A prolific writer of short stories, until recently it has been hard for Emshwiller to receive the recognition she richly deserves. With the publication of this new collection, she now has three books simultaneously in print, including her fascinating novel, Carmen Dog, and another collection, Verging on the Pertinent. The Start Of The End Of It All (1991) gives us 18 short stories, including the every popular "Sex And/or Mr. Morrison" and "Chicken Icarus" Reviewers have mentioned the cat-loathing aliens of the title story, but equally delightful are the creatures of "Draculalucard" and "Moon Song", to mention only a few. One delightful feature of Emshwiller's fiction is its allusive and often allegorical characterizations. Her people are often confused and misguided, not villains really as much as victims of ignorance or custom. And yet her fiction is extremely humorous as a result of their bumbling. One recognizes the absurdity of day-to-day situations as she infuses the mundane with the fantastic. "Eclipse" finds a bemused woman at a party that she didn't really want to attend. One of those obligations of the academic that can't be ignored but is vaguely distasteful. When she arrives, she is greeted as a performer not a guest - she is given a piano then a flute and finally performs just to get a reaction. Present, like a nagging itch, throughout her fiction is the understanding that we repress many distasteful truths about the relationships between men and women as well as between humans and those creatures who share the earth with us. Because she often narrates in the first person, from the female perspective, one can assume she is speaking for women and against men. However, she often satirizes women's expectations along with men's. This is very apparent in "Fledged" which confronts an aging, manipulative man with a larger-than human, dirty and clumsy bird. One gets the idea that Emshwiller is not fond of parties as the first-person narrator in this story struggles to have a party around his unexpected guest who leaves wet, dirty marks on the walls, ceilings and furniture and makes nonsense sounds to his guests. He gradually discovers that she is probably his first wife.(He has just divorced the second) and decides that, since he is lonely and she has been a hit at the party, he will let her stay - if she gets rid of those ugly wings (and he will even pay for it). Her response is predictable, for an Emshwiller story, anyway. It is possible to misunderstand Emshwiller. If one reads a single purpose into the multilayered allusions, one can be taken aback by the bald, almost gallows humor which cuts to the core of ambiguities that make up women's attitudes towards themselves and the cultures which encase them. Emshwiller's grace, technical virtuosity, insight, humor, rest in the narrators who never settle on a single or simple political position and therefore reflect this ambiguity of intent. You owe it to yourself to read this collection.
Jan Bogstad, Reviewer