Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.
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The Other Nineteenth Century: A Story Collection by Avram Davidson,
edited by Grania Davis and Henry Wessells. New York: Tor, 2001. 327 pp.,
$27.95 hardcover, ISBN 0-312-84874-9.
Reviewed by Fred Lerner
A faithful cataloguer would record The Other Nineteenth Century's subtitles
in their entirety. This is "A Story Collection by Avram Davidson, Containing
Startling Revelations of the Lives of Literary Persons; also, Truthful Accounts
of Living Fossils, Montavarde's Camera, The Irradiodiffusion Machine, and El
Vilvoy de las Islas; with Heinous Crimes, Noble Ladies in Adversity, Brilliant
Detections, Imperial Eunuchs, Political Machinations, etc., etc." But the first
phrase tells us what we really need to know. This is another collection of tales
to whet appetites stimulated by The Avram Davidson Treasury and
The Investigations of Avram Davidson.
The idea of this book is to collect stories with nineteenth-century settings. The
editors interpret this broadly. Avram Davidson's discursive style of storytelling
has an antiquarian air to it, so it seems natural to annex to the century those
neighboring decades that Davidson imbued with a nineteenth-century flavor.
These stories originally appeared over a thirty-year span, from 1958 to 1988.
("Mickelrede," a posthumous collaboration with Michael Swanwick, first saw
print in 2000.) Several of them will be familiar to longtime readers of the
leading science fiction magazines. Several are from Ellery Queen's Mystery
Magazine. And there are some from less familiar sources: Kenyon
Review, Night Cry, and Yankee Magazine. (The editors identify the
individual issues in which each story was first published -- as too many
collections and anthologies do not.)
The stories vary considerably in mood and meaning. Some take a light-hearted
approach to alternate history: "O Brave Old World!" turns the American
Revolution on its head, while "Pebble in Time" (written in collaboration with
Cynthia Goldstone) gives us a most unlikely San Francisco. Some are
substantial tales that effectively transport us both in time and space: "What
Strange Stars and Skies" to the vilest slums of London; "El Vilvoy de las Islas"
to a South American backwater so little visited that it appears on no published
map. There's a Sherlockian vignette ("The Singular Incident of the Dog on the
Beach") and a wisp of Oriental fantasy ("The Deed of the Deft-Footed
Dragon") and a tale from Bella ("The Odd Old Bird") that you won't find in the
Owlswick Press Adventures of Doctor Eszt