by Carol Emshwiller
Praise for Carol Emshwiller’s previous books:
Carol Emshwiller’s stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Century, Scifiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, The Voice Literary Supplement, Omni, Crank!, Confrontation, and many other anthologies and magazines.
Mercury House, 1995
Ms. Emshwiller is so gifted. . . . She describes the ragged, sunswept Western countryside with a vividness and clarity that let us see it as her characters do — and understand why they love it as they do. There are moments of [Ledoyt] that are remarkably moving; there are scenes of great power.
—The New York Times Book Review
[Ledoyt is] as haunting as the song of a canyon wren at twilight.
It’s always cheering when an unclassifiable writer suddenly grows a little more unclassifiable. That’s the case with Carol Emshwiller, the feminist-fantasist author of three short-story collections and one earlier novel…. With Ledoyt, Emshwiller offers a historical novel of sometimes gothic intensity, but one remaining well within the realm of physical possibility…of all things — a Western…a story of unlikely love and destructive jealousy.
—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
A fierce and tender portrait of a girl growing up fierce and tender; a sorrowful, loving portrait of a man whose talent is for love and sorrow; a western, an unsentimental love story, an unidealized picture of the American past, a tough, sweet, painful, truthful novel.
— Ursula K. Le Guin, author of Tales of Earthsea
— read the full review
Ledoyt is sweet and true and heartbreaking, echoing with the actualities of our old horseback life in the American West. Carol Emshwiller has got it dead right.
–William Kittredge, editor of The Portable Western Reader
Leaping Man Hill
Mercury House, 1999Leaping Man Hill is a satisfying novel, with complexities not susceptible to easy summary, as well as those quirky characters and some playful language. Finally, though, it is dominated by Emshwiller’s sure development of Mary Catherine. Readers who grow with that young woman may remember this book a long time.
—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
[Leaping Man Hill is] another strong, satisfying western . . . a headstrong young heroine succeeds in finding her niche in the ranch country of post-WWI California. . . . An exuberant yet exquisite portrait of a woman coming into her own.
Emshwiller is particularly good at showing the ways we aspire to self-sufficiency to insulate ourselves from a world beyond our control…. Leaping Man Hill is, if anything, a love story…. Love, strange and complicated, has been a theme of Emshwiller’s from her earliest, fantasy-tinged short stories, in which characters float, shrink, grow wings, and cohabitate with aliens under its influence. As Emshwiller knows, implausibility and affection seldom rule each other out, and in some cases the combination effects amazing transformations. In Emshwiller’s carefully drawn, realistic western context these changes are less pronounced, but no less revealing or remarkable.
— San Francisco Bay Guardian
— read the full review
Mercury House, 1990** Small Beer Press reprinted Carmen Dog in June 2004 through their new Peapod Press imprint. More.
Emshwiller has produced a first novel that combines the cruel humor of Candidewith the allegorical panache of Animal Farm. In the hyper-Kafkaesque world ofCarmen Dog, women have begun devolving into animals and animals ascending the evolutionary ladder to become women. . . . there has not been such a singy combination of imaginative energy, feminist outrage, and sheer literary muscle since Joanna Russ’ classic The Female Man.
This trenchant feminist fantasy-satire mixes elements of Animal Farm, Rhinoceros and The Handmaid’s Tale…. Imagination and absurdist humor mark [Carmen Dog] throughout, and Emshwiller is engaging even when most savage about male-female relationships.
An inspired feminist fable…. A wise and funny book.
—The New York Times
–review from Vector: The Critical Journal of the British Science Fiction Association
— review from Strange Horizons
The Start of the End of It All
Mercury House, 1990
— Winner of the 1991 World Fantasy AwardEighteen short fantastic fictions comprise Emshwiller’s third superb collection. . . . again, her improvisations include inventive fabulisms and feminist satires, many with a science-fictional spin to them…. Emshwiller’s fabulisms court a sense of the sacred but cleverly undercut that sense with tongue-in-cheek playfulness. The ensuing deft balance between mystery and skepticism is touching — and often aesthetically triumphant.
Emshwiller’s characters embrace the unexpected and extraordinary; their lives leap from the mundane to the wondrous in a surreal instant, and the reader feels transported too.
Verging on the Pertinent
Coffee House, 1989“I have loved her work for years. Her imagination is fierce and funny, never mean.”
“[She] must be read, watched for, nurtured as an original and exciting new talent.”
