Notes Toward an Article on Carol Emshwiller
Gavin J. Grant
Carol Emshwiller, who has been publishing superb, stirring, challenging fiction for over 50 years, is a perfect Guest of Honor for Wiscon, the only Feminist Science Fiction convention.
If someone were to compile one of those futile lists of the top hundred writers in the world right Now! I’d have to hack into the results and replace the name of one of the politely-angry young men in the top ten with Carol Emshwiller’s. I wouldn’t put her in the top five, but only to avert the pollsters suspicions. Number six then, or number seven.
I imagine that when they discovered I’d spoofed their poll, said pollsters might be ticked off. But if they attempted to track me down, I expect there would be a Spartacus moment (perhaps without all the cleft chins) as writers from all around the world would stepped themselves forward to say, “I put Carol Emshwiller in the top ten,” or, “It was I who fixed your silly poll,” and so on.
Carol Emshwiller’s writing, and she herself, inspires that kind of action.
But why would someone need (or want) to put Carol’s name forward that way? Surely the cream will rise to the top? Well, some will, but for the most part, it takes work to get there (as well as some odd mechanical processes which aren’t an appropriate extension of this metaphor). As sharper critics than I have pointed out, Carol’s writing manages to both demand the reader pay attention and at the same time depends on the willingness of the reader to invest their imagination in the story to be fully appreciated. This is why I would fix that poll. This is why others would defend me. This is why Carol’s readers are very happy people and are always putting her books into other people’s hands.
Carol’s writing can rarely be satisfyingly pigeon-holed. Her latest novel which we were extremely happy and proud to publish, The Mount (2002), is science fiction; but it can also be described (or defended or attacked) as allegory, a coming-of-age story, or fantasy. Or even romance. Ledoyt(1995) is a biographical historical Western coming-of-age story. Carmen Dog (1990), a novel that I hope every Wiscon attendee will read, is transformative in many senses of the word. As for Carol’s short stories: they are many, they are awesome, and each one is worth an essay to itself. Carol, of course, is well aware — and not at all bothered — that her fiction is not easily categorized.
Among the many resonances and influences in Carol’s writing are the mountains and landscape of the American West, personal relationships, the odd moments of war, and the actions and effects of people who may or may not be more damaged than the rest of us.
Recently, Carol has written a series of war stories including “Boys” (Scifiction), “The General” (McSweeney’s No.10), and “Repository” (F&SF), which explore war from typically Emshwilleresque viewpoints. Soldiers are unsure of who they are, who they are fighting, or why. War is the question, not the subject.
I look forward to reading many more of Carol’s questions.
Originally published in the Wiscon 27 program book.
Author photo by Susan Emshwiller.