Live Emshwiller Review

The October issue of The Believer arrived in the mail a few days ago. I was extremely pleased to see a rave review of Carol Emshwiller’s latest collection I Live with You (see Read Read sidebar), but a tiny bit flummoxed by the final two paragraphs:

You’ll find I Live with You, along with Emswhiller’s others, in your bookstore’s Science Fiction section; among its stories are some originally printed in journals like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and the curiously titled Sci Fiction. But very little here is demonstrably indebted to either genre. If there was anything particularly scientific about any of these, it escaped me. And even the overtly fantastic elements are downplayed, mitigated by an attitude that vacillates between embarrassment and boredom. Two stories feature characters who belong to races of men who fly. But neither group exactly soars through the clouds. In one story, the unnamed people levitate, slightly, but try not to. In the other, "Gliders Though They Be," they simply fall slower.

What allows us to leave Emshwiller to her own devices in the backwoods of genre is what’s missing from the collection’s title: You Don’t Know It. Like the best-considered sci-fantasy, Emshwiller avoids making the generic elements–the robots and the elves–the point. Instead, they’re elegant tropes for the mundane. She takes the long way around, but her destination is ultimately the same. Where, we don’t know.


But then I went to look for more about the reviewer, Chris Tamarri, and found his blog and really liked it. So I’ll just memorialize the slight wrong-headedness here and add him to the blogroll.

Updated: See discussion in comments where Tamarri explains what he meant and I take back my sigh.

7 thoughts on “Live Emshwiller Review”

  1. At a guess, I’d say Gwenda’s sensing what I’d say is a slight misapprehension on your part of how Carol Emshwiller deploys genre tropes (and of the importance of her motivatons in using them).
    That’s might be just me, though–it’s a thoughtful review overall and I for one thank you for bring the book to wider notice.

  2. What Christopher said.
    Really, it’s more an undertone (“backwoods of genre”) that seems perilously close to making a judgment on the genre as a whole. I agree almost entirely with the last paragraph of the review, but the other feels like it’s looking down its nose at the genre. The field is far richer than elves and robots and I think Carol’s work very much fits _into_ that rich tradition.
    I also wondered what was curious about Sci Fiction’s name? It is sponsored by the Sci-Fi Channel.
    But love your blog and your taste and, yes, thanks for bringing Carol’s work into greater view–and for stopping in.

  3. Interesting.
    It wasn’t my intention to suggest that the inclusion of generic tropes was a liability (though now that you’ve pointed it out, I can see how it would’ve read that way). Rather, I was ham-fistingly trying to suggest that I admired the way Emsh avoided a dependence on these elements, lazily using them as shorthand.
    And as for Sci Fiction, I gotta admit that I found the name phonetically awkward. But that’s just one man’s.

  4. True — but that’s actually one of the things I like about it. No waiting-to-cringe factor. There have been some pretty nasty reviews around lately, particularly in the NYT. So savage I can’t even remember off the top of my head what they were of, only that they were extra-mean.

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