— Doris Grumbach
Venus Rising, a chapbookEdgewood Press,1992A stunning story of an alien exiled to an exotic world, the peaceful inhabitants he finds there and his attempts to “civilize” them.
“I have always thought that Carol had the most inventive mind in science fiction. It is not possible to summarize her work as a whole nor describe it satisfactorily piece by piece, but it does all have a particularly tough kind of feminity that appeals to me very much. Her heroines generally rise to the occasion and they do this with only their courage and their imagination and they do this in ways no one else would. And yet, as a reader, you always liked her heroines just fine before they were heroic, so there is a bit of sadness there, that the world is the sort of world that forces nice, ordinary people into heroism. Other writers can be funny one moment and heart-breaking the next, but Carol is routinely both at once and she makes it look effortless or accidental.”
— Karen Joy Fowler
“Here is a female living out among the breakers. Here is a man from the land-dwelling culture. When they meet, the encounter touches on culture-clash, gender politics, evolution in its manifold forms, relative civilization, even murder and kidnapping. No one else has a voice like Carol Emshwiller’s. She should be heard.”
Venus Rising is wonderfully Emshwillerian: lyrical in its language, delightfully idiosyncratic in its thinking, filled with laughter and strange pain.”
— Pat Murphy
Another review. (Warning: this is a slow-loading PDF file.)
Emshwiller knows well the marvelous inexplicability of love, jealousy, and heroism.
First and foremost, Emshwiller is a poet — with a poet’s sensibility, precision, and magic. She revels in the sheer taste and sound of words, she infuses them with an extraordinary vitality and sense of life.
by Carol Emshwiller
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.
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The Village Voice: Our 25 Favorite Books of 2002
San Francisco Chronicle: 10 Best SF&F of the Year
* Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Brilliantly conceived and painfully acute in its delineation of the complex relationships between masters and slaves, pets and owners, the served and the serving, this poetic, funny and above all humane novel deserves to be read and cherished as a fundamental fable for our material-minded times.”
School Library Journal
“Adult/High School – This veteran science-fiction writer is known for original plots and characters, and her latest novel does not disappoint, offering an extraordinary, utterly alien, and thoroughly convincing culture set in the not-too-distant future. Emshwiller brings readers immediately into the action, gradually revealing the takeover of Earth by the Hoots, otherworldly beings with superior intelligence and technology. Humans have become the Hoots’ “mounts,” and, in the case of the superior Seattle bloodline, valuable racing stock. Most mounts are well off, as the Hoots constantly remind them, and treated kindly by affectionate owners who use punishment poles as rarely as possible. No one agrees more than principal narrator Charley, a privileged young Seattle whose rider-in-training will someday rule the world. The adolescent mount’s dream is of bringing honor to his beloved Little Master by becoming a great champion like Beauty, his sire, whose portrait decorates many Hoot walls. When Charley learns that his father now leads the renegade bands called Wilds, he and Little Master flee. This complex and compelling blend of tantalizing themes offers numerous possibilities for speculation and discussion, whether among friends or in the classroom.”
Laura Miller, Salon
“Emshwiller’s prose is beautiful”
The Women’s Review of Books
“The Mount is a brilliant book. But be warned: It takes root in the mind and unleashes aftershocks at inopportune moments.”
Review of Contemporary Fiction
“Carol Emshwiller has been writing fantasy, speculative and science fiction for many years; she has a dedicated cult following and has been an influence on a number of today’s top writers…. it is very easy to fall into the rhythm of Emshwiller’s poetic and smooth sentences”
[A]s Carmen Dog and “Mrs. Jones” – Emshwiller balances delicately on the beam, carrying the tale straight-faced with a combination of precise language, gentle humor, a near-perfectly pitched voice, and a tenderness toward her characters that draws us in and beguiles us…. As Kim Stanley Robinson observes in his blurb forThe Mount, we are all mounts — we’re all caught up in one way or another in systems like Hoot servitude, kept in our places by fear, or a love of ease, or inertia, or sheer laziness. Emshwiller reminds us of this, shows us how it happens, and how very difficult it can be to escape.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Emshwiller’s themes — the allure of submission, the temptations of complicity, the perverse nature of compassion — are not usual fare in novels of resistance and revolt, and her strikingly imaginative novel continues to surpass our expectations to the very last page.”
