the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. III No. 2
27 July 1998
ISSN 1089-764X

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

Published bimonthly by whim and fancy for the Avram Davidson Society.
Contents copyright 1998 The Nutmeg Point District Mail and assigned to individual contributors. All rights reserved.

All correspondence to:
Post Office Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072

Use the electronic address for requests to be added to or dropped from the mailing list.


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The Boss in the Wall, A Treatise on the House Devil
A Short Novel by Avram Davidson and Grania Davis
With introductions by Peter S. Beagle and Michael Swanwick
122 pages (paperback)

Tachyon Publications
1459 18th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
URL: http://www.tachyonpubl

Set in a milieu of small-town colleges and big-time scholarly egos, The Boss in the Wall, A Treatise on the House Devil is a brief and unsettling novel that unleashes a previously unreported terror into the horror genre. Ed Bagnell of Sumner Public College makes an unusual request of the curator of the collections of the Carolina Coast Museum: to see the "Paper-Man" or "Rustler." He is taken to see some mummified remains in filthy clothes; fragments of Horace Greeley's "special election supplement of the New York Herald of November whatever-it-was, 1864." Not surprisingly, this item is locked away from ordinary visitors, and Bagnell must say a shibboleth to convince the curator of his bona fides: "Boss in the Wall." The head of this particular relic is preserved elsewhere -- in the General Museum of the Province of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Just a few pages later, his friend Vlad Smith (of Bewdley College) has encountered a Paper-Man with tragic consequences.
The "Paper-Man" is a monster that lurks in the walls or wallpaper of those older houses one finds at the fringes of almost any town (I have even located several likely sites within the sedate, suburban and orderly confines of Montclair). In outward form, the Boss in the Wall resembles desiccated wreck of a human being, "horribly bony and filthy," a bum with newspapers stuffed into his ragged clothes.
As Vlad Smith seeks to solve the mystery of what killed his wife's uncle and rendered his young daughter mute with shock, he encounters a varied cast of eccentrics. He also uncovers the paper trail of the unexplained phenomenon in odd pamphlets -- The Treatise on the House Devil, stray articles with such titles as "A True Account Prepared from the Original Testimony of the Capture and Death of a Paper-Man on the Lands and Domains of Jim Oglethorpe . . ." and cranky letters to amateur historical society newsletters. Smith comes across evidence of a conspiracy of scholars to keep this information from the light of day, and survives his own encounter with a Paper-Man. Ed Bagnell is meanwhile pursuing his efforts to identify the Carolina Coast Museum's Paper-Man, with the help of a photograph of the head and a Civil-War ambrotype found at PasTime Paper Antiques. These apparently parallel plotlines are in fact closely intertwined.

The Boss in the Wall is the first book-length work by Avram Davidson published since his death. Davidson wrote drafts of The Boss in the Wall in the early 1980s, and the book was completed by Grania Davis, who was also co-author of Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty. As published, it differs substantially from the 86-page manuscript dated "Nov.4/82" -- in structure, in pacing, and in focus. I have not examined the longer manuscript (of 563 pages) and do not know what material from that version might figure in the book, but it is apparent that this collaboration consisted of more than simple editorial intervention on the part of Grania Davis.
Peter S. Beagle's introduction describes his friendship and long correspondence with Avram. He notes that the The Boss in the Wall is "atypical of Davidson in one major respect: it is a truly terrifying story." (The cover illustration of the Paper-Man is quite startling and effective; while the back panel illustration of an isolated house in the woods is also chilling, in a more atmospheric way.) Michael Swanwick's introduction touches upon the history of Avram's attempts to find a publisher for his earlier drafts, and notes the many "lost epics" of science fiction, such as Philip Jos­ Farmer's original Riverworld, and Avram's Peregrine Tertius and others. Swanwick writes, "But not, for a miracle, The Boss in the Wall."

