Carol Emshwiller has just turned 95. Which probably makes her the oldest living science fiction writer. So it’s time to celebrate some of her very best work.
Carol Emshwiller’s first story appeared in 1955, and her most recent collection of stories appeared as recently as 2011, that’s a hell of a long career for someone whose best work can never be pegged down. Her work always has a feminist sensibility, but other than that there is little that connects it. There are superb Western novels, like Ledoyt; there are stories that may or may not be mainstream, such as “Sex and/or Mr Morrison” which was published in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions; there are fables, post-apocalyptic tales, near-future war stories, stories of alien conquest, but there’s always an edge of something else so that you are likely to change your mind about what you are reading several times during the course of a novel.
She is best and most prolific as a short story writer, so the place to start is probably The Collected Short Stories of Carol Emshwiller, volume 1. This brings together most of the stories she wrote between 1955 and 2002, including brilliant pieces like “The Start of the End of It All” (the title story of a collection that won a World Fantasy Award) or “Day at the Beach”. You’ll need to excuse the awful proofreading on this volume, which is littered with mistakes, but it’s worth it for the stories.
Emshwiller has been particularly prolific since the start of the new century, winning the Nebula Award for Best Short Story for “Creature” in 2003 and “I Live With You” in 2006, and being shortlisted for the award for “Grandma” in 2004. A second volume of The Collected Short Stories is supposedly happening, but it has been delayed, presumably because of the problems with the first volume. So to keep up with her more recent work you really need to get her more recent collections: I Live With You, and two collections in one, In the Time of War and Master of the Road to Nowhere.
There aren’t so many novels, but there are three that you really have to read:
Carmen Dog is an extraordinary animal fable, in which dogs suddenly turn into women and women turn into dogs.
The Mount, which won the Philip K. Dick Award, features a sort of alien invasion. The Earth has been devastated, and when the alien Hoots arrive they turn the surviving humans into mounts, that is they are treated effectively like horses.
The Secret City is another story of an alien, but this time the alien is stranded on an Earth that is inimical to it.
Frankly, Carol Emshwiller is a treasure, and if you’ve not read her work before you have a real treat in store. Happy birthday to Carol Emshwiller.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.