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Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends [Kindle Edition]

Avram Davidson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

* Where did Sinbad Sail?
* Who Fired the Phoenix?
* The Boy Who Cried Werewolf
* The Great Rough Beast
* Postscript on Prester John
* The Secret of Hyperborea
* What Gave All Those Mammoths Cold Feet?

And many more--fictional? authoritative? fantastic? deadpan?--investigations into the real, the true…and the things that should be true


"Although the wombat is real and the dragon is not, nobody knows what a wombat looks like and everyone knows what a dragon looks like."

Not a novel, not a book of short stories, Adventures in Unhistory is a book of the fantastic--a compendium of magisterial examinations of Mermaids, Mandrakes, and Mammoths; Dragons, Werewolves, and Unicorns; the Phoenix and the Roc; about places such as Sicily, Siberia, and the Moon; about heroic, sinister, and legendary persons such as Sindbad, and Aleister Crowley, and Prester John; and--revealed at last--the Secret of Hyperborea.

The facts are here, the foundations behind rumors, legends, and the imaginations of generations of tale-spinners. But far from being dry recitals, these meditations, or lectures, or deadpan prose performances are as lively, as crazily inventive, as witty as the best fiction of the author, a writer praised by Gardner Dozois as "one of the great short story writers of our times."

Who, on the subject of Dragons, could write coldly, dispassionately, guided only by logic? Certainly not Avram Davidson. Certain facts, these facts, deserve more than recitation; they deserve flourish, verve, gusto, style--the late, great Avram Davidson's unique voice. That prose which, in the words of Peter S. Beagle's Preface to this volume, "cries out to be read aloud."

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"A king's ransom of short fiction from one of America's least-known masters of the form These stories are as important and vital as those by Updike and Cheever."--"De""s Moines Register" on "The Avram Davidson Treasury" "Not merely a treasury, it's a genuine treasure. Some of its pages will carry you away to strange seas and shores, others will show you the marvellous within the seemingly ordinary, and just about all of them will take your breath away. But that's what magicians do.""--The ""Washington"" Post Book World" on "The Avram Davidson Treasury" "Of all writers (except, perhaps, Kipling), the most likely to insert the marvellous into the everyday."--Guy Davenport on Avram Davidson "One of the finest short-story writers ever to use the English language." --Robert Silverberg on Avram Davidson "Avram Davidson may have been one of the great short story writers of our times, in or out of the fantasy/science fiction genre."--Gardner Dozois on Avram Davidson "Davidson was beyond question one of the unjustly neglected writers of the 20th century, an author of immense talent."--Gene Wolfe on Avram Davidson"

About the Author

Avram Davidson was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1923. After spending some time at New York University, he served in the Marines from 1942 till 1946--and again saw action during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. For two years in the early 1960s, Davidson edited "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction." He earned awards and accolades throughout his life for his SF writing, including the Hugo Award, the Edgar Award, the Ellery Queen Award, and three World Fantasy Awards. Davidson died in 1993.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 914 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 076530760X
  • Publisher: Tor Books (28 Nov. 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BFQ6BM4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #646,503 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky as ever 19 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Davidson's conversational, stream of consciousness style works well for me and buried under it is a wealth of erudition. Yes the articles or chapters are uneven but fascinating. Don't believe all you read but use it as the start of an exploration.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, an affordable edition of this masterpiece! 8 Dec. 2006
By Xtopher Xtopher - Published on
I am so thrilled to see some of Avram Davidson's work coming back into print! I sincerely hope that this author finds new readers thanks to the work of publishers like this one keeping his work alive. I first stumbled upon a story of his in an anthology (from the '70's), and his story stood out as the most creative and intriguing piece in the book. Since then, I've sought out and found his stories in many anthologies dating from the 60's to hisdeath in the early 90's, as well as several of his novels, and incredible story collections. Although he has written some masterful novels such as 'Phoenix and the Mirror', I prefer his style in the short form. He has a unique imagination and an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure history, world literature, & mythology, all on full display in this wonderful book.

This is a fascinating collection of essays and quasi-historical entries, assembled in a somewhat encyclopedic format, a reference book for bizarre literature. It chronicles the missing parts of history, the strange bits that should have happened. There are entries and essays about mysterious and fantastic creatures, mythical lands, bizarre psudo-scientific discoveries, and other rather dubious information about a broad variety of obscure subjects. I think this particular book reads a bit like the labyrynthine works of Borges if he had written while on hallucinogens... This book may have inspired the form of the recent 'Thackerey T. Lambshead pocket guide to ... diseases,' or at least I feel that these two books go together well. Davidson is an absolutely unique talent, but I think this book should appeal to fans of Jeff VanderMeer and the Leviathan anthologies, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman (who has mentioned his admiration for Davidson), Jeffrey Ford, Gene Wolfe, & R. A. Lafferty (another slightly obscure writer whose oddball work I love).

I have been hoping for years for a publisher to re-print this book so I could round out my Davidson collection. 'Adventures in Unhistory' was originally released in 1993, only in a limited collector's edition, which has gone on to become this author's most sought-after work, selling for many hundreds of dollars when it rarely does exchange hands... It has obtained a some-what legendary status, particularly among other authors of speculative fiction who occasionally cite it as a reference or influence, or just let slip in interviews that they own a coveted copy. An essay from this book inspired the idea behind Vonda MacIntyre's novel 'The Sun and the Moon.' Peter Beagle (who introduces this edition) has listed this as a favorite book, and Neil Gaiman has mentioned it on his blog. The original publisher, Owlswick, published a companion volume, 'The Adventures of Dr. Esztehazy,' which also first came out in a limited edition, as well as a cheaper HC edition, also illustrated by George Barr. I highly recommend seeking out this companion book as well, if you like this volume.