Some passages from the early version appear nearly word for word, such as the memorable exchange between the dotty Librarian Emeritus H. Brown, historian of the Underground Railroad and the Mustee who has come to steal the head of the Paper-Man from the General Museum. Brown labors under the delusion that the Mustee is a "passenger," a runaway slave; this delusion is not removed by bottle of brandy brought by the Mustee.
Other digressive sections have been tightened up and passages telescoped (among them the concluding scene) to accelerate the race of events as the plot unfolds. The pace of this novella is quite brisk by comparison with Avram's later work.
One of the most memorable passages of dialogue in The Boss in the Wall concerns the three warnings given Vlad Smith at the outset, by an aged black man: "Firstly, get you a cat. They hates cats. Nextly, keep you a fire. They feared o' fire. And lastly, folks, never get between one o' them and the wall." Alas, Smith does not know what to make of this very sound advice.
Where Avram's earlier draft is mainly concerned with the conspiracy of scholars and seems hardly to focus on the monster, The Boss in the Wall successfully brings the monster onto center stage even as it keeps an eye on the activities of the shadowy Committee.

One important correction to the front cover of the paperback must be noted. Avram Davidson was not "Winner of the Nebula Grandmaster Award for Lifetime Achievement." His novels were nominated for the Nebula Award in the 1960s, but he never won the award. In 1986 Avram received his third World Fantasy Award, for lifetime achievement. (My copy of The Boss in the Wall, received on 22 June 1998, has a duplicate page 49 bound into the text. A second copy of the book, received on the same date does not have such a duplicate page.)

Footnote: The Boss in the Wall on the Tour de France:
Cyclists on the Tour de France experienced extreme temperature ranges during the climbs in the Pyrenees -- below freezing at high altitudes and sweltering heat in the valley. Riders found their sweat freezing on their bodies; and spectators were seen handing newspapers to the athletes, which they then stuffed inside their clothes . . . . (Hearsay forwarded by an appreciative reader of The Boss in the Wall.)

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Uncle Avram; or, Some Reflections on Clash of Star Kings
Date: 98-07-08 10:59:14
From: Janwillem van de Wetering

Thanks for the clashing Star Kings that I read with interest and attention and mailed back to you -- it will be of more use in your library than yellowing here on a forgotten shelf. I had just read Ken Carey's Return of the Bird Tribes, a channeling of angelic information wherein several of Avram's Star Kings talk about the 1987-20ll cleansing period that precedes a thousand years of harmonizing, as described in the Mayan calendar. The book also explains the corruption through fear-driven ego power that brought down the Central and South American warrior civilizations and set North American tribes against each other in bloody conflict throughout the dark ages that culminated in the European invasion bringing the downside of Christianity to the Americas. Christ being one of the bird tribes or angels that keep in contact with human life, ultimately incarnating so that the birdtribe teachings could be kept alive even if it would nail his body to the cross.
Avram must have tuned into some of this thought force during his Mexican experimental stay, his reasoning fits in surprisingly well with contemporary published birdtribe information. The clash at the end of Avram's book where "open" humans, descendants of the original spiritual Native Americans, assist the "good" star kings to defeat the "bad" star kings helped by remnants of the fear-driven upstart violent Aztecs.
When I flew past the mountains protecting Mexico City (hidden by its cloud of pollution) I could feel their power, just as Avram describes it in his "potboiler".
Ever since I came to the Americas I have been curious about what went and goes on here. The ground we live on now was the site of an Indian village and is supposed to have a vortex of power that was revived within a medicine wheel set up by a Mohawk shaman who comes once a year from her retreat in Chiapas, and who claims to be a birdtribe, a member of the circle of light, a nucleus of spirits preparing humanity to quantum leap into a new kind of being that will gradually people other planets. Supposedly they can do that now because humanity, aware of its suicidal course, and in constant immediate touch with itself by website and E-mail, is willing to "open up."
I never became her immediate student (my wife did) but I have been accommodating her and her group for many years now, wondering what the hell is going on here. "More bullshit by the bogus captain" as George Carlin has it, or a genuine powerful ray of hope and beauty?
Thanks again for sending me the Star Kings book.
Best wishes

