The Best from "Fantasy and Science Fiction", 13th Series PDF Print E-mail

Avram Davidson ed., The Best from "Fantasy and Science Fiction", 13th Series (1964)

Reviewed by John Hertz
July 2008

Retrieved from the Internet Archive (originally at Collecting Science Fiction Books; copyright remains with the author). Used by permission.

"We are all of us one-of-a-kind writers, really, but Avram was more one-of-a-kind than most,” said Robert Silverberg in The Avram Davidson Treasury.  Like Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, like R.A. Lafferty, like Gerard Manley Hopkins outside our field, Davidson was both fine and distinctive.

As an author he could be simple or complex. What could be simpler than his short story “The Golem”? He could be recondite — the word “recondite” may itself be recondite, alas — but he did not speak only to the love of learning; take “The Affair at Lahore Cantonment”, which won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and in which the Kipling reference is brilliant for whoever sees it, while everyone else is still hospitably served.

He was a kind of miracle, as shows in his short wonderful term editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He kept up his own writing, he followed Alfred Bester as the F&SF book reviewer, and he brought out others’ marvels.

Behold this anthology.

He received these suitably thirteen stories; the history of literature is full of things that were sent but not received. Perhaps he improved them; the public record rightly does not say, and although some of the authors are alive, and I know some of them, I have not asked. He selected them. He saw and provided achievement other than his own.

Here is Jack Vance's "Green Magic", a candidate for his best though he widely excelled before and since; it was fifteen years later the title story of a collection. Here is Ray Nelson's first story to be anthologized, "Eight O'Clock in the Morning", a strange look at freedom from the man who fifteen years earlier invented the propeller beanie.

Many stories here are strange looks at freedom. Shall we say that was in the air then? Why not? It may be in the air now. How can art not be of its time? The best will also be of our time. That how  I can't tell you. But we can try to appreciate it.

Here is Richard McKenna's "Hunter, Come Home". If his best in our field may be "Casey Agonistes", a rival is "Hunter", his most stfnal — our old adjective (pronounced "STEF-nal"), a relic of the word Hugo Gernsback wanted, scientifiction. The science is biology. "Hunter" was the cover story for the March 1963 F&SF, with the Mordinmen and the fate of Midori Blake well illustrated by Ed Emshwiller, who did more covers for F&SF than anyone else. Those who know the story will like my calling it a rival.

Here is Davidson's own "What Strange Stars and Skies", also later to entitle a collection. It is less simple and less fantastic than his "Where Do You Live, Queen Esther?" but it is as poetic and just. His wonderful women! He shows them vivid and victorious, smart and strong, quiet and quirky, which fifteen years after his death we note he does not neglect.

Zenna Henderson published seventeen stories about the People, who looked so much like Earth folk that when their planet succumbed to a natural disaster, and their ships fled through interstellar space, and some landed on our world, they could fit in — or almost, see "Pottage". Not until the ninth, "Deluge" here, are we told of the escape. Henderson's gift is to sail at the edge of sweetness. One false tack and she would be saccharine. She isn't. When Priscilla & Mark Olson of the New England S-F Association's NESFA Press edited the 1995 collection Ingathering, Priscilla in her introduction called these "stories of us at our best, as we hope to be, and where (with work and with luck) we may be in some future."

Arrangement too is an art. Davidson begins with "The Golden Brick" by P.M. Hubbard, ends with "Deluge". Before "Hunter" is "Treaty in Tartessos" by Karen Anderson; after, "McNamara's Fish" by Ron Goulart. Nor do the comic and tragic simply alternate; before "Strange" comes "They Don't Make Life Like They Used To" by Bester, which is, at least, both. There are resonances. The sea keeps coming in. It has a silent part in "Treaty". Ships go away at the end of "Brick" and "Deluge" — leaving us with what different kinds of happiness!

Let us take in some of the voices.

Vance:

He explored much of the green realm, finding so much beauty that he feared his brain might burst…. Nourishment came in a thousand different forms: from pink eggs which burst into a hot sweet gas, suffusing his entire body; from passing through a rain of stinging metal crystals; from simple contemplation of the proper symbol. Homesickness for Earth waxed and waned.

McKenna:

"Miss Blake, young Craig has clearly been your dupe, as you insist he has," Barim said…. "Invent a motive, then. Say you hate Mordin. Say you hate me."
"I hate no one. I'm sorry for you."
"I'll give you a reason!" Miss Ames jumped to her feet…. "Your reckless, irresponsible use of translocation endangers us all! Accept defeat and go home!"
She helped Barim recover his composure. He smiled…. "We neither accept defeat nor fear death. We require no tears of anyone."

Anderson:

It was darker inside the tent than out, despite the luxury of three lamps burning at once. "I hope you've dined well? May I offer you something?" Kynthides asked politely, with considerable misgivings. The centaur probably wouldn't know what to do with a barley loaf, and as for wine — well, there wasn't a drop within five miles of camp. Or there had better not be.

Each of these speakers is wrong, as it happens, but their authors do not make them cheap. The first, Howard Fain, is transported by learning, but not enough. We are left to realize he never thinks what good he might do others. Barim the Huntmaster is not smug. We may dislike the ways of Planet Mordin, but the courage of the Mordinmen has truth. The centaur too may be more noble than his opponent. With Vance's strange poetry we have nourishment in a thousand forms. With McKenna's drama of strength and ignorance we have human pathos that makes the scientific method, mistakenly applied as it is, our protagonist. With Anderson's horse story we have corroborative detail to give artistic verisimilitude.

Short fiction has been called the peak of s-f writing. Mike Resnick gave the novelette a moving tribute on Hugo Awards Night at Chicon VI, the 2000 World Science Fiction Convention. Four of these thirteen are novelettes, Bester, Davidson, Henderson, McKenna; the rest are short stories. Focus can achieve much in little. Shakespeare's plays run three hours, Dickens' novels run eight hundred pages; but Shakespeare also wrote sonnets, before Dickens was Austen, and in Japanese the highest form of writing for a thousand years was the 31-syllable waka, which finally, not short enough, gave birth to the 17-syllable haiku. The Roman orator Cicero said, "Please forgive me for writing such a long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one."

Michelangelo when asked how he sculpted said, "I get a block of marble and chip away anything that doesn't look like a Madonna and Child." This jest has truth. It presupposes not only his vision but his focus. In our field A.J. Budrys said, "Always ask yourself: Why are they telling me this?"

"Peggy and Peter Go to the Moon" by Don White is even shorter than "Eight" or "Treaty". Everything about it is right, although everyone in it is wrong, really wrong. Nanny helps Peter on with his new red mittens. He is nineteen. Peggy is wearing her mink-collared gold lamé party frock, the one she hadn't worn since Rosemary Jane's party celebrating the defection of her father to the Russians. Cook has come (not "the cook", they're British) with sandwiches, and a nice Thermos of hot Bonox and rum. Off they go from their father Professor Love's secret rocket range, the little Loves. Off go Professor and ex-nanny. His last words are cream.

Last Updated ( Monday, 11 April 2016 )
 
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