Carmen Dog, Carol Emshwiller

Carol Emshwiller (1921-2019) was an American writer of avant-garde short stories and Science Fiction . She started writing short stories in the 1950s, at about the same time as she started having children. Her first collection was published in 1974 and Carmen Dog, her first novel, in 1988.

The Women’s Press, a London publisher – and not to be confused with Onlywomen Press – was founded by NZ/Australian writer Stephanie Dowrick. Her co-publisher, Naim Attalah (a guy) had some connection with Virago and so as a point of difference, The Women’s Press focused on contemporary fiction, and also, as you see, Science Fiction. All this of course is ‘research’, and I see from Wikipedia that their early writers included Alice Walker, The Colour Purple and Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions.

I own and have previously reviewed from TWP SF The Planet Dweller and Moving Moosevan by Janet Palmer and The Total Devotion Machine by (Australian) Rosaleen Love. I’m not sure why this cover does not have The Women’s Press’s familiar black and white stripes (though, inside is the same jokey logo, an iron and ironing board – see the motto: Steaming ahead).

Carmen Dog is a postmodern romp through Science Fiction, Magic Realism and Women’s Lib. The core of the plot is that women everywhere (ie. New York. I’m not sure Americans understand the difference) are devolving into animals and that female animals are evolving*, in the space of a year or two, into women.

There is not really any science in the SF, but also the fantastical elements do not make it SFF. Instead, the implication is that you must read Carmen Dog as you read SF – accept the premise as possible and think about what events in this altered reality tell us about what we think of as the real world.

‘The beast changes to a woman or the woman changes to a beast,’ the doctor said. ‘In her case it is certainly the latter since she has been, on the whole, quite passable as a human being up to the present moment. There may be hundreds of these creatures already among us. No way to tell for sure how many.’

The principal characters are Pooch, a female pedigreed setter who has partway changed into a woman; a baby, in fact the baby of the woman the doctor is speaking about, who is in the process of changing into a snapping turtle; the woman’s husband, Pooch’s ‘Master’; the doctor; the doctor’s wife, whose name we learn is Rosemary; and half a dozen women changing variously to/from a wolverine, a cat, a duck (or maybe a swan), a python etc.

Pooch finds herself being given more of the housework and babysitting, till one day the baby’s mother grabs the baby in her beak and won’t let go. Pooch rescues the baby, but thinking she’ll be blamed for the wound on the baby’s arm, runs away with it, from the suburbs into central New York. There she realises her dream of attending the opera, Carmen of course, but cannot help herself and begins singing in an untrained but powerful voice over the top of the soprano.

Meanwhile, the doctor has applied for a research grant into these changes to women and has constructed a laboratory in his basement where he can keep six women/animals and conduct tests on them.

Pooch is arrested, along with baby, and is put in the pound, where every seven days those unclaimed are taken away to be euthanized. There, out of compassion, she exchanges identities with Isabel, who is becoming a wolverine, enabling the real Isabel to escape when the Master, too busy to come himself, sends Pooch a travel pass for the subway.

Pooch makes friend with those around her; they are handed over to the doctor for his experiments; Rosemary cares for them; and slowly reveals herself as another changeling, preserving her appearance with a rubber mask.

In another part of town the Academy of Motherhood, an exclusive club for men who are attempting to take women out of the motherhood process altogether, has its own laboratories where women test subjects are inseminated –

The academy uses only the best genes in the nation: from governors, generals (three star or above), atomic scientists as well as the directors of nuclear reactors, presidents of the largest countries, oil magnates and so forth. The men picked are splendid, tall and blonde for the most part and all earning over $100,000 a year not even counting perks. Of course it has taken time for these men to achieve status in their fields, so most of them are, by now, paunchy and bald.

From here it gets more than a bit chaotic. Pooch escapes and is engaged briefly in a love triangle with a (female) cat and a (male) opera lover. She loses her voice and can only bark. A tall blonde man who had seen her sing is also seeking her. Pooch, being a dog, remains loyal to Master, but when finally reunited and she leaps up on him, he french kisses her and gropes her new breasts.

A protest meeting addressed by a range of women all in Rosemary masks is broken up by the police. The women overpower the police and disguise themselves in police uniforms, the police disguise themselves as Rosemarys. The women march on the Academy of Motherhood.

Pooch finds love. Marries. Adopts baby. Has a litter of setters. Did I enjoy it? I loved it, and you would too if it were available which I suppose it is not.

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Carol Emshwiller, Carmen Dog, The Women’s Press, London, 1988. 148pp.


‘Evolving’ is Emshwiller’s (mis)usage. Evolution is of course a process covering generations.

Moosevan (2), Jane Palmer

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The provenance of second hand books is almost as much fun as the contents. This one has a stamp on the title page saying “Jacaranda Book Exchange, 281 Charters Towers Rd, ph …” so I’m guessing Townsville, 20 years ago. You might remember last time I was there I couldn’t find a second hand bookshop at all.

Twenty years ago was just about the last time Milly and I lived together, and for that matter the last time we all of us lived together. The following year Milly went back to Perth to live with her sister M, and Gee went off to uni. Lou, Psyche and I kept Milly’s house going – sort of. Lou was between school and uni; Psyche was working nights at the local beer barn then carrying on to the casino; and my boss went broke. My mate Chris and I hung on for weeks in case a promised big job came up, two triples to Darwin, but it didn’t and I spent my 50th out of work, then endured bog standard single trailer interstate for a while until another Melb-Nth Qld road train job came up.

The year after that, Milly came back and sold the house, took Gee who was having a break from universities back to Perth, clocking up big miles in her little Daewoo. And I joined her, platonicly, a few months later. Psyche went touring in South America and Lou started his never-ending first year at Latrobe. But that’s another story (or six or seven).