The Village Voice
“Carol Emshwiller’s elegant new novel, The Mount, is both fantastical and unnerving in its familiarity. And like her work in romance and westerns, its genre-twisting plot resists easy classification.”
“[Carol Emshwiller] may be the most brilliantly perverse dreamer of them all…. What is it like to spend a few days alone with Carol Emshwiller? Startling, a process of immersion very different from encountering the occasionally piece in an anthology, and a revelation for anyone unfamiliar with her history….”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Emshwiller uses a deceptively simple narrative voice that gives The Mount the style of a young-adult novel. But there’s much going on beneath the surface of this narrative, including oblique flashes of humor and artfully articulated moments of psychological insight. The Mount emerges as one of the season’s unexpected small pleasures.”
“A memorable alien-invasion scenario, a wild adventure, and a reflection on the dynamics of freedom and slavery.”
“…a profound novel of amazing depth and intimacy.”
It’s a brilliant piece of work…
“In a recent interview with Science Fiction Weekly, Ursula Le Guin called Emshwiller “the most unappreciated great writer we’ve got.” The Mount proves Le Guin right…. If Emshwiller is not already on your top bookshelf,The Mount will put her there.”
“…a beautifully written allegorical tale full of hope that even the most unenlightened souls can shrug off the bonds of internalized oppression and finally see the light.”
“While whimsical and entertaining at times, The Mount raises some potent questions. It will make you laugh, but it will also make you think. This would be a wonderful book for classroom or book club discussions. Buy it, read it, recommend it to your friends.”
Report to the Men’s Club and Other Stories
The Women’s Review of Books
“Emshwiller sentences are are transparent and elegant at the same time. Her vocabulary, though rich and flexible, is never arcane.”
Jane magazine, October, 2002:
“The Mount combines elements of E.T., Black Beauty, Huckleberry Finn, and some very twisted fairy tales in a way that’s uniquely Emshwiller. It’s crazy, horrific, absurd, moving — and it works, as account of both individual maturation and a conquered planet’s coming of age.”
“Carol Emshwiller (Carmen Dog, etc.) lends her elegant wit to Report to the Men’s Club, a collection of 19 fantastic short fictions treating the war between the sexes. Such tales as “Grandma,” “Foster Mother” and “Prejudice and Pride” are brim-full of wry insights into male-female relationships. Testimonials from Samuel R. Delaney, Maureen McHugh, Terry Bisson and Connie Willis, among other big names, should send this one into extra printings. Emshwiller is also the author of a new novel, The Mount.“
“A daring, eccentric, and welcome observer of darkly human ways emerges from these 19 motley tales. Often writing in an ironical first-person voice, storywriter and novelist Emshwiller (Leaping Man Hill, 1999, etc.) assumes the persona of the outsider or renegade who flees the community as if to test boundaries and possibilities. In “After All,” the narrator is a grandmother who decides to set out on a “makeshift journey” in her bathrobe and slippers simply because it is time. The setting is vague: she flaps through the town and then into the hills, pursued, she is sure, by her children, and, in the end, she is merely happy not “to miss all the funny things that might have happened later had the world lasted beyond me.” Both in “Foster Mother” and “Creature,” the mature, quirky narrators take on the care of an abandoned, otherworldly foundling and attempt to test their survival together in the wilds. In other stories, a character’s affection for a scarred pariah forces her out of her home and through a stormy transformation-as in the sensationally creepy “Mrs. Jones.” Of the two middle-aged spinster sisters, Cora and Janice, Janice is the fattish conspicuous one who decides to tame and civilize at her own peril the large batlike creature she finds wounded in the sisters’ apple orchard. Janice does get her husband, and through skillful details and use of irony, the story becomes a chilling, tender portrait of the sisters’ dependence and fragility. At her best, Emshwiller writes with a kind of sneaky precision by drawing in the reader with her sympathetic first person, then pulling out all recognizable indicators; elsewhere, as the long-winded “Venus Rising” (based on work by Elaine Morgan),the pieces read like way-far-out allegories. A startling, strong fourth collection by this author-look for her upcoming The Mount.“
“This strange collection of stories is populated by creatures of all sorts, human and alien. The collection-closing title piece takes the form of a speech given to a men’s club by someone who has just been initiated into membership, despite the accident of birth that made her biologically female. The other stories range topically from the faith of a scribe in “Modillion” to love at first sight in “Nose.” What makes them satisfying is the personalities of their characters. Even the shortest pieces present characters who possess all the force of real persons who might be standing beside us. For the most part, Emshwiller keeps the stories simple, engaging us with their characterization rather than fast, copious action. We stay engaged because they render enough emotion to sustain our creaturely interest.”
