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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Discovering Avram Davidson

When I first encountered Avram Davidson he was in disguise. I was a bookish teenager with an appetite for mystery novels. I devoured tales penned by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and others. I particularly enjoyed the Ellery Queen mysteries, not perhaps because they were great literature, but because they were fun puzzles. I learned to look for the twist, the false lead, the logical, yet wrong conclusion and still often Ellery would manage to surprise me in the end.

From those days I remember most clearly one book, a novel called And on the Eighth Day

This book was different. It was better. It was a mystery, but it was more. Ellery was still Ellery, the puzzle was still puzzling but the world was richer, there were more ideas there. In some ways the book stripped the mystery and characters down to the bone and placed them in a dreamscape, but this was a fable that knew that true reality includes dreams.

As a teen, I knew this book was better than most of the other Ellery Queen novels, but I didn't know why. I do know that the book stuck in my head for years, while others in the series faded away. Decades later, I'd solve the mystery.

My reading world expanded to include various mainstream novels and science fiction. I went into space with Arthur Clarke and Robert Heinlein. I rode dragons with Anne McCaffery. And Ray Bradbury showed me Mars and a green town in Illinois that he never forgot and I'll never forget either.

And so this bookish boy became a bookish man who never completely put away a child's sense of wonder. Like Asimov and Bradbury I decided that driving a car is foolishness I need not fool with and so I've made my way in the world by foot and bicycle, preferring a pace more convivial to conversation, contemplation and companionship. One day on a bike ride with my pal Mark Vande Kamp conversation wandered, as it is so oft to do, to stories of stories and we were discussing Ray Bradbury. "Remember the Bradbury story about how paper clips and coat hangers are really the larval form of bicycles?" Mark comments. "What?!?" I reply, not because the concept is fantastic, but because if such a tale existed I doubt I would have forgotten it. And I thought I'd been quite diligent (perhaps compulsive) in my consumption of the works of Ray Bradbury. Mark assured me that such a tale existed and that he would ferret it out and bring me a copy of the tale.

It turned out that Mark was both right and wrong. The story was as he recalled and it is an odd gem called Or All The Sea With Oysters. But the author of the tale is not Ray Bradbury but a fellow named Avram Davidson.

Mark's slightly faulty memory brought Davidson to my attention and Davidson's stories held that attention. Davidson is wonderful. I began scouring bookstores for his work and Wikipedia solved an old mystery for me. For my "new" discovery of Davidson's writing was in fact a rediscovery. Davidson had ghost written the book I'd loved years before, he was the true author of And on the Eighth Day.

In a more just world Davidson wouldn't have died poor and mostly forgotten. He wouldn't have had to sell so many fine tales for pennies or write great stories under someone else's name. Davidson is gone now, but we still have the tales and they are treasures. Seek them out.

Davidson wrote mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, alternate histories, tales that we'd now call steampunk, and so much more. His tales are fantastic in every sense of the word.

If you want a place to start with Davidson, The Avram Davidson Treasury is a terrific collection of his work, punctuated with fine introductions by the many, many writers who've loved his tales.

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