by Carol Emshwiller
Charley loves to run. His rider urges him on in the races, and Charley is good at what he does. He’s treated well. He gets treats. He has the best stall.
Charley is a human. His rider is an alien, a hoot, whose race conquered the earth long ago. Ever since, they’ve used humans as mounts, since they are unable to move on their own. They ride on a human’s shoulders, guiding the human where to go. Kindness is best, and they treat their mounts with the greatest respect and love, giving everything a human might want. Charley loves his hoot, the Future-Ruler-Of-Us-All, and wants nothing more than to win more medals and ribbons in the races.
And then Charley’s father ruins everything. He frees Charley, kidnapping him and bringing him to live with the Wilds, free humans who live in the hoot-free mountains. And Charley hates it. Can he get free to rejoin his beloved host? Should he?
This book is arresting. The prose is quiet. If it were made into a movie, the soundtrack would be sparse, and the end credits would simply be the sound of wind and a single person running on a forest path. It’s written entirely in the present tense and the first person. I’ve read books written in the present tense before. Usually it’s a little unsettling and hard to get into. Not here. Here, the present tense is perfectly written to convey exactly what the author wants to convey. This is possibly the purest first-person narrative I’ve ever read. Most first-person narrative ends up being a limited third person perspective with a few thought bubbles. Not here. This novel submerges us into Charley’s head, to the point where the reader might even start siding with him and deciding freedom is crap compared to being a mount.
The writing style is great. The plot is fantastic. The themes are immense. It asks questions. How much is freedom worth? Isn’t it better to have what you need instead of risking death just so you can say you’re free? Charley asks hard questions, and the book does deliver some fantastic answers. Rather than vilifying the alien invaders, Emshwiller is able to portray them as real characters. Do they deserve to be overthrown? This is another good question the book asks and does answer in a satisfying manner.
The nearest narrative to this I can think of is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The Mount is definitely science fiction, but of a “quieter” kind. There are no great space battles. There’s no huge use of technology. It simply takes a great concept — what if we were used as mounts to a race superior intellectually but not physically? — and it explores the options. It explores what it means to be human. It explores prejudice.
I highly recommend this book. I would go so far to recommend it for reading in a junior high setting, except for two very brief sexual passages near the end of the book as Charley deals with attraction to the opposite sex.
A note: As I search Amazon, I see they don’t have a copy of my edition available, and instead have one with a rather… well, the cover isn’t attractive to my eyes. I find this curious, as mine is a newer edition with a much better cover. I found it for $1 at a Half Price Books, and it is well worth the price — look for it at used book stores. The book has positive reviews from Ursula K. LeGuin, won the Philip K. Dick award, and got a lot of other accolades. I am a little surprised it’s not more widely available after all that!
Anyway, go find this book or borrow my copy. It’s well worth it.