Star Kings continued
Date: 98-07-26 08:33:36
From: Janwillem van de Wetering

Amazing how Avram picked up on that Mexican material. Since then I have done a little more research. From what I can gather (I am reading a manuscript written by a contemporary shaman, a Mohawk lady, who lives in Mexico with her Maya shaman husband, I met them both there, in Chiapas, and she has stayed with us several times), from what I can gather is that this universe, that we happen to be in, is all stars and so far uninhabited planets. The only planet with conscious physical life so far is Earth where the Star Kings, direct projections of the creating divinity, started an experiment, blending spirit and material. The experiment went bad, because of the Revolution of the Ego, but is coming to an end now, in a Day of Judgment where the really dense humans go back into the melting point and the potentially okay humans join up with their star-dust counterparts and become enlightened. This quantum leap in being forms a new species that will, with Earth as the base planet, seek out other planets by space travel and set up happy colonies, in a process that looks like a benevolent Star Trek series. No Klingons and other warrior tribes are to be found anywhere in the Universe, for they would have destroyed themselves because of the incompatibility of technology and egotism, like we are about to destroy ourselves but we won't because of the coming interference by the Star Kings.
I never know what to make of all this. It sounds great and could very well be true. For the time being I watch the human messed-up development with consternation, attempting to ignore it by rowing between the seal rocks of Jericho Bay and watching the seals play during their recess time at low tide.
Best wishes,

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"Vergil Magus: King Without Country"
by Avram Davidson and Michael Swanwick
Asimov's Science Fiction, July 1998, pp. 80-99.

Genealogy, auguries Oriental and Occidental, marital jealousies and sorcerous rivalries all figure in the newest fascicle of the Vergil Magus stories to find its way into print, a splendid tale that unfolds in meandering sonorous paragraphs. The chief narrative line concerns the desperate wishes of Emericho, Count Mar, Master of the Ceremonies to the Emperor, to leave a posterity (an heir to his title and his chastel and "the meadows at which grazed a flock of grizzled sheep of a race seen nowhere else"). Michael Swanwick completed this tale from a 23-page manuscript left unfinished at Avram's death, and has done a faithful and inspired job. Ornate, even rococo lists of places and objects -- words that leave memories of taste as well as echoes of sound when spoken -- adorn the circuitous paths of the tale. In "Vergil Magus: King Without Country," as in stories throughout Avram's career, words are key to the plot and development of the tale: precision in meaning, the usage of words, and their effects.
As the tale opens, Vergil Magus has a house-guest, a Chinese wizard named Ma, sent by the Great Cham of China to the Imperial court:

Through the burning waters of the Erythraean Sea. Skirting first the crocodile-ridden lands of Gog and Magog, and then the hashish-beautiful lands of the Old Man of the Mountains and so to Babylon and the past the ruined stump of Babel's tower and then Byzantium and . . . well, it was a long trip.
At the end of which Ma, with his thousand-drawered pothecary chest, was the sole survivor to prostrate himself before the throne and offer the Chinese Emperor's fondest compliments to his cousin, the King in Rome.
The Roman emperor is sharp-witted enough to turn what might seem a gross insult into a minor matter of the wrong address: "No, no, dear child," he said with a dismissive flick of the fingers. "I am the King of Rome. You want the King in Rome, which would be . . ." He consulted with an advisor. "Vergil. King Vergil, on the Street of Mages. Down the via and second left, you can't miss it."
Fellow adepts Vergil and Ma recognize each other's accomplishments readily enough; it is interesting to see what Vergil makes of the Chinese wizard's ideas in the course of their association. Other narrative pathways in "Vergil Magus: King Without Country" include a mysterious figure who is thwarting Vergil's activities; the marital arrangements and love-life of the Emperor; the habits of the Empress Petronella; and the quest for aphrodisiacs. These paths fork and rejoin to produce a neatly plotted story.
Swanwick's brief introductory paragraph notes: "Davidson was one of the great prose stylists of science fiction, and it was no easy task emulating him. As I wrote, I could feel Avram's ghost standing grumpily at my shoulder, making disapproving noises whenever I got it wrong. He had left clues throughout the text, however, pointing the way to the story's resolution, and I am confident not only that 'Vergil Magus: King Without Country' ends the way he intended, but that I have correctly identified and solved each and every clue he planted. Except one. I never did figure out the onions."
Passages from this story are easily traced to their sources in the Noteboke of Vergil Magus , the miscellaneous compendium of Vergil Magus writings typed in 1991-1992, which Avram also called the Vergil Magus Notebook. The pages of the Noteboke bear "Dean Numbers" (in honor of the late Dean Dickensheet) and the origins of the title "King Without Country" and how Vergil came to be a titular king are to be found on Dean nos. 70-71; most of the opening pages of "Vergil Magus: King Without Country" can be found in Dean Numbers 171-188 (Dean nos. 190-210 are the manuscript of "Vergil and the Dukos").
The aristocratic wizard from Farther Africa is another curious character, a tantalizing hint of Avram's long-standing interest in African antiquity. His relations with Vergil are, alas, all too brief in this story.
I have not found a source in the Noteboke for the passage where Ma explains the theories of Oriental divination to Vergil ("By the reading of small, random, and chaotic events, the greater could be discerned."), then brews a potion and reads Vergil's future (or a future) in the tea leaves. This episode -- indeed the character of the Chinese wizard Ma and the notion of Vergil studying "fang-shwee, path of dragons" -- could be a later interpolation by Avram; or it could be Swanwick's invention. It matters not. This cup of tea simultaneously interrupts and furthers the narrative and is integral to the completed story.

