Thoughts Occasioned by Publication of The Avram Davidson Treasury

By Henry Wessells

It would be somewhat improper for me to review this book, for reasons that are to be found in the table of contents (I am somewhat involved, or at the very least complicit, in other ways that I will spell out below). And yet. Having been accused of being a "one man conspiracy" and "the world's greatest authority on Avram Davidson" (or was it "expert"?), I am reluctant to let this moment pass doing what I have been doing on and off for the past five years. Namely, to say, to anyone who will listen, Hey, have you ever read anything by Avram Davidson? You really should read this book. . . .
Hence these paragraphs which, if not exactly a review, might still offer something of interest.
In the dark, out-of-print years just after Davidson's death in 1993, there were any number of reasons to keep the flame alive: the Vergil Magus and Peregrine books, the Limekiller stories, "The Affair at Lahore Cantonment, "The Slovo Stove," and "Naples." Now, with this book in front of me, there's all the more cause for celebrating the work of an American original. The Avram Davidson Treasury is a compendium of most (but by no means all) of Davidson's best short fictions, arranged chronologically, with story introductions by host of eminent science fiction authors (and one other, yours truly). The Treasury is a book that should be on the shelf of every reader of science fiction. Some of these 38 stories ("Or All the Seas With Oysters" or "The Golem") are ubiquitous; two have been published as chapbooks; and one of the most distinctive, "The Affair at Lahore Cantonment," is reprinted for the first time since its original appearance in 1961, for which Davidson won the Edgar Award.[1]
Yes, Avram Davidson was the man who won the Hugo, Edgar, and World Fantasy Awards (and the last of the Ellery Queen Awards), and spent his later years living in what was undeniably poverty.[2] Davidson in the 1970s created the very distinct worlds of Jack Limekiller (in British Hidalgo, a 20th-century Central American country that is so richly drawn that it must be somewhere on the map) and Dr. Englebert Eszterhazy (in the 19th-century Balkan empire of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania), and wrote two of the most brilliantly understated tales ever, "Naples" and "And Don't Forget the One Red Rose."
But at one point during the middle 1970s (he would have been over 50 by then), he wrote that he lacked the money to mail a manuscript. The worst hells are always of our own making, but it still appalls me to think of what happened to him (and I never met the man).
For all his reputed cantankerousness, Davidson was a great writer, and in his work and in his person he touched a whole lot of writers (some of whom don't even talk to each other). No one buys a book merely for the introductions, but the introductions in the Treasury give some sense of the diversity of Avram's odyllic forces. Some are perfunctory nods, others bittersweet recollections of Davidson's wit and erudition, and a few are substantial essays or memoirs. The most noteworthy are, in no particular order: Gregory Benford's reflections on evolution for "Now Let Us Sleep"; William Gibson's note on "the instant of my missing Avram"; Robert Silverberg's introduction; Harlan Ellison's afterword to "Polly Charms" and his thoughts on learning of Avram's death, which form a