April 23, 1923|
Yonkers, New York, US
|Died||May 8, 1993
Bremerton, Washington, US
|Genre||Science fiction, crime fiction|
|Notable awards||Edgar Award
World Fantasy Award
Avram Davidson (April 23, 1923 – May 8, 1993) was an American writer of fantasy fiction, science fiction, and crime fiction, as well as the author of many stories that do not fit into a genre niche. He won a Hugo Award and three World Fantasy Awards in the science fiction and fantasy genre, a World Fantasy Life Achievement award, and an Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine short story award and an Edgar Award in the mystery genre. Davidson edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1962 to 1964. His last novel The Boss in the Wall: A Treatise on the House Devil was completed by Grania Davis and was a Nebula Award finalist in 1998. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says "he is perhaps sf's most explicitly literary author".
Fiction and articles
Davidson wrote many stories for fiction magazines beginning in the 1950s, after publishing his first fiction in Commentary and other Jewish intellectual magazines.
Davidson was active in science fiction fandom from his teens. His best-known works are his novels about Vergil Magus, the magician that medieval legend made out of the Roman poet Virgil; the Peregrine novels, a comic view of Europe shortly after the fall of Rome; the Jack Limekiller stories, about a Canadian living in an imaginary Central American country modelled after Belize during the 1960s; and the stories of Dr. Eszterhazy, a sort of even more erudite Sherlock Holmesian figure living in the mythical Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania, the waning fourth-largest empire in Europe.
Lesser known and uncollected during his lifetime are his mystery stories, which were assembled after his death as The Investigations of Avram Davidson. These mystery stories frequently have a historical setting, and are intricately plotted. In addition, Davidson ghosted two Ellery Queen mysteries, And on the Eighth Day and The Fourth Side of the Triangle, and a true crime collection, Crimes and Chaos.
Other noteworthy works are his collaborations. In Joyleg, A Folly, written in collaboration with Ward Moore, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War (and of the Whiskey Rebellion) is found alive and very well in the Tennessee backwoods, having survived over the centuries by daily soaks in whisky of his own making to hilariously face the world of the 1960s. In Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty, co-written with Grania Davis, the background of Marco Polo's travels in the Mongol Empire is borrowed for an original story. After Davidson's death, Grania Davis also finished The Boss in the Wall, a claustrophobic horror novel that bears little resemblance to the work of any other writer.
Davidson also wrote dozens of short stories that defy classification, and the Adventures in Unhistory essays, which delve into puzzles such as the identity of Prester John and suggest solutions to them. His earlier historical essays were scrupulously researched, even when published by magazines just as happy to offer fiction as fact. Later essays were handicapped by a lack of resources in the libraries of the small towns where Davidson lived in the pre-Internet era, but are enlivened by the style and bold speculation.
Davidson's work is marked by a strong interest in history, with his plots often turning on what at first might seem like minor events. His characterization is also unusually in-depth for fantasy, and is often enriched by his ear for unusual accents and his apparently endless ability to give each character his or her own characteristics of speech.
However, Davidson's most obvious characteristics are his plotting and style. Very little may happen in a Davidson story, but he enjoyed describing it in enormous detail. Hidden among the detail are facts or omissions that at the end of the story later prove to be the pebbles that start avalanches of major consequences. Especially in his later works, Davidson came to delight in deliberately including many elements that beginning writers are told to avoid, such as page-long sentences with half a dozen colons and semi-colons, or an irrelevant digression in the opening pages of a story. These touches often succeed through their sheer boldness, as well as the comedy that runs through many of his most ambitious works. In general, Davidson's attitude to his readers is similar to that of Nineteenth Century authors: He assumes that his readers are there to be amused, and will follow him wherever he happens to go.
