Small Beer Press had a warehouse sale last month, so I ordered two by the late avant-garde sci-fi writer Carol Emshwiller. I ordered Carmen Dog, which is what I take to be her most lauded novel, based on this blurb from Ursula Le Guin:
Carol is the most unappreciated great writer we’ve got. Carmen Dog ought to be a classic in the colleges by now . . . It’s so funny, and it’s so keen.
The pub’s blurb:
The debut title in our Peapod Classics line, Carol Emshwiller’s genre-jumping debut novel is a dangerous, sharp-eyed look at men, women, and the world we live in.
Everything is changing: women are turning into animals, and animals are turning into women. Pooch, a golden setter, is turning into a beautiful woman–although she still has some of her canine traits: she just can’t shuck that loyalty thing–and her former owner has turned into a snapping turtle. When the turtle tries to take a bite of her own baby, Pooch snatches the baby and runs. Meanwhile, there’s a dangerous wolverine on the loose, men are desperately trying to figure out what’s going on, and Pooch discovers what she really wants: to sing Carmen.
I also ordered a story collection, Report to the Men’s Club. Small Beer’s blurb:
What if the world ended on your birthday — and no one came? What if your grandmother was a superhero? What if the orphan you were raising was a top-secret weapon, looked like Godzilla, and loved singing nursery rhymes? What if poet laureates fought to the death, in stadiums?
A day or two before they showed up, I found a copy of Emshwiller’s 2005 novel Mister Boots in the YA section of my local bookshop. I launched into it and I don’t think it necessarily reads as YA-as-genre, but it’s the kind of weird shit I would’ve loved to get a hold of as a sixteen year old. Blurb:
Bobby Lassiter has some important secrets—but it’s not as if anyone’s paying attention. It’s the middle of the Depression, and while Bobby’s mother and older sister knit all day to make money, Bobby explores the California desert around their home. That’s how Bobby finds Boots. He’s under their one half-dead tree, halfdead himself. Right away he’s a secret, too—a secret to be fed and clothed and taken care of, and even more of a secret because of what he can do. Sometimes Boots is a man. Sometimes he’s (really, truly) a horse. He and Bobby both know something about magic—and those who read this book will,
Le Guin also blurbs this book.
I hate to admit that I had never heard of Emshwiller until last month. In a strange moment of synchronicity, Joachim Boaz, who blogs at Science Fiction and Other Suspect ruminations, reviewed a bunch of older Emshwiller stories this July. On twitter, he described Emshwiller as “an author who should be a feminist science fiction icon.” I’m excited to read more.