I will read just about anything Connie Willis writes. In my view, she can do (almost) no wrong. I’ve read nearly all her novels and short stories, so when I discovered that she had recently come out with a new novella, All About Emily, I jumped at the chance to read it for our science fiction and fantasy month.
Claire Havilland has been on stage most of her life, and she fears she might be entering the Sunset Boulevard phase of her career. (Her manager has no idea where Sunset Boulevard is, and he knows New York pretty well. He just wants her to be as popular as Justin Bieber, Jr.) But when she meets the beautiful Emily, who has seen and adored all of her plays, she has a new and more urgent fear: that she has stepped into All About Eve.
This story is much more complex than a replay of that (wonderful) movie, though. There’s a crucial detail: Emily is an “artificial,” being introduced to New York society. She doesn’t want Claire’s job; she’s not programmed to want anyone’s job. She’s just supposed to help: to take the jobs no one else really wants to do, to be a pleasant voice at call centers, to help people negotiate ATMs and recalcitrant technology. She’s not programmed to have drive or initiative. Emily is no Eve.
But something’s not quite right. On Emily’s tour of New York, she goes to Radio City Music Hall and sees the Rockettes. And that line of women, all alike, all beautiful, with their famous eye-high kicks, triggers something in her. Some drive that shouldn’t exist. Emily… wants to become a Rockette. Impossible, Claire tells her. But Emily won’t listen.
I won’t tell you any more about the novella. It’s got Willis’s trademark screwball comedy, and her poignancy, too, along with some interesting takes on individuality and the role of artificial intelligence. Willis has written several novellas (including Inside Job and All Seated on the Ground), and this is a very enjoyable addition.
I’ll just add here that I’ve also read the first three volumes (#1-18) of Bill Willingham’s Fables series. I didn’t want to do a whole review of them, because Teresa has done such a nice job talking about the premise, and I agree with her assessment so closely. I enjoyed them very much and will keep reading them. I will just add, though, that unlike Teresa, I have read the Sandman series, and I kept kind of wishing that Neil Gaiman had taken this same premise and done it a little darker and a little weirder. But you can’t have everything!