Adventures in Unhistory: Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends
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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" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
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
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.