Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Written Word Wed. - You Can Lead a Mount to Freedom, but You Can't Make Him Think

I read the following book on the recommendation of Clan Flunky, both of whom have said that they were really looking forward to my review; of course, knowing that they were looking forward to it completely paralyzed me. Darn you people and your expectations!

The Mount by Carol Emshwiller

In the near future, man is longer lord of the Earth; instead, humanity has become little more than glorified pack mules and steeds for the diminutive alien race known as the Hoots. Charley (or Smiley as the Hoots have named him) is a young Seattle, bred for size and strength, chosen as the personal mount of the young Hoot known as His Excellent Excellency About-To-Be-The-Ruler-Of-Us-All. Content with his position, Charley’s world is shattered when a group of wild humans (led by the father he barely knew) attack his settlement in an effort to liberate their domesticated brethren. Charley (along with His Excellent Excellency) is whisked off to the humans’ mountain retreat, where he pines for the pampered life he left behind and rails against those he sees as traitors to his beloved Hoot masters. But it’s not long before life among the freedmen begins to wreak irrevocable changes upon both Charley and His Excellent Excellency, changes which will have a profound effect on both of their races.

The Mount leans towards the more philosophical side of SF, as it uses Charley’s experiences to examine the idea that people can be so enmeshed in their own culture that they become blind to its injustices. Because of this, Emshwiller spends more time dwelling in Charley’s head than she does exploring all of the intricacies of the Hoot world. Which is not to say that she doesn’t give a reasonably solid background for the Hoot’s society; she just choose to view it mainly from the viewpoint of an outsider, and thus leaves a few key things up to the interpretation of the reader. I did leave the book wondering about the lifestyle of the Hoots before they crashed on Earth and how they

This novel was a pretty quick and easy read (I finished it in an evening), which I think was largely a product of the bulk of the book being told from the perspective of the 11-13 year old Charley; the prose was not overly florid, but neither was it stark and simplistic. Due to it being told through Charley’s eyes many of the characters never become fully developed beyond his first impressions, but that can be forgiven as the focus on the development of Charley himself is much more the point of the book. One of the things I liked about the book was the fact that there was never a moment where Charley was possessed of an intense epiphany transforming him into a rabid proselyte for mankind’s freedom; instead, even when he begins to see the value of the “wild” humans’ points, it becomes all mixed up with the detritus of being raised as a servant of the Hoots. While Charley’s obstinacy was slightly off-putting early on, in the end I appreciated that Emshwiller didn’t take the easy way out with his character.

There was one stylistic choice which had me scratching my head, and that was the decision to have two chapters told from the P.O.V. of character’s other than Charley, first an anonymous Hoot, and then later Charley’s father. I can understand the Hoot chapter as it acts almost as a prologue to the book, and the chapter with Charley’s father gives more insight into the mind of the stoic character, both of which are worthy goals. I guess my issue is with how it made the narrative structure feel unbalanced to me; if every chapter alternates between characters, that’s one thing, but when 95% of the book is told from one P.O.V., and then there are two random chapters told from two different P.O.V.s, it takes me momentarily out of the story. Not a major complaint at all, and probably something that would bother only me, but since it was pretty much my only problem with the book, I figured I’d share.

The Mount is a well-written book which would probably appeal to fans of non-genre fiction as well as die-hard SF fans. Those who prefer their SF hard and technobabbley might not enjoy it as much, but if you like a story that’s a little outside the box, this book could fit the bill.


Flunky lover said...

You really do an amazing job of reviewing books. I still stand by my belief that you should get paid to do it. Have you thought about submitting some of your reviews to the Dallas Morning News? Or at least posting them on