Saturday, February 9, 2019


Carol Emshwiller (1921–2019)
From The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women

Bottom half of the cover illustration by John Pederson Jr. for the November 1958 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in which “Pelt” first appeared. Click here to see the full cover.
Carol Emshwiller, the revered author of countless works of science fiction, fantasy, avant-garde literature, and magic realism, died last weekend, on February 2. She was 97 years old.

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Agnes Carolyn Fries was one of five children, including a half-sister from her father’s previous marriage. (It was “one of those old-fashioned Victorian secrets,” she recalled. “I didn't find out she was my half-sister until I was thirteen.”) Her three younger brothers, she told an interviewer, were “a big (!) influence” when she was growing up. “I always thought of myself as one of the boys, though a defective one.” In a biographical essay she contributed to Contemporary Authors, she wrote:
I was never called Agnes. (When I started college I changed my name from Carolyn to Carol so as to be more like a boy . . . more like my brothers. I don't feel that way anymore but it's too late to change back and I'm used to being Carol now.)
As a teenager, she spent several years shuttling between Michigan and France or Germany when her father, a professor of English and linguistics, was on sabbatical. “Mine was an arguing family. Dad always used the Socratic method when trying to convince us of anything.” Her father offered her advice that she would ultimately take as a challenge:
On my sixteenth birthday my father told me no woman had ever done anything significant. A woman could be the inspiration for deeds by men, she could be the woman behind the throne, but women weren't capable of doing anything original themselves. I'm sure he thought he was doing me a favor telling me this so I wouldn't waste my time trying to be something.
Graduating from the University of Michigan with a BA in music in 1945, she joined the Red Cross, aiding U.S. troops in postwar Italy, then returned to Ann Arbor for art school. She married fellow art student Ed Emshwiller in 1949. Together, they attended the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, toured Europe on a motorcycle, and eventually settled in Levittown, New York, where they had three children.

Carol Emshwiller in a 1957 portrait
by her husband Ed Emshwiller.
Emshwiller began publishing science fiction in the mid-1950s, after being introduced to editors and authors by her husband, who became one of the principal genre artists of the era. (We used one of Ed’s iconic illustrations to accompany “Baby, You Were Great,” a previous Story of the Week selection.) During the 1960s, Emshwiller and her husband expanded their circle to include avant-garde musicians, painters, poets, and filmmakers—as she put it, “we were enmeshed. Embedded. Passionate about that sixties world and nothing else.” Not surprisingly, her experimental stories were often associated with SF’s New Wave.

In 1974 Emshwiller became an adjunct assistant professor at New York University and published her first story collection, Joy in Our Cause. At the age of sixty-seven, she finished her first novel Carmen Dog (1988), followed by The Mount (2002), Mister Boots (2005), and The Secret City (2007), as well as two Westerns, Ledoyt (1995) and Leaping Man Hill (1999). Emshwiller won one World Fantasy Award, one Philip K. Dick Award, two Nebula Awards, and, in 2005, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

One of the best-known of the 150-plus stories Emshwiller published between 1954 and 2016, is the often-anthologized “Pelt,” which was most recently reprinted in the Library of America collection, The Future Is Female! Describing the trek of a trophy hunter accompanied by his dog on a distant planet; the story is told from the dog’s point of view—one of Emshwiller’s numerous tales that explore the interactions of predators and prey or that adopt a non-human perspective. “I took several classes in prey animal psychology, which actually were classes on the psychology of everything,” she explained in her Contemporary Authors essay. “About how we, being predators and having predators such as cats and dogs around us all the time, understand predators, but know very little about prey animals.”

When Jeff and Ann VanderMeer included the story in The Big Book of Science Fiction, they wrote, “At the time of its publication, ‘Pelt’ was considered to exemplify a strand of ‘literary’ science fiction that bridged the gap between mainstream realism and core science fiction.” Sixty-five years later, “as a story that deals with issues of the environment and how humans view other species, [it] has become only more relevant, and better, with the passage of time.”

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She was a white dog with a wide face and eager eyes, and this was the planet, Jaxa, in winter. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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