Davidson was born in 1923 in Yonkers, New York. He served as a Navy hospital corpsman (medic) with the Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II, and began his writing career as a Talmudic scholar around 1950. This made his study of and conversion to Tenrikyo in the 1970s rather surprising. Although he had a reputation for being quick to anger when anyone tampered with his work or misunderstood it, Davidson was also greatly in demand as a storyteller, and well-known among his friends for his extreme generosity.
He was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies.
While editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction he lived in Mexico, and later in British Honduras (now renamed Belize). He lived in a rural district of Novato, in northern Marin County, California, in 1970, but later moved closer to San Francisco. He lived in a small house in Sausalito, at the southern end of Marin County next to San Francisco in 1971 and 1972, and it was there fans and friends were affectionately welcomed. In his later years, he lived in Washington state, including a brief stay in the Veterans' Home in Bremerton. He died in his tiny apartment in Bremerton on May 8, 1993, aged 70. A memorial service was held in Gasworks Park in Seattle.
He was survived by his son Ethan and his ex-wife Grania Davis, who continues to edit and release his unpublished works.
- Doctor Eszterhazy series
- The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy, Owlswick Press, 1990; includes all but one of the published Doctor Eszterhazy stories.
- "The Odd Old Bird" in The Other Nineteenth Century
- Limekiller series
- Limekiller, Old Earth Books, 2003; includes all of the published Limekiller stories
- Vergil Magus series
- Fantasy series set an alternate ancient Mediterranean world where harpies, basilisks, and satyrs co-exist with Rome, Carthage, and the Punic Wars.
- The Phoenix and the Mirror, Doubleday, 1969; the first Vergil Magus novel
- Vergil in Averno, Doubleday, 1987; the second Vergil Magus novel
- The Scarlet Fig; or Slowly through a Land of Stone; Rose Press, 2005, the third Vergil Magus novel
- "The Other Magus," in Edges, edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Virginia Kidd, Pocket Books; Berkley paperback, 1980
- "Vergil and the Caged Bird," Amazing, January 1987
- "Vergil and the Dukos: Hic Inclusus Vitam Perdit, or The Imitations of the King," Asimov's, September 1997, pp. 102–113
- "Vergil Magus: King without Country," with Michael Swanwick, Asimov's, July 1998
- Clash of Star-Kings, Ace double, 1966
- The Enemy of My Enemy, Berkley paperback, 1966
- The Island Under the Earth, Ace paperback, 1969
- The Kar-Chee Reign, Ace double, 1966
- Masters of the Maze, Pyramid paperback, 1965
- Mutiny in Space, Pyramid Books, 1964
- Rogue Dragon, Ace paperback, 1965
- Rork!, Berkley Medallion paperback, 1965
- Ursus of Ultima Thule, Avon paperback, 1973
- With Grania Davis
- The Boss in the Wall, A Treatise on the House Devil, Tachyon Publications, 1998
- Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty, Baen Books paperback, 1987
- Or All the Seas with Oysters, Berkely Books, 1962
- What Strange Stars and Skies, Ace Books, 1965
- Strange Seas and Stories, Doubleday, 1971
- Adventures in Unhistory, Owlswick Press, 1993
- The Avram Davidson Treasury, Tor, 1998
- The Investigations of Avram Davidson, Owlswick Press, 1999
- Everybody Has Somebody in Heaven, Devora Publishing, 2000
- The Other Nineteenth Century, Tor, 2001
- Ellery Queen books – the novels written based on outlines by Frederic Dannay, one of the cousins who created "Ellery Queen"
- And on the Eighth Day, Random House, 1964
- The Fourth Side of the Triangle, Random House, 1965
- World Fantasy Convention. "Award Winners and Nominees". Archived from the original on December 1, 2010. Retrieved Feb 4, 2011.
- Cohen, Joshua (May 25, 2007). "Writing in Four Dimensions: Reconsidering Science-Fiction Writer Avram Davidson". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved June 1, 2010.
- Avram Davidson Treasury: A Tribute Collection, with an introduction by Guy Davenport. (1998)
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