Lou, in Malawi, ‘liked’ The Planet Dweller as soon as I put it up, within seconds, I don’t know how he did that, but my old SF was the background to his adolescence and I guess that one struck a chord. I imagine he had Moving Moosevan read as soon as I’d tossed it on Milly’s enormous circular mosaiced coffee table. (At one stage it was entirely covered in mail and Psyche used as an excuse before a magistrate that she hadn’t paid a traffic fine because it was lost on her mother’s table). Lou would make a much better SF reviewer than I because he actually remembers what he’s read. For ever seemingly. But I can’t talk him in to it.

You do realise I had no idea I was going to write any of this. I’d better finish the damn book and write it up. I only finished unloading yesterday (Tues) and I’m due out again later today, as soon as Dragan rings. So pickings will be thin on the Legend for a while. Again.

Melanie at Grab the Lapels is in to her second year reviewing the Valdemar fantasy series, so I should have some idea how it is done. Moving Moosevan follows on from The Planet Dweller so closely that they might better have been published in one volume. Every now and again Palmer remembers she may have new readers and sticks in a couple of lines of backstory, but not very often and you should really read them in order.

Moosevan, a planet sized entity consisting entirely of thought and energy, has occupied Earth and is engaged in slowly reshaping it for its own aesthetic reasons and out of distaste for all the human-produced pollution. Diana can feel her at the level of her subconscious, but is never sure that Moosevan is listening when she most needs her.

We see not much of the horrible Daphne Trotter, and Moosevan has a new love interest, Salisbury, a solitary lecturer whose family divorced him for pedantry. Yuri is mostly sober, which makes him grumpy, and that’s not to mention his jealousy of Salisbury. Salisbury may be interested in Diana, but Diana is happy to be post-menopausal and single.

There is a plot. I think it goes: Kulp, an ugly green alien , and former employee of the Mott, is constructing a gravity portal in Diana’s rural English neighbourhood. Salisbury who lives nearby, is persecuted by the army who think he is to blame. Two friendly ancient entities Dax and Reniola, who engineered Moosevan’s move to Earth are still around and are meant to be helping. Reniola takes the form of a cat – pictured above – to blend in. The Mott’s android army rebels and uses the gravity portal to invade. Diana and Kulp fight them off. Dax engineers a neat solution involving terra-forming one of Saturn’s moons.

It’s all lots of fun again, a very strange intersection of quaint village life and disgusting aliens. And I look forward to finding the two new sequels, Duckbill Soup (2011) and Brassica Park (2018).

 

Jane Palmer, Moving Moosevan, The Women’s Press, London, 1990

Moosevan (1), Jane Palmer

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Don’t ask me how I came to have these two books on my shelves, their acquisition is lost in the mists of time. But a recent conversation with Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku on a Grab the Lapels post spurred me to review some more women’s SF, and Palmer’s books, published by The Women’s Press in 1985 and 1990, stood out. And yes, I did recommend that Jackie, an American (from the Mid West), look at recent Australian women’s dystopian fiction, and I think she will.

As soon as I started reading I had this picture in my mind of To the Manor Born English village life, not the privilege, but those tweedy, sensible, middle class women. In the first page Diana is arguing unsuccessfully with her old-fashioned doctor for Hormone Replacement Therapy while he insists on prescribing librium. And I thought, the author has got to be writing this from the heart.

Turns out (according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) Palmer was born in 1946. The Moosevan series which she began with The Planet Dweller (1985) and Moving Moosevan (1990) has since been continued with Duckbill Soup (2011) and Brassica Park (2018). Palmer has written other SF and also, as Dandi Palmer, YA and children’s books. The bio she supplied to The Women’s Press reads

Jane Palmer comes from a working-class background and describes herself as having been ‘almost’ educated. She has been employed in a variety of capacities: telephonist, ledger clerk, receptionist and milliner. She has ‘manged to avoid’ marriage and her beliefs are ‘not many’.

So your standard second-wave women’s libber then.

Diana is a middle-aged single mum – so not your average SF hero – working as secretary (and fill-in guide), terrifying her co-workers with her mood swings, in an “iron age village” museum, adjacent to a radio telescope array. She hears voices, one voice, really, loud and clear, in her head. Eva, her best friend and former school chum is the astronomer in charge of the radio telescope, and her drunken Russian neighbour, Yuri, who has his own problems with voices and manifestations, turns out to be Eva’s secret husband (but only to stop him being deported). Their sworn foe is the horsey, fox bothering, Mrs Daphne Trotter.

Yuri, who has his own optical telescope, has after years of observation calculated that bodies are coming into alignment in the asteroid belt in such a way as to presage the end of the earth. The voice in Diana’s head is Moosevan, an incredibly ancient being who occupies a whole planet. A fairy ring in Diana’s garden turns out to be a ‘portal’ – space is not curved but crinkled and where the folds touch you may step through to another part of the universe – First Uri is transported, then Diana follows him. Moosevan, has fallen in love with Uri and Uri is inclined to reciprocate.

The Mott, vile alien space engineers, are engaged in destroying Moosevan’s planet. Moosevan was not worried, she had a new planet ready to fall back on … Earth. On learning that Earth is already occupied, Moosevan decides not to transfer, meaning that she will die. Diana must work out how to save her, and save Earth.

I’m in Melbourne and haven’t really had a day off. This morning (Weds) I will finish loading and head back to Perth. Hopefully, by Sunday, I will have read book 2, Moving Moosevan – I was planning to review them jointly – and will put up a second post.

 

 

Jane Turner, The Planet Dweller, The Women’s Press, London, 1985 (available “free” on Hoopla as audiobook here (not an option that I’ve checked out))