Wow, just finished reading it, started yesterday. What a book! I found it by exploring the genre of feminist science fiction. I guess it is feminist because it explores the complex relationships between dominating and dominated, slave and master, through aliens that use humans as horses. The story is mostly told from the perspective of Charley (Smiley), a young human, and mount of the Little Master, a baby hoot. He only half-understands politics and the rebellion he becomes involved in, but the only side he is really on is the side of him and the Little Master. They love each other deeply. This book is so full of complex emotions, its a pleasure to read. At the beginning you expect this to be mainly about how humans would be if they were ruled instead of ruling. But it is really also about how dominating and ruling is connected to love, and how serving and being ruled can be satisfying, knowing your place and being taken care of. But then, there is conflict. There is the wish for freedom. The wish for exploring other roles. The baby hoot learns to walk, he doesn’t need to be carried by his mount all the time anymore. They don’t kill the hoots in their rebellion, but they look for another way. They say: “The hoots are here to stay”. Maybe this is utopian, because humans are violent and if they can overthrow, they probably would, in reality. But here, they don’t. The hoots dominate, train, and sometimes hurt humans, but they also love them, admire them, and give them snacks. It is not at all clear who is good and bad here, and even though Charley wants to be free and be able to talk whenever he wants to, he doesn’t want to be without his Little Master, and he loves the fancy racing dresses and wants to go to the arena. Bottomline: it’s complicated.
Carol Emshwiller is a real artist with words. Wow. She writes so smoothly, every sentence is a pleasure to read. She also manages, and this ability impressed me with many writers (such as David Mitchell), to grasp exactly the perspective of a young teenager, almost still a child. His way of thinking and perceiving things is naive and curious, and he is so impressionable. At times we hate him as readers, at times we love him. But he is such a convincing character. My only criticism and disappointment is, especially in such a novel, the roles of women. The main characters are male. Women only feature as lovers and mothers, and they are usually a bit frail and tend to cry, and they are appreciated because they are comforting and make our heroes feel good. I would have wished for a bit more complexity and depth here for the female characters.