Charley is a very good mount. He always keeps his hair shiny, and exercises his legs as much as possible so his Hoot will be proud of how fast Charley can run. He's seen what happens to bad mounts — they have to wear sharp metal bits in their mouths, and sometimes they are whipped until they can barely move. But that's not why Charley wants to be good. He just wants to be the very best Seattle breed racer in the kingdom.
No, I'm not describing a book told from the point of view of a horse. Carol Emshwiller's quiet, disturbing novel The Mount (Small Beer Press) is about what happens when small alien invaders called Hoots take over the planet and begin breeding humans for transportation. Hoots have weak legs that fit perfectly around human necks, as well as superior weapons that easily convert the disobedient to dust. What's compelling about this beautifully-written novel, though, is that it's no simple "aliens oppress humans" tale. It explores what happens when humans get used to, and even enjoy, their servitude.
The Hoots believe humans can be strong, pretty, and noble — as long as they know their place is in the stable. And many of the humans, like Charley, are proud to obey their alien riders. Charley never questions his place in the world until his rebellious father, who lives among a group of "free humans" in the mountains, begins raiding the Hoot kingdom where Charley is a prized racer. Charley and his Hoot are the only survivors of a rebel human attack, and must make their way through the woods alone.
Soon, master and servant are blurred categories. And Emshwiller captures Charley's dawning understanding — as well as that of his Hoot, who is also an adolescent — in language that recalls Richard Adams' moody writing about the minds of rabbits. Unlike so many novels about humans becoming animalistic, The Mount reminds us that being an animal doesn't always mean wild savagery. It also, tragically, means we can be tamed.
The Mount [Small Beer Press]