Carmen Dog and The Mount

I first discovered fantasy writer Carol Emshwiller at the old scifi.com website, in their fantastic short fiction section. She wrote a series of stories about these interesting bird creatures, from their perspective, some of whom long to be able to fly but are just a little too fat. I was fascinated by these stories and sad when they were no longer available, so when Small Beer Press had a recent sale on their publications I picked up two books by Ms. Emshwiller; Carmen Dog and The Mount. Both of these books are fabulous and it’s hard to say which one I like more.

Carmen Dog is about what happens when the females of the world start to change. Some move higher up the evolutionary scale and move lower. Our heroine, called Pooch, is a beautifully bred dog whose ancestors have been chosen for obedience, loyalty and intelligence. She lives with a couple and their children, including a young baby. The mother starts to turn into something snappy, round and large (which eventually turns out to be a snapping turtle). As the mother loses interest and ability to care for the family Poochie steps up, starting with simple tasks like sweeping and eventually cooking and taking devoted care of the children. Then things take a dangerous turn and Pooch has to take the baby and run, following a particularly vicious bite in the neck.

Pooch and the baby end up in Manhattan where Pooch falls in love with the opera, gets sent to the pound and meets a bunch of other females of all sorts. There is a wolverine, a snake, a basenji, and a host of others, all either becoming more or less than they used to be. All of these ladies are due to be executed when they are given a reprieve and shipped off to an unknown location, which turns out to be the home of a doctor who is determined to quash the new female flexibility. The doctor, who is male, sets up a series of experiments, using a variety of punishments and treats, all designed to make the women stay in one form.

Carmen Dog is an adventure, an allegory and a fast, fun read, with plenty of danger and suspense. It’s about love and loyalty, friendship and fear, and the age old struggle between the sexes. It’s also extremely funny and touching. My middle son read it first then insisted I read it right away, which either shows the book has intergenerational intergender appeal or he just knows me really well. Perhaps both?

You can read an excerpt here: http://www.fictionwise.com/servlet/mw?t=book&bi=36309&id=52221

The Mount has one of the creepiest covers I've ever seen. When I was younger I couldn't touch any covers of books I found creepy as they would make my skin crawl. I would have to fold them back or cover them with paper or something. While I'm not quite so nutty now I did cringe every time I looked at the outside of the Mount.

The cover is not creepy in your traditional animated killer doll or homicidal clown way, instead it shows a handsome young man dressed in shorts and a bridle, posing and showing off his muscled legs. It's context that makes it creepy. The Mount takes place more than 100 years after earth is invaded by a race of beings called Hoots; small creatures with huge, strong hands and a love of racing. They also have very loud voices and use ranges that stun humans, something that comes in handy as they subjugate and enslave the humans, turning them into something for the Hoots to use like horses.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of a boy called Charley, or Smiley, who is around eleven when the story starts. He comes from the finest breeding stock and has been chosen as the mount of the heir to the Hoot ruler and is quite proud of that fact. He enjoys eating ice cream and daydreaming about the wins that wait in his future. He doesn't enjoy his training so much as the future ruler is quite young and clumsy, which leads to uncomfortable times in the ring as they trot round and round. But when they aren't training the two get along great and bond over trips through the countryside.

When the wild humans rise up and attack the Hoot compound, destroying everything and releasing the mounts, Charley rescues the Hoot heir. The two of them end up in the mountains, living in a camp run by Charley's father, a man whose mouth has been so damaged by severe bits he can barely speak. Charley both worships his big, brave father, and resents the hell out of him. If living a hand to mouth existence weren't hard enough, Charley has to juggle his friendship with the Hoot heir, his complicated feelings for his father and his confusion over his long-term hopes and dreams.

The Mount is a coming of age story but it's also about the price of freedom and the price of complacency. It's heartwarming and thought provoking while still being an exciting adventure.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from DNA who writes in to say, "Splice = awesome. Go see it soonest." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.