Carol Emshwiller has left the planet. She lived for almost a century yet her friends -- pretty much everybody who knew her -- agree that her death came all too soon.
I have no memory of how we first met. One day, on seeing me, her face lit up and she cried, "Michael! It's so good to see you!" and I realized that we were old friends. This was, by the way, her response to all her friends. She was a beacon of life. It shone from her.
I also have no stories about her. Stories are about conflict and it's almost impossible to imagine conflict with Carol. But I do have one small anecdote.
We met by chance one day, as we occasionally did, and I said, "Carol! How are you doing?"
"I'm in mourning," she said. "I've just finished writing Ledoyt and all these characters I've been living with for over a year are gone. It's as if they'd all died. I'm bereft." Then she asked, "Don't you feel the same way when you've finished a novel?"
It's not all that often that writers talk seriously about writing. So I gave Carol's question some thought. Then I said, "No. I see it as a moment of liberation. I've been persecuting all of them for 400 pages and now I've stopped. I imagine them running down the street, waving their hands in the air, shouting, 'I'm free! I'm free! I'm going to buy a hamburger!' and 'I'm going to move to Poughkeepsie and nothing's going to happen to me there!'"
Which is, in part, what I value about Emshwiller's fiction. She wrote stories and novels totally unlike anything I've ever written. She gave me (and all the rest of us) windows into worlds we never could have seen without her.
I have no interest whatsoever in fiction I could have written myself. I found Carol's work intensely interesting.
I'm particularly fond of Carmen Dog.
Above: Photo by Gordon Van Gelder. He'd just given Carol a Nebula Award and thought the moment should be memorialized. Used by permission.