If this happens to be your first exposure to Davidson's work, and you want more (you will), or you are looking for a more general introduction to his writing, I highly recommend the 'Avram Davidson Treasury', which is a generous collection of stories from every period and genre which he worked in, including work from this volume, with appreciative essays by the greats of speculative (fantasy) fiction. That collection provides a great overview of his short work. I recommend these great story collections to any reader interested in imaginative fiction.

So, in case I wasn't clear: buy this book!

Also mentioned in this review, and worth seeking out:

'The Adventures of Dr. Eszterhazy' Avram Davidson, Owlswick press, HC

'The Avram Davidson Treasury' Grania Davis, Orb, PB

'Pheonix & the Mirror' novel, Avram Davidson

'The Thackery T. Lambshead Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, 83rd Edition' Jeff Vandermeer, et al., collection

almost any story collection by R.A. Lafferty
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Inquiry into the Roots of Avram Davidson's Work. 16 Dec. 2009
By Jim Palmer - Published on
It's a pity that Avram Davidson early on got pigeonholed as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, because this designation consigned his work to pulp magazines--thus ensuring that one of the most brilliant stylists of the 20th century (I'll put The Redward Edward Papers up against a legion of James Joyce knockoffs any day) would never, ever get either the attention or the respect he deserved. In this, his last book--and only book of nonfiction, so far as I know--Davidson sits back, lights his pipe, and starts wondering. He brings a lifetime of voracious and eclectic reading, his encyclopedic knowledge of the esoteric, to bear on the roots of old stories and the creatures that populate them. Whence the dragon, whence the mermaid, where did Sindbad actually go?

But not only is this book a glimpse into (maybe) the genuine origins of old myths, it's also a glimpse into Davidson's brain itself. This is what he wondered about, this is what interested him, this is what he was reading about. This is the stuff that inspired his own work--the raw material of his corpus of stories and novels. And this is how his mind worked, and what a mind it was. He was able to sift between the vast amounts of information in his head to marshall his arguments and assemble his theories, and to do so lucidly, cleverly, and chattily.

Some readers will be put off by the style of this last book, which may strike them as overly conversationally erudite bordering on the precious. Others will appreciate it immensely. And others, like myself, will sigh in regret that we never actually got to meet the man and hear him expounding on every topic under the sun in person. Luckily, though, "Adventures in Unhistory" gets us pretty close to that.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb "fantasy" essays 7 Dec. 2006
By Harriet Klausner - Published on
This is a reprint of a book released in 1993 just before the author died. In it Mr. Davidson provides fifteen essays on a variety of mythological and supernatural characters in which he uses what is considered fact supplemented by conjecture to explain the legends of dragons, Sinbad as well as werewolves, and unicorns, etc. Each entry is written to excite the reader who learns what led to the formation of a particular legend to include who Aleister Crowley, and what is the Secret of Hyperborea. Tis work is well written with terrific small black and white illustrations by George Barr that enhance the text and these fifteen discussions feel more like short stories than ancient historical treatises. Fantasy fans will find this delightful charming collection fascinating as the audience will agree with Mr. Davidson assertion that a wombat is real and a dragon is not; but people can describe a dragon; how many can describe a wombat?

Harriet Klausner
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back in print at last!!! 23 Jun. 2006
By Robert L. - Published on
It's incredibly good news for the legions of Avram Davidson fans that this book is finally appearing in an easily accessible and, more importantly, *inexpensive* edition. Originally published in 1993 in fewer than 1,000 copies (of which I've been lucky to own one), it has been out of print for years. When used copies turn up they go for hundreds of dollars. And they seldom come up.

As the seller of one of two copies of the 1993 edition available at this writing says in his description of the book: "The last book by Avram Davidson published during his lifetime,a collection of erudite and digressive essays on mermaids, phoenixes, silk, dragons, and similar topics." That pretty much sums it up, except to add that it's a great read. George Barr's accompanying illustrations sprinkled throughout the text are a delight, too.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Davidson takes on ancient legends and myths in his unduplicatable style 18 Oct. 2008
By Jvstin - Published on
Adventures in Unhistory is a collection of columns in Issac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine by the late Avram Davidson in the 1980's. In these columns, Davidson takes on a mythological/fantastic subject that has fascinated people for centuries, and unwinds its history and origins in popular culture, and tries to find the grain of truth in the mountain of myth and legend.

Its a wonderful set of essays. The style of Davidson is conversational, jovial, joking, digressive but in the end illuminating and entertaining. As I read his analysis of mermaids, werewolves, dragons, Aleister Crowley and others, I could imagine myself in a deli in Manhattan, listening to Davidson over a bagel and coffee explain in a style that has to be read to be fully enjoyed.

The book is a real treasure, and I enjoyed it immensely. I can think of a few of my friends who will love this, if they haven't already beaten me to reading Davidson's work.

My only regret is that it was too short. I don't know how many of these columns he actually wrote; if another volume of his columns were collected and published, I'd get it in a heartbeat.
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