“…the news that she has a new collection out, and that the collection includes seven hitherto-unpublished pieces, is joyous…”
“her long-awaited fourth collection of short fiction is…a real joy to read. This is a collection to delight and intrigue readers and writers of all persuasions. Go out and buy it now.”
Time Out New York
Carol Emshwiller is often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” an ostensibly laudatory term that usually refers to artists who aren’t getting the attention they deserve. An eminence at 81, Emshwiller is also almost exclusively categorized as a science-fiction writer or fantasy writer when the truth is that she uses genre elements in ways that usually subvert the genres she’s supposedly writing in. A sad formula: writer’s writer + genre = obscurity. Thank God, then, for Small Beer, a Brooklyn-based press dedicated to publishing short-story writers, has released Emshwiller’s two new books: Report to the Men’s Club, a short-story collection, and The Mount, a novel.
Let’s start with the stories. Elliptical, funny and stylish, they are for the most part profoundly unsettling. In “Mrs. Jones,” a spinster tries to one-up her sister in an ongoing codependent battle by trapping and seducing the angel (demon? alien?) that is living in their orchard. In “Creature,” a man cohabitates with a massive female monster — one of a race that has been engineered to kill him. In “One Part of the Self Is Always Tall and Dark,” a woman, happily convinced that she is going crazy, dreams of long sentences composed of nothing but three-letter words: “She was far out and tip top too.”
As wonderful as the stories are, the real treat here is The Mount, a fable/fantasy/cautionary tale along the lines of, say, Animal Farm. It’s the story of Charlie, a preadolescent human who’s being used as a horse by shoulder-riding alien invaders known as Hoots. Charlie wants nothing more than to become a great Mount, a loyal slave and servant, until his father, a renegade Mount who has fled from the Hoots and now lives in the mountains, comes to take him away. Like so much of Emshwiller’s work, The Mount asks difficult questions — in this case, What is freedom? The issue is particularly appropriate at a time when “freedom” in America is increasingly defined as “security”– freedom from uncertainty, freedom from fear, freedom from want. All of which is, in the end, not really freedom at all.
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…. Carol Emshwiller is a real treasure. She seems underappreciated to me, but this late burst of productivity may help remedy that situation. Both The Mountand Report to the Men’s Club are first rate books.
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Read the Letter of Intrigue: James Tiptree to Carol Emshwiller.
Read her story in Trampoline.
Besides her novel, The Mount, and collection of short fiction, Report to the Men’s Club and Other Stories, who is this writer? It’s not just the vast staff at Small Beer Press who think she’s an incredible writer, check out what happy readers and writers are saying about her new books on those pages above, and have a look below too see that this is one writer who has been making readers very happy for a good amount of time!
Carol Emshwiller’s stories have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Century, Scifiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, TriQuarterly, Transatlantic Review, New Directions, Orbit, Epoch, The Voice Literary Supplement, Omni, Crank!, Confrontation, and many other anthologies and magazines.
Carol is a MacDowell Colony Fellow and has been awarded an NEA grant, a New York State Creative Artists Public Service grant, a New York State Foundation for the Arts grant, the ACCENT/ASCENT fiction prize, and the World Fantasy, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Gallun, and Icon awards.
Carol Emshwiller is the author of three previous collections of short fiction: The Start of the End of it All (Winner of the 1991 World Fantasy Award), Verging on the Pertinent, and Joy in Our Cause, and three novels Carmen Dog, Ledoyt, and Leaping Man Hill. So, how have her previous books been received? Or her books released by us?
(Click on the images to order the books from your local bookshop)
She lives in New York City in the winter where she teaches at New York University School of Continuing Education. She spends the summers in a shack in the Sierras in California.
Pilobolus and Joan (based on Carol Emshwiller’s story “Metamorphosed”)
Family Focus (voiceover)
Skin Matrix S (short version)
Carol Emshwiller’s website
Fantastic Metropolis: Three essays by Carol Emshwiller:
Biography on Scifiction
Carol Emshwiller page on Alpha Ralpha Blvd.
Tom Christensen — Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief from 1990-2000 of Mercury House
Carol Emshwiller is represented by:
Download photo for print.
Author photo by Susan Emshwiller.