Strange Horizons, 7 November 2005

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"Adventures in Dog-Walking in Downtown Philadelphia" by John Schoffstall

When Dawdle the dachshund changes into a fax machine and the TV turns into a Shar-Pei, some readers might suppose that John Schoffstall is offering a comment on the recent fad for computerized pets. But "Adventures in Dog-Walking in Downtown Philadelphia" is about the acceptance of change and of difference. Octogenarian Carol eagerly embraces the strange mutations that have overtaken the city. She is always open to the possibilities of a new experience. If her favorite restaurant has disappeared, "maybe something else on Chestnut Street will have changed into a restaurant. That’s the way it was in the 1970’s, every time you turned around, there was an exciting new place to eat." Her middle-aged offspring, on the other hand, cannot accept the differences in each other; they bicker constantly, sniping at each other with old recriminations.

There is charm in this story, particularly in the parting image of Carol riding off on a camel that had been a mechanical soldier that had been a tree. However, it suffers from a slow start and a heavy hand with the parts that are supposed to be funny. As an example, when Carol is searching for the missing Dawdle, she says, "I don’t want him to do his business behind the couch and upset the cleaning lady. She’s Mennonite, so she’s not allowed to swear, and it makes her all grumpy when she wants to and can’t." Explaining the joke after it is already told deflates the humor.

This reader, having just returned from the World Fantasy Convention in Madison where Carol Emshwiller was honored for her life achievement in fantasy fiction, can not help wondering if this story was also intended to honor the imagination of that extraordinary author, who likewise seems to be "always ready for something new."