It is at once fascinating and amazing to see some of the scattered tesserae of Avram's Vergil fragments assembled into a luminous, cohesive and artistically satisfying whole.

-- Henry Wessells

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Signed copies of Vergil in Averno

Elliott Swanson of Washington state has kindly donated three copies of Vergil in Averno, signed by Avram, to the Avram Davidson Society. These will be sold in a sealed bid auction to raise money for future projects of the Avram Davidson Society. Vergil in Averno is an elusive book and this presents a unique opportunity for readers of The Nutmeg Point District Mail to acquire a copy. The three books are as follows:

Item 1. Davidson, Avram. Vergil in Averno. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1987. First (and only) edition. Octavo, [6] + 184 pages, bound in white paper-covered boards, with dustjacket.
Signed "Avram Davidson" on front free endpaper, stamped with VM monogram and bearing the additional inscription "Vergil Magus His Mark." Signed again on title page.
As New.
Item 2. Davidson, Avram. Vergil in Averno. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1987. First (and only) edition. Octavo, [6] + 184 pages, bound in white paper-covered boards, with dustjacket.
Signed "Avram Davidson" on front free endpaper, stamped with VM monogram and bearing the additional inscription "Vergil Magus His Mark."
Slight bump at base of spine, faint shelfwear or transfer along top and bottom of rear panel of dustjacket. Half-title stuck to front endpaper at one spot.
Item 3. Davidson, Avram. Vergil in Averno. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1987. First (and only) edition. Octavo, [6] + 184 pages, bound in white paper-covered boards, with dustjacket.
Signed "Avram Davidson" on front free endpaper, stamped with VM monogram and bearing the additional inscription "Vergil Magus His Mark." Signed again on title page.
One-inch closed tears at top and bottom corners of front panel of dust jacket, affecting last two letters of "Davidson" along bottom.

SEND WRITTEN BIDS BY MAIL ONLY. Bids must specify item number, amount of bid in Yankee dollars (USD), bidder's name and address (plus telephone number and/or electronym), and should be postmarked before October 1, 1998. Successful bidders will have two weeks to send in payment. Address all bids to:
The Avram Davidson Society
P.O. Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072.

This announcement will be repeated in the September issue of The Nutmeg Point District Mail, and may also be posted at the Avram Davidson Website.

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FINAL CONTENTS OF The Avram Davidson Treasury

Forthcoming from Tor Books:
The Avram Davidson Treasury
A Tribute Collection
Edited by
Robert Silverberg
and Grania Davis


The Fifties The Sixties The Seventies The Eighties and Nineties

It's going to be a =wonderful= book.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden

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The URL of the Avram Davidson Website is:

The archive of past issues of The Nutmeg Point District Mail is now available; other parts of the Website (including the Index to the Writings of Avram Davidson) have been updated, corrected, and expanded.
Submissions of additional material for the Website are welcome.

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Next issue will be published in September 1998.

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