the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. I No. 4
12 November 1996
ISSN 1089-764X

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

Published every two months, more or less.
Contents copyright 1996 The Nutmeg Point District Mail and assigned
to individual contributors. All rights reserved.

P.O. Box 43072
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072

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"Full Chicken Richness" and "The Odd Old Bird" are two of Avram's funniest
stories from the 1980s; with mordant humor, they link his interests in
rare avian fauna (see also "Bird Thou Wert, But Art No More" in
Adventures in Unhistory, or "The Great Globe", an unpublished episode
in the Vergil Magus cycle) with an interest in food that occurs as a constant
throughout his work. Some other stories that include notable discursions upon
food are ("Something Rich and Strange," "Limekiller at Large," the wee folk
section of "Peregrine Secundus," and "Business Must Be Picking Up").

Set in what appears to be a recognizable America, "Full Chicken Richness"
recounts the adventures of Fred Hoskins, painter of "old buildings" and
habitue of La Bunne Burger (his career is a clear indication that the quixotic
has not yet been entirely extinguished in this America). It is at
this eating place that Fred encounters the well-informed Abelardo who delivers
"something" to Rudolfo, the proprietor of La Bunne Burger. Consider one
of Abelardo's comments, "Advertisage is like courtship, always involve
some measure of deceit." As Rudolfo says, discussing FULL CHICKEN
RICHNESS Chicken-Type Soup
with Fred, "Abelardo, he is no
businessman. He is a filosofo. His mind is always in the skies. I tell him,
I could use more soup--twice, maybe even th ree times as many cans. 'Ai!
Supply and demand!' he says. Then he tells me about the old Dutch explorers."
When Fred tracks down Abelardo's house, he find Abelardo stewed, driven
to drink by "the eternally perplexing matter of supply and demand."

Only Avram could have written this science fiction story, integrating
as it does reflections upon real estate development, nostalgia, Latin American
eccentrics, and diner food with advertising, solitary inventors, the law
of supply and demand, and t he extinct avian fauna of Mauritius. "It approached
the screen, it brushed the screen, there was a Rube Goldberg series of
motions in the external equipment, a sheet of chicken wire slid noisily
down to the floor. The bird had been trapped." This is hard science fiction--not
re-invent the wheel pseudo-tech stuff, but hard ideas science fiction.
And has any other author ever called the workings of the time machine
(or whatever strange apparatus the plot might demand) by the true name
like this? Perhaps Robert Sheckley on a good day way back when. . . .

All of the Eszterhazy stories display an interest in gastronomical pleasures
of different types.  "The Odd Old Bird" takes the reader to Doctor
Doctor (etc.) Eszterhazy's house in Bella, where Avram has constructed
a narrative web involving an impressionist painting, Archaeopteryx,
a Proposed Imperial Canal, fossils, the Prince Roldan Vlox, and an Australian
author. Visiting on a day when Eszterhazy's cook was away, Newton Charles
Enderson, the Australian "New Chum," proved himself a hearty not a fastidious
eater, and his gustatory delights serve to heighten the mixture of wonder
and horror shared by Eszterhazy, Blumpkinn (the Imperial Geologist) and
the reader.

While Avram's penchant for bizarre erudition lent itself to the eco-horror
implicit in the two previous examples, I don't wish to close on that note.
Avram shows a different aspect of the role of food in human life in "Caravan
to Illiel" (the first part of one of his least-known series).

We find Corydon, at journey's end, in a caravanserai in Illiel:

It was fairly dusk, and fairly quiet when he awoke . . . awoke
from odd, strange dreams. His limbs felt lighter, but his head felt numb,
and in his mouth was a thick and sdtale taste. Sitting upright in the hot,
still air (the moon being then in the Scorpion), he reflected that he had
at that moment no desire to do anything whatsoever. A voice falling then
upon his ears, he looked up without interest. A fruit woman set her basket
down before him, and speaking softly in a tongue full strange to him, she
showed him the red-hulled pomegranates and peeled a quartern of one to
show him the moist pips adrip with the sweet blood of Attys, lover of Cybele.
He ate it; its tart-sweet taste seemed to clear both mouth and mind, and
it bethought him there was after all one thing he did desire to do. He
gave her a silver coin and he looked at her. She pouted and gestured that
she had no change. He looked at her. She was not young and her body was
not slim, but she flashed him a smile which showed white teeth, and then
she laughed. And then she took off her russet ragged dress and hung it
up for to curtain the niche, and she joined him on the carpet with a sigh
in which there was no sound of sorrow.
        "Caravan to Illiel," Flashing Swords #3, p.265
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Grania Davis praises the third issue of the District Mail, and writes :

Speaking of Food, check out the Avram Davidson/Grania Davis recipe for
"Pa's Peasant Soup" in the new S-F cookbook, Serve It Forth, edited
by Anne McCaffrey and John Betancourt (Warner Books).

The Avram Davidson Treasury (previously mentioned as Avram Davidson :
The Best of the Best
in the inaugural issue of the District Mail)
will be published in May 1998 by White Wolf.

(NOTE: The Avram Davidson Treasury was published by Tor Books in October 1998)

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WILLIAM COWPER (1731-1799)

In Avram's fourth Limekiller novelette, "There Beneath the Silky-Tree
and Whelmed in Deeper Gulphs Than Me," published in Other Worlds 2
in 1980, the title derives from a reference to William Cowper's 1799 poem,
"The Cast-away." This anguished poem concludes :

When snatch'd from all effectual aid,
We perish'd, each alone :
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.

George Anson (1697-1762) was a British naval officer (later First Lord
of the Admiralty), who in 1740-1744 circumnavigated the globe. His fleet
of six ships was reduced by storms to one, the Centurion, which
he used to capture a Spanish treasure ship in the Pacific. Anson wrote
an account of his voyage around the world, reformed the British Navy, and
created the corps of marines in 1755.

It is evident from the mention of Anson's name earlier in the poem that
that Cowper, reading a passage (by Anson) about a sailor washed overboard,
compared his own situation (which included bouts of madness and constant
ill-health) to that of the drowned sailor.

Ross Dabney, of Sweet Briar, VA, notes ". . . although Cowper is awkward
and unclear about connecting the incident he describes with his own situation.
What else are we to make of it? Clearly there are no rougher seas and deeper
gulfs, literally, physically, than the ones the sailor was drowned in (off
Cape Horn, I believe). So it has to be a metaphorical drowning, and he's
talking about himself. The thing that makes it queer and even unworkable
to me is the obvious question -- if you've been drowned, what are you doing
talking to us about it? That's the sort of question Samuel J. would ask,
and he's my critical mentor."

Madness (and drug addiction) are perhaps the only rougher sea
and deeper gulph from which the "drowned" do sometimes return to tell their
stories. . . .

The reference in Limekiller occurs during a passage where Peter Pygore
tactfully and silently affirms to Limekiller that he has also experienced
the supernatural or "metaphysical" phenomena that occur with such frequency
in British Hidalgo.

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WHERE? WHICH? A short quiz (published works only)

The prize is one grumpkin (redeemable in the New York, New Jersey, or Philadelphia area in vino or in coffee).

Name three stories with anthropological dimensions.

Would you rather attend a performance at "Mr. Stilwell's Stage" or have your portrait taken by "The Montavarde Camera"? Justify your answer.

Extra credit given for answers in essay form.

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ANSWERS TO WHERE? WHICH? from the third issue

Roland Thurn was (once again) the first reader to respond with correct answers.

How many series of stories or novels did Avram begin?

Stories featuring the "medical professions": + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +