SCI FICTION, November 17, 2004

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"All of Us Can Almost . . ." by Carol Emshwiller

ImageCarol Emshwiller's short story, "All of Us Can Almost . . .," is the third in a related series of works published on SCI FICTION (the first being, "On Display Among the Lesser" in mid-April, and the second, "Gliders Though They Be," in June–both accessible at the SCI FICTION archives).  Though the relationship is unstated, the family resemblance between these tales is unmistakable: A recurrent flight and flying theme; and a familiar, yet alien society and setting, with indisputably anthropomorphic characters that have a pronounced resemblance to Earth beasties, yet who defy easy classification. I once again found myself  playing the "what animal is it?" game with this newest story, trying to pinpoint what manner of flight-yearning fowl peopled "All of Us."  Were they chickens, vultures, hornbills?  I remained stymied when I reached the end, but I've become used to that uncertainty when  reading Emshwiller's works.

Emshwiller's mysterious and nameless feathered protagonist longs for flight.  Her dreams are filled with soaring and her waking hours with lamentations and existential ponderings: "I don't know what we're made for. It's neither sky nor water nor . especially not . the waddle of the land. We can't sing. Actually, we can't do anything. Except look fierce."  (Fierce chickens?)  It's the story of a decadent culture, once powerful and strong, that has fallen into self-indulgence and  indolence.  They do not fly, hunt for themselves, nor do they care about the wellbeing of others–not even members of their own flock.  It is a society selfish and degenerate, doomed to stagnation, until one day, one of them is goaded to attain the skies once more, and in the process discovers that flight and industry may be irrevocably coupled.

Work ethic theme notwithstanding, there's a wistful charm in "All of Us,"  reminiscent of both A Wish for Wings that Work (Berkeley Breathed's undervaunted Bloom County animated Christmas special) and the more recent feature film, Chicken Run.  "All of Us" conjures visions of mournful flightless fowl in blazing technicolor animation gazing longingly upward.