoming the fastest runner in the world, and the best mount for his master, a young "Hoot" who is destined to be The Ruler Of Us All.

These cherished dreams are crushed when a raid by wild humans forces Charley and his master to flee into the mountains -- where Charley discovers that the crazed leader of the Wild humans is his father. Charley's father wants him to join the freedom fighters, and Charley only wants to go back to his safe, comfortable old life.

It is Emshwiller's sharp characterization of Charley, his confused loyalties to his child owner, and his painful coming of age, that really makes this book. One moment he's endearingly naive; the next he's as ignorant and cruel as only an adolescent can be. And his relationship with the father he's never met can only be built one awkward, painful day at a time.

Of course, Emshwiller also has a tremendously powerful theme, and she knows what to do with it. She paints in all the nuances of the relationship between master and slave, and its damaging effects on both. Charley has been brought up to despise his own people and look to his Masters for approval. His Masters, by using slaves to do everything for them, have let themselves atrophy until they are utterly dependent.

Finally, The Mount is a tightly written, well structured novel, where every sentence and scene builds steadily toward the climax.

Since SF has gained wide popularity in recent years, it's no surprise that so much mainstream fiction is drawing on its imagery, but for an allegorical novel to be successful for me, the science fictional elements must work on a surface level. Emshwiller's don't. The aliens are silly. Their history and technology make no sense. And the resolution of the book is wildly improbable, especially after Emshwiller has done such a terrific job showing the nasty, subtle effects of slavery on individuals and society.

I didn't like this book much, although I certainly admired it. Some genre readers will find it delightful. But SF fans who expect credible science and realism had better take a miss.

Copyright © 2003 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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