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Emshwiller, Carol

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1921-2019) US non-teaching scholar – she gained BAs in Music and Design, and was a Fullbright Fellow in France around 1950 – and author who began to publish sf with "This Thing Called Love" for Future in 1955. She was married from 1949 until his death in 1990 to Ed Emshwiller, with whom she occasionally collaborated (and often, as she made clear, argued); but from the beginning of her career the razor-sharp exactness of her language and the subversive power of the themes she expressed with such dangerous precision marked her as a unique voice.

For most of that career, her short fiction has drawn more attention than her novels. Though she published much of her early work in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and later in Damon Knight's Orbit and similar anthologies, she was never identified as a Genre-SF writer. Her language is too much in the foreground for that; and the unrelenting clarity with which she deconstructs the narrative and thematic conventions central to the genre (see Fabulation) has disqualified almost all of her stories from being read simply as tales. In her hands, sf conventions became models of our deep estrangement from ourselves (especially women; see Gender; Women in SF) and from the world; but the daunting Equipoise of her complex manipulation of story types made it unsafe ever to claim certainty about her ultimate intent: which was never simple-minded, though sometimes searingly simple. Early stories can be found in Joy in Our Cause (coll 1974); Verging on the Pertinent (coll 1989) assembles corrosively elegant non-genre work. The Start of the End of It All and Other Stories (coll 1990; rev vt The Start of the End of it All 1991) collects stories as close to sf or fantasy as she was ever likely to compose; Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories (coll 2002) and I Live With You (coll 2005) continue in the same various veins; In the Time of War and Other Stories of Conflict (coll of linked stories 2011) assembles first-person narrations set in Near Future landscapes subsequent to a devastating War; and Master of the Road to Nowhere and Other Tales of the Fantastic (coll 2011) assembles sf written in the twenty-first century. The Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller, Vol 1 (coll 2011) – followed, after some delay, by The Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller, Vol 2 (coll 2016) – assembles stories from 1954 on, many not previously collected, including her sharp Post-Holocaust tale "Day at the Beach" (August 1959 F&SF). It is unfortunate that the proofreading of the first volume was very poor; some inadvertently omitted 1954-2002 stories later appeared in volume two.

Emshwiller's novels tend to "open out" the crystalline aperçus of her shorter work. Her first, Carmen Dog (1988), is a Feminist fable which draws obvious but very deftly pointed lessons from the transformation of women into Dogs and dogs into women, though it is perhaps slightly sentimental about the inherency of some of the more attractive "female" traits. Ledoyt (1995) and its sequel Leaping Man Hill (1999) are associational Westerns; Mister Boots (2005) is a Young Adult fantasy about a shape-changing horse/man discovered in the western desert. The Mount (2002) – which won the Philip K Dick Award for 2002 – is of strong sf interest for its depiction of Alien rule over a decimated human race, who are treated precisely as "mounts", bred, trained, and ridden to death. There are clearly deliberate echoes here of earlier sf texts, from Robert A Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (September-November 1951 Galaxy; 1951; text restored 1990) to Thomas M Disch's Mankind Under the Leash (1966), a tale whose vt – The Puppies of Terra (1978) – further underscores the continuity that The Mount joins. The Secret City (2007) also places human life under the estranged scrutiny of an Alien, in this case an alien stranded on an inimical earth. In 2005 Emshwiller received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. [JC]

see also: Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.

Agnes Carolyn Fries Emshwiller

born Ann Arbor, Michigan: 12 April 1921

died Durham, North Carolina: 2 February 2019




  • Ledoyt (San Francisco, California: Mercury House, 1995) [Ledoyt: pb/Bob Wade]
  • Leaping Man Hill (San Francisco, California: Mercury House, 1999) [Ledoyt: pb/Russell Chatham]

Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller

individual titles

collections and stories

about the author


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