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by Avram Davidson
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
49th Anniversary issue, October/November 1998, pp.160-169.
The current issue of F&SF contains an
excellent self-contained sketch from The Corpsmen, the manuscript of Avram's
"first sustained attempt at a novel," a "semi-autobiographical" work about
members of the WWII-era Naval Medical Corps at the Naval Air Station, in
"Mullet Bay, Florida."
"Blunt" recounts the adventures of Huey P. Blunt, Pharmacist's Mate, First Class, who had studied under a "very old man" named Elnathan Wisonant who "represented an older tradition in native medicine than the A.M.A." Wisonant's comments on "college doctors" are memorable:
"'Horse leeches,' he called them; 'bumshavers, quacksalvers, peddlers of snake oil and pink aspirin.
"'A trust, a vile and contemptible monopoly, a guild of grave robbers aping their betters among the natural philosophers.'"
Blunt's early career included stints as a company doctor at a logging camp and as "le docteur on a sisal plantation in Haiti. [...] He was in British Honduras when the European war broke out, but paid it little attention until the invasion of Denmark and Norway by a people who might have eventually become civilized, had the British in the early part of the previous century not prevented the French from continuing to civilize them. Something stirred in the heart of Huey P. Blunt as he read the accounts of the armed parachutists dropping from the troubled sky. He went back to the United States and enlisted in the Navy."
Blunt's practical experience makes him invaluable to his superiors at Mullet Bay, so he finds himself unable to get an overseas assignment. He soon develops other interests. His courtship of Wilma Swanson (from the neighboring town of Cataline) starts off in customary fashion, but promptly takes a turn for the comical.
It is interesting to note that this comparatively early work reveals in full concerns that run as constants throughout Avram's later work, including an acute sense for variations in spoken usage and the contrast between odd or outdated science and the establishment. Allusions to the Masons (oblique in this tale but developed at greater length in other sketches of The Corpsmen) are precursors to later uses of Masonic secrecy and intrigue, and indeed the disconnected snatches of rumor and misinformation that surrou