• See Part I.
• See Part II.
• See Part III.
6. Carol Emswhiller, "Wilds" (pg. 76-82) *** 1/2
Read 2 Feb. 2010. This story is a strange one to find in Asimov's: not clearly either SF or fantasy. Yet it is wholly engrossing and superbly executed. I'm going to call it a fantasy of sorts (maybe even a fable), as its unnamed first-person narrator lives out the fantasy of escaping from and leaving behind the everyday world of rental cars, jobs, neighbours, and so forth, by discovering and then surviving in "the wilds" (77). The world rejected by the narrator is our world, now -- not an SF near-future or alternate past, but now. Emshwiller thus constructs a fantasy of the reconnection with nature and the primal and the physical, wholly unmediated by technology or other modern conveniences: a fantasy of awakening to one's deepest and true desires ("But even as I swallow little snakes, I'm singing" ), and so to one's essential self, the world be damned ("I look at my reflection and I see exactly who I am" ). For the narrator, such rejection and reconnection relies upon "hiding" as his "way of life" (77): finding the highest, most inaccessible place "away from everybody" (76); building a tower of stones to give himself a better view, but making it look like a "natural formation" (77); eventually, he dresses "in mud" and smells of "ferns" (82), invisible to campers and hikers. Even the woman who shows up at his mountain with a Gucci purse filled with $50,000 worth of $100 bills is escaping and hiding. She's running from the law, certainly, having "'just picked ... up'" (81) an unguarded bag containing the money, then buying herself the Gucci purse, dinner at a "'fancy French restaurant'" (81), and a car -- as she says, "'Stuff I've never had before'" (81). She acted in defiance, then, of a world that alienates her (economically, materially), a world to which she was hidden. However, her motives for coming to "the wilds" are not as pure as the narrator's, for she remains tied to the material(ist) desires of the world, wanting to retrieve the bills scattered about the narrator's mountain, instead of, like the narrator, truly confronting her self and becoming "part of the wilds" (79). All of this is told by Emshwiller with a sharply focussed and consistent voice, the narrator's short and constrained sentences feeling decisive and practical, offering only as much communication as is necessary, but everywhere hinting at loss and nostalgia. What sort of world, we might ask, causes a man to cast it off utterly, to the point of real nakedness and drinking water "as an animal would" (82)? What is so alienating about such a world that a man's true self is concealed from him. The narrator does something I suspect many of us have contemplated or fantasised about doing. Yet the cost of his victory suggests caution at the end, for he achieves a wholly solitary life, hidden from campers and hikers, secretively leaving $100 bills in their shoes and pockets and hats while they sleep, playing "mysterious" (82) songs on his flute at night. I am sympathetic to his desires and choices, even jealous of them. I don't know that I would have the courage to realise them.