The Mount

by Carol Emshwiller

Cover image

Publisher: Small Beer Press
Copyright: August 2002
ISBN: 1-931520-03-8
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 232

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This is a very strange book, as I'm sure you already know if you've read any synopsis or blurb about it, and a hard one to review given how individual I expect people's reactions will be to it.

It's a story about alien domination of earth, sort of. It's a story about a future in which humans are raised and treated like animals, but not like simple slaves. Rather, they're treated a great deal like humans treat horses (and are ridden like horses, the aliens being some sort of small creature with a huge head and strong hands), treated as sort of half pets and half working animals, bred and sometimes pampered and sometimes raced. And the whole story is told from the perspective of an adolescent boy who grew up in that environment and, frankly, rather likes being pampered and trained and taken care of.

As you can imagine, this can be rather disturbing to read. The book is written in the first person present and feels very immediate and raw, with simplified language reflecting the age of the narrator enhancing the effect. The main character serves as an effective advocate of those who don't want to rebel, raising not only emotional reactions but also arguments for why life might be better the way things are, and then farther into the book struggling with the problems of freedom and slavery, fighting and submission, and possible choices inbetween. Adding significantly to the complexity is that the boy has bonded with and carries with him one of the alien masters, but a young and immature one who's as torn in many ways as the boy, with his own weaknesses and struggles.

I found the story and the struggles it documented quite engrossing. This book bears little resemblence to anything else I've read, and is far more about human psychology than about any particular science fiction or fantasy concept. The exact mechanisms of the alien invasion, for instance, are basically hand-waved away as (rightfully) irrelevant to the plot, and while the nature and thought processes of the aliens are explored somewhat, they more frequently serve the role of archtypical propagandists, the ones who control by manipulating people's attitudes rather than through brute force.

The Mount is part very odd coming of age story, part allegory for both slavery and more insidious forms of control through propaganda, part an adventure story, and very unique. I didn't like it as well as perhaps it deserved, but I would not at all object to it winning a Nebula Award this year just on the strength of successfully pulling off something very different than the typical science fiction novel.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-04-24

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