The Mount – Carol Emshwiller (2002)
‘Charley is an athlete. he wants to grow up to be the fastest runner in the world, like his father. He wants to be painted crossing the finish line, in his racing silks, with a medal around his neck.
Charley lives in a stable. He isn’t a runner; he is a human mount. he belongs to a Hoot. The Hoots are alien invaders. Charley hasn’t seen his mother in years, and his father is hiding out in the mountains with the other Free Humans. The Hoots own the world, but the humans want it back. Charley knows how to be a good mount – but now he’s going to have to learn how to be a human being.’
Blurb from the 2005 Firebird paperback edition
Emshwiller paints a seemingly naïve and simplistic vision of Humanity living in servitude under the rule of the Hoots; small, fairly immobile aliens who have taken control of the Earth. The Hoots have eyes on the sides of their heads, giving them virtually 360 degree vision, very strong hands and weak legs, which is why humans are used as mounts, to carry them about their daily business.
Indeed, Hoots breed humans in much the way that we breed horses today, producing different strains for different functions. Tennessees are generally thin and fast, and do well in racing while Seattles (like our hero, Smiley) are darker, stockier and stronger.
Smiley is a prime Seattle and has been bonded as the mount to his little Master, his most Excellent Excellency, the future Ruler-of-us-all.
Following a raid by wild humans, Smiley (or Charley as his human name is) is unwillingly rescued by his father, Heron, and taken – along with his Little Master – to live in the wild. Here the relationship between Hoot and Mount inevitably begins to change.
Emshwiller provides an interesting afterword on the inside back cover in which she explains her process of writing and the impetus for the novel, which was a study of the relationships between predator and prey.
The idea of humans as slaves or pets of alien masters is not a new one, since the idea stretches from ‘War of The Worlds’ in which humans are destined to be foodstock for the Martians to the not dissimilar ‘Tripods’ trilogy by John Christopher, and beyond. ‘The Puppies of Terra’ by Thomas M Disch sees humans as pets to grotesque alien masters. Russell’s ‘The Sparrow’ also examines a predator/prey relationship, while Octavia Butler in ‘Dawn’ sees humans as powerless DNA resources for an alien race whose raison d’etre is to integrate the DNA of other races into their own. For obvious reasons humans tend to emerge victorious but wiser in most of these books, and The Mount is no exception, although Emshwiller’s optimistic ending suggests that the two races will ultimately live together on an equal, almost symbiotic basis.
What is interesting is that so many books relating to this theme are by women and are, in the main, superior in quality to the work of their male counterparts. Certainly Emshwiller (and indeed Butler) attempts to dig into the human psyche living under such conditions and is brave enough to show a human who has learned to enjoy his servitude and even taken pride in it.