Mon
Dec 3 2012 10:00am

eDiscover... The Other Nineteenth Century by Avram Davidson

eDiscover is a new series on Tor.com that highlights sci-fi/fantasy titles recently brought back into print as ebooks.

Rereading and rediscovering The Other Nineteenth Century by Avram Davidson, recently rereleased in ebookFor me, Avram Davidson’s The Other Nineteenth Century is a true rediscovery: When I was a young SF/F fan in the mid-1980s, I kept up my subscriptions to Asimov’s, Amazing, and Fantasy & Science Fiction with a completist’s enthusiasm, so based on the publication dates given for the short stories in this collection, I must have read “The Engine of Samoset Erastus Hale, and One Other, Unknown” and, quite possibly, “El Vilvoy de las Islas” when they first came out. And though this is the first time I’ve stumbled upon “The Odd Old Bird,” I had seen a few other stories about Dr. Englebert Eszterhazy and the mythical empire of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania—it was those that had stood out most in my memory, and made me jump at the chance to read this anthology when it was offered.

The Other Nineteenth Century is a grab bag of unusual stories, and not easily classifiable. It starts off with an alternate history in which George II’s son Frederick doesn’t die in youth and embraces the American colonies, who embrace him with equal ardor (“O Brave Old World”), then segues to an outlandish traveler’s tale (“Great Is Diana”). A cheeky take on Coleridge’s writing of “Kubla Khan” (“One Morning with Samuel, Dorothy, and William”) is followed by a barely disguised account of the death of Shelley, propelled by an intriguing theory (“Traveller from an Antique Land”)—then there’s “The Man Who Saw the Elephant,” a comic vignette about a Quaker who chases down a traveling circus to catch a glimpse of “the great beast which the Lord hath made.” And that only accounts for about the first third of the collection... which does, eventually, work its way up to the 20th century, but even then the stories retain a marvelous (and largely unforced) Old World vibe.

Davidson’s literary voice had a fantastic range, with a keen ear for dialects and personality. There’s a panache to his stories, so elegant you’ll be prepared to go along with even the hoariest of genre clichés, like the curiosity shop with a supernaturally bizarre inventory or the discovered manuscript, just for the pleasure of spending time in the worlds of “The Montavarde Camera” or “The Account of Mr. Ira Davidson.” (That last, by the way, is one of the most unsettling bits of metafiction I’ve read.) Henry Wessells and Grania Davis (Davidson’s widow) did an excellent job of pulling together stories that hadn’t previously been anthologized in An Avram Davidson Treasury; this is one case where “the best of the rest” is anything but sloppy seconds.


Ron Hogan is the founding curator of Beatrice.com, one of the first websites to focus on books and authors. Lately, he’s been reviewing science fiction and fantasy for Shelf Awareness.

8 comments
Michael Walsh
1. MichaelWalsh
For more Davidson there's my publication of Limekiller - still only in a dead tree edition, but such a nice edition!
Shelly wb
2. shellywb
This is a great idea for a series! Thanks for doing this and giving me a chance to discover older gems.
JohnnyMac
3. JohnnyMac
Mr. Hogan, thank you for alerting me to the fact that this excellent collection is now available for e-readers!

I like your description of it as "...a grab bag of unusual stories and not easily classifiable.", something that could as easily be said of Avram himself.

And if you enjoyed AD's stories of Dr. Eszterhazy get yourself a copy of "The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy" only $30 for a gorgeous hardcover edition from Owlswick Press. This collects all the Doctor Eszterhazy stories (except for "The Odd Old Bird"); both the original series that appeared in F&SF in the 70s (and were published in paperback as "The Enquiries of Dr. Eszterhazy") and the later stories that were published in Asimov's.

I will second Michael Walsh's recommendation of "Limekiller"; it collects some of Avram's best work. By the way, Mr. Walsh, any plans for making it available in an e-reader format?
JohnnyMac
4. MarcL
Davidson's underappreciated books cannot possibly be "rediscovered" often enough. Keep 'em coming!
Michael Walsh
5. MichaelWalsh
"I will second Michael Walsh's recommendation of "Limekiller"; it
collects some of Avram's best work. By the way, Mr. Walsh, any plans
for making it available in an e-reader format?"

I acquired only book rights - the electronic rights remain with the estate. And the rights to the intros/forewords by Lucius Shepard and Peter Beagle remain with them.
JohnnyMac
6. Gardner Dozois
I strongly recommend both this book and LIMEKILLER--wonderful stuff.

If the estate is not putting Davidson's old titles out as ebooks, they should be. A writer like Davidson, who appeals to a small, elite readership, is perfect for ebooks, where you don't have to carry the costs of paper editions.
JohnnyMac
7. JohnnyMac
MichaelWalsh @5, thank you for answering my question. And, also, thank you for the Limekiller stories into a book and a very well made book at that!

Gardner Dozois @6, Davidson's estate (which, I believe, is primarily Grania Davis (who was once his wife and remained a good friend even after they divorced)) does seem to making some effort to make his works available as ebooks. His classic fantasy novel "The Phoenix and the Mirror", for example, is available for Kindle for a mere $3.03. Another great value is "The Avram Davidson Treasury" a fine selection of his short stories published after his death for only $7.99 (and now that I think to check I see that you provided an intro for one the stories therein).

What I really wish they would do would be to round up the many stories and essays by AD that were never collected but only published in magazines or anthologies. Some of these I have but only in form of now falling apart paperbacks or old copies of Asimov's or F&SF. Others were lost in the chaos of moving or only read once in public libraries when I was too broke to buy magazines. Putting these stories into ebooks would be both a work of mercy for AD's fans and a smart business move (I doubt these collections would ever be blockbusters but once available they would sell for generations).

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