The Mount won the 2003 Philip K. Dick Award. As I have been hunting for fiction by writers I haven't previously read, this seemed a good candidate because of this award. It beat out The Scar by China Miéville. I figure anything that beats out China has to be worth a read. It was.
The basic plot is one you've seen before in other science fiction. An alien race has taken over the Earth, subjugating humans. We've become farm animals to them. Some humans (
Seattles) are bread for strength and endurance. Such humans become mounts, horses for the aliens. The aliens (
Hoots) have good senses and extremely strong arms and hands. But they have weak legs, leaving them essentially helpless without their mounts. Some Wilds remain free in the mountains, and periodically they raid Hoot settlements and free the Tames. On one such raid, they free Charley, the son of the Wild human leader called Heron. Charley is the mount for the Hoot, The-Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All.
The young Hoot is but a mere child, and Charley is barely an adolescent. Yet he saves his Little Master from death by his father's hand. The rest of the story follows his adventures from the Wild village in the cold mountains to the Hoot encampment and back again, to a final showdown with The-Present-Ruler-Of-Us-All. In between, Charley comes of age and finds his first love.
The first chapter is written from the perspective of the young Hoot. Most of the subsequent chapters are written from Charley's viewpoint, with one small interlude written from the human called Heron's position. I wish Emshwiller had written more from the Hoot's perspective, as the first chapter was a great hook. Other than some subtle hints, one wouldn't know that the books isn't about a horse and his rider.
The amazing thing to me is the books is only about 250 pages long. Emshwiller packed a lot into that length. She validates my theory that a good book need not be thousands of pages long. Writers often take several chapters to set up their SF worlds. Emshwiller doesn't. The story reveals along the way everything a reader need know. It actually makes the textual paragraphs without action interesting to read, rather than being filled with copious filler material.
I know burgunder has been on a quest to find worthy female authors. Check this out. I'll be picking up a few more of her books before too long.