The Start of the End of it All and other stories by Carol Emshwiller

Women’s Press, 1990, 169 p.

 The Start of the End of it All and other stories cover

In these stories Emshwiller’s style tends to the intellectual and reflective, and always told with a female slant on the world. Very few are straightforward narratives but all of them are intriguing – and well written.

The Start of the End of it All is an alien invasion story. “‘Politics,’ they say, ‘begins at home, and most especially in the kitchen’” – a good place for a revolution to start. But first they have to get rid of the cats. The aliens seem to have targeted divorced, post-menopausal women for their infiltration. A tinge of alarm strikes when one of the aliens says, ‘Time to find lots of little dark, wet places.’ But our narrator isn’t keen on giving up cats.
Looking Down is narrated by a sentient bird (or flying creature at least) who allows himself to be captured by humans to function as an oracle and protector.
In Eclipse a woman stumbles into the wrong party and is taken for either a pianist or flautist. She is neither. But a student of Jung gives her confidence.
The Circular Library of Stones is found by our narrator who collects stones and imagines the circle as a library. Her story can be read as if she has lost some marbles though.
In Fledged a winged woman who looks remarkably like the narrator’s ex-wife comes crashing into his house during a storm.
Vilcabamba finds a man displaced from his people but able to remember gestures they made and bits of their language. He sets out to try to find his way back home.
In Acceptance Speech a man abducted from his own world makes his speech on being made Humble-Master-of-the-Poem.
If the Word Was to the Wise is a story about the importance of the word, and its dangers. In the tallest building in the city are two safes. One contains the law, all that keeps the city secure, the other, all the banned books. A young prince of the library (despite the title, really an underling) falls for the chief librarian’s daughter, Josephine. They begin to plan to open the “banned” safe.
The centre of the universe in Living at the Centre is Omphalo, of whose fabulous beached women the mountain men have heard tell. One old woman goes down there to find out if the tales are true.
In Moon Songs a brother and his older sister encounter an unusual insect which when pricked with a pin “sings” for ten minutes. The sister tries to parlay this discovery into a stage career.
But soft, what light… is a variation on the 100 monkeys eventually typing out Shakespeare thing. Uniq-o-fax, (rather quaintly now in 2019) thirty nine typewriters and a word bank, “all those wires and tubes,” and the female narrator fall in love and write poems to each other.
Pelt is set on Jaxa, an ice planet on which a human has landed, with his dog, to hunt for furs. The viewpoint character is the dog, and the hunter finds more – and less – than he bargained for.
Début could be seen as a variation on Snow White. An apparently blind girl is brought before the Queen only for her mask to be removed before she is banished to the hills. There, the story diverges from that template.
The titular organisation of The Institute is the Old Ladies Institute of Higher Learning (the OLI of HL,) the story one that features an embedded drawing and ends with a piece of musical notation for a song. The narrator’s grandmother, an alumna of the OLI of HL, was quite a gal.
Woman Waiting is the stream of consciousness of a woman waiting for her postponed flight, retreating ever into herself.
In Chicken Icarus a man who is a head and torso but little else (but that little – or not so little – is important,) schemes to have himself displayed more widely.
Sex and/or Mr Morrison features a woman looking for the Others amongst us spying on her upstairs neighbour.
In Glory, Glory a woman on holiday with her husband in a country where they don’t know the language is taken by the locals for a goddess.

Pedant’s corner:- six storey (six storeys,) “bit for the tower, I also, would have done” (either no comma after ‘also’ or an extra comma after ‘I’,) “‘the first snows will be coming’ he says. ‘The tower..” (that ‘he says’ is part of a sentence the character is speaking so it should not be outside the quotation marks,) “in order fit my own ears” in order to fit,) “the forsythia were not in bloom” (either ‘forsythias’, or ‘was not in bloom’, largess (USianism for largesse?) stachel (satchel,) contraposto (contrapposto.)

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script