Thursday, July 8, 2010

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: Avram Davidson, OR ALL THE SEAS WITH OYSTERS; John Varley, THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION

The Contento indices:
Or All the Seas with Oysters Avram Davidson (Berkley Medallion F639, 1962, 50¢, 176pp, pb)
7 · Or All the Seas with Oysters · ss Galaxy May ’58
16 · Up the Close and Doun the Stair · ss F&SF May ’58
33 · Now Let Us Sleep · ss Venture Sep ’57
44 · The Grantha Sighting · ss F&SF Apr ’58
52 · Help! I Am Dr. Morris Goldpepper [Dr. Morris Goldpepper] · nv Galaxy Jul ’57
67 · The Sixth Season · ss F&SF Jun ’60
79 · Negra Sum · ss F&SF Nov ’57
86 · Or the Grasses Grow · ss F&SF Nov ’58
94 · My Boy Friend’s Name Is Jello · ss F&SF Jul ’54
98 · The Golem · ss F&SF Mar ’55
102 · Summerland · ss F&SF Jul ’57
106 · King’s Evil · ss F&SF Oct ’56
114 · Great Is Diana · ss F&SF Aug ’58
123 · I Do Not Hear You, Sir · ss F&SF Feb ’58
131 · Author, Author · ss F&SF Jul ’59
148 · Dagon · ss F&SF Oct ’59
157 · The Montavarde Camera · ss F&SF May ’59
169 · The Woman Who Thought She Could Read · ss F&SF Jan ’59

The Persistence of Vision John Varley (Quantum/Dial, 1978, hc); UK pb edition (Futura 1978) as In the Hall of the Martian Kings.
· Introduction · Algis Budrys · in
· The Phantom of Kansas · nv Galaxy Feb ’76
· Air Raid [as by Herb Boehm] · ss IASFM Spr ’77
· Retrograde Summer · nv F&SF Feb ’75
· The Black Hole Passes · nv F&SF Jun ’75
· In the Hall of the Martian Kings · na F&SF Feb ’77
· In the Bowl · nv F&SF Dec ’75
· Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance · nv Galaxy Jul ’76
· Overdrawn at the Memory Bank · nv Galaxy May ’76
· The Persistence of Vision · na F&SF Mar ’78

So, Avram Davidson came away from service in the US and Israeli armies and started publishing in the Jewish-American press in the late '40s (that fiction collected in Everybody Has Somebody in Heaven), and by 1954 he'd sold his allusive, charmingly offhanded, elegant "My Boyfriend's Name is Jello" to F&SF, his first fictional contribution (I believe) to a fully secular magazine, the one he would eventually edit. His more conventionally jokey "The Golem" the next year was his first fantasticated story to make a big splash, still full of inventive detail and long on charm...the title story of the collection was one of the first fantasy stories to win the Hugo Award, ostensibly a science fiction prize (albeit "Or All the Seas..."--about how missing paperclips grow into bicycles, among other related matters--was arguably sf of a sort...). Not that Davidson couldn't write straightforward, and pointed, sf, as "Now Let Us Sleep" demonstrates...not his first story to deal with genocide, but one of the most popular. Meanwhile, "I Do Not Hear You, Sir" was indicative of his growing interest and facility in crime fiction, mixed with the fantastic or simply with the baroque (he would earn Edgar and EQ Awards in his first decade of working in CF and true-crime writing). I still have yet to read another writer so engagingly brilliant at his best...several come close, but even Saul Bellow at his most playful or Jorge Luis Borges at his most relaxed only approximate the inspired, erudite dazzlement that Davidson could employ. Guy Davenport, whose work had a similar quality at times, was usually careful to note this as well, as did most of his fellow writers.

John Varley swept into the field in the mid 1970s, and reminded a lot of people of a Boomer Heinlein...though Heinlein was still with us, and writing mostly very poor novels, some of the worst of his uneven if nonethess field-changing career (Heinlein is second only to H. G. Wells in his influence on sf among writers...with Fritz Leiber and J. G. Ballard and perhaps even foremother Mary Shelley not quite up to the degree of his inspiration for those who followed...while writing piles of miserable fiction which eventually outweighed even his great work). But Heinlein came in with a school of impressive writers clustered around editor John W. Campbell, or reacting against JWC...while Varley reminded me even more of Stanley G. Weinbaum, who revolutionized sf with his "A Martian Odyssey" several years before JWC took on his editorial duties, then died a few years later after a string of less-influential but still widely-hailed work. Varley, as my friend Laura noted upon reading this book, sure loved sex...and with a hippyish abandon that manages to rationalize the adult-adolescent relations in some of these stories (most of the lovers, however, are age-appropriate to each other, even when they have migrated to new youthful bodies...Varley's characters often live in a future where one changes bodies as we might now change clothes, with gender swapping a matter of course). Meanwhile, Varley offered vivid description of how humans might be able to live on the neighbor planets, and what their lives might entail there, what they might find. For some reason, the quick, grim "Air Raid" gained a sustained audience appreciation, enough so that a bad film and not first-rate noveliztion by Varley would take up a lot of his creative effort over the decade after its publication...when first published in Asimov's, Varley had put his usual writing name on the other (and, I think as I believe he did, better) story he had in that issue ("Goodbye, Robinson Crusoe"). But the first story I read by Varley was the title story, a near-future speculation that had a built-in appeal to the alienated, bright young reader I was, and not I alone (as it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for its year) much so that I could and did accept, for the purposes of the tale, the notion that the community of the deaf and blind described might have developed a superior way of life...even with the story's organic slip over into fantasy by its end. Varley wouldn't write a good novel for two decades after this book was published, but with short fiction of this caliber of invention and casual conceptual challenge, he didn't need to.

Wild invention and deepset humanist compassion bridge both these collections.

For more Friday "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog...for last week's limited list of FFBs, see below.


Jerry House said...

Great selections, Todd. Both of these books blew me away when I first read them.

David Cranmer said...

Whew, Todd. I've said before when you review,you really review. Most of what you wrote was new to me and I'm intrigued to read some of his work. If I will is another thing because (like everyone else) the TBR is outta control. But thanks for a sharp FFB.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just love that title: the Varley one. Great reviews.

George said...

Some people find Avram Davidson an acquired taste, Todd. But Varley's THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION is a classic.

Randy Johnson said...

I'm embarrassed to admit, Todd, though I've read books by both, I've not read these two. I should, but as David said, my TBR pile is threatening the house now. Especially since I downloaded Amazon's Kindle application for computers. Both four rarities already this week.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, folks. My passion for Varley's work isn't quite as great as it was when I was in the Golden Age/13, but he remains one of the game-changers with the strengths I enumerate above, and I'm glad he's managed to return to the field. My love of Davidson's work is unabated, and George, Davidson's work is not all of one piece...the discursive joys of, say, "The Lord of Central Park" are not replicated quite the same way in such lean, hard stories as "Now Let Us Sleep" or "The Necessity of His Condition." Of course, then there are the Esterhazy stories and to some extent the Limekillers among others, which if anything lean the other way, crazed labyrinths indeed.

Todd Mason said...

And, of course, what also bridges these two books is that they are the first collections by both writers. And happily not the last, in either case...

C. Margery Kempe said...

New to me -- and thrown off by it not being Friday! There are more books forgotten than I will ever read (or write for that matter). Somehow the thought fills me with despair.

Todd Mason said...

Better to have such a world ahead of us than to be too jaded to want to read (or otherwise experience) more, I suspect...

Todd Mason said...

Though, yes, more plunderers of these treasures of the past would be nice, indeed...or even reasonable royalty payments on new, easily avallable editions...