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The Other Nineteenth Century
     

The Other Nineteenth Century

by Avram Davidson
 

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A New Collection of Long Out-of-Print Stories From One of the Greatest Fantasists of the Twentieth Century

Avram Davidson, who died in 1993, was widely regarded as one of the most outstanding authors of short fantasy fiction in our time. This collection comprises his distinctive historical fantasies-tales of strange Mitteleuropas, of magic in Victorian

Overview

A New Collection of Long Out-of-Print Stories From One of the Greatest Fantasists of the Twentieth Century

Avram Davidson, who died in 1993, was widely regarded as one of the most outstanding authors of short fantasy fiction in our time. This collection comprises his distinctive historical fantasies-tales of strange Mitteleuropas, of magic in Victorian England and on the American frontier. Here are "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire," "Traveller from an Antique Land," and "What Strange Stars and Skies"; here are dragons, cameras, and "The Singular Incident of the Dog on the Beach." Witty, whimsical, dark, and strange, these tales of times and places that almost were will leave even the most jaded readers amazed. No one has ever written like Avram Davidson, before or since.



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This wonderfully eclectic and literate collection assembles most of the late author's short SF and fantasy not already reprinted in The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998), edited by Robert Silverberg and Grania Davis. The only well-known piece here is "What Strange Stars and Skies," a reworking of the Lady Bountiful legend with a slight Yiddish accent. The rest is still a virtual cross-section of the work of one of the field's most undeservedly obscure geniuses. "Great Is Diana" brings to life (in several ways) the distinctly un-virginal Diana of the Ephesians. "The Singular Incident of the Dog on the Beach," a brief and delicious Sherlock Holmes pastiche, mentions neither the great detective nor his medical sidekick by name. The Samuel of "One Morning with Samuel, Dorothy, and William" is none other than Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the romantic poet, and we see what really happened when that unexpected visitor from Porlock interrupted the composition of "Kubla Khan." Even when he addresses himself to what we would now call alternate history, as in "O Brave Old World!," the author's historical scholarship and command of the English language rapidly turn it into something rich and strange. One would hesitate to call this book essential for anyone except Davidson's faithful devotees, but for them it is absolutely essential. (Jan. 9) FYI: Davidson died in 1993. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This wonderfully eclectic and literate collection assembles most of the late author's short SF and fantasy not already reprinted in The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998), edited by Robert Silverberg and Grania Davis. The only well-known piece here is "What Strange Stars and Skies," a reworking of the Lady Bountiful legend with a slight Yiddish accent. The rest is still a virtual cross-section of the work of one of the field's most undeservedly obscure geniuses. "Great Is Diana" brings to life (in several ways) the distinctly un-virginal Diana of the Ephesians. "The Singular Incident of the Dog on the Beach," a brief and delicious Sherlock Holmes pastiche, mentions neither the great detective nor his medical sidekick by name. The Samuel of "One Morning with Samuel, Dorothy, and William" is none other than Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the romantic poet, and we see what really happened when that unexpected visitor from Porlock interrupted the composition of "Kubla Khan." Even when he addresses himself to what we would now call alternate history, as in "O Brave Old World!," the author's historical scholarship and command of the English language rapidly turn it into something rich and strange. One would hesitate to call this book essential for anyone except Davidson's faithful devotees, but for them it is absolutely essential. (Jan. 9) FYI: Davidson died in 1993. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another posthumous collection following The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998) gathers Davidson's more obscure but delightful alternate histories, literary pastiches, and comic meditations on a past that never existed. In addition to his prodigious ability to write formula mysteries and "straight" science fiction (i.e., about space ships and planets), Davidson (d. 1993) adored the arcane furbelows of the many historical periods, finding particular enjoyment in the Victorian era. Though not all the 23 tales here are set in the 19th century ("O Brave Old World!" imagines that George II's eldest son Frederick lived long enough to emigrate to the American colonies and incite rebellion-in Britain!), but they crackle with Davidson's wit (in "One Morning with Samuel, Dorothy and William," Coleridge, before penning Kublai Khan, downs a "dreadful substance in the vile vial" and responds with "a glottal sound of gratification" until he is, alas, interrupted) and with his love of Victorian melodrama, as in the hilarious "Dr. Bumbo Singh," in which the very bad doctor agrees to concoct, for a fee, "a smell disgusting beyond disgust . . . a smell which will drive men mad!" The collection includes "Mickelrede; or, The Slayer and the Staff," Michael Swanwick's marvelous completion of a Davidson's unfinished "ghost novel" about a magical slide rule and a portion of 20th-century northern California that can't stop help itself from slipping into a mythic past.
From the Publisher
“The rediscovery of Avram Davidson is a true resurrection.” —Guy Davenport, Harper’s

“Wonderfully eclectic and literate...A wonderful cross-section of one of the field’s most undeservedly obscure geniuses.” —Publishers Weekly

“Davidson was beyond question one of the unjustly neglected writers of the 20th century, an author of immense talent.” —Gene Wolfe

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429972680
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
12/20/2001
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
798,374
File size:
393 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Other Nineteenth Century

A Story Collection by Avram Davidson


By Avram Davidson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2001 Grania Davis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7268-0



CHAPTER 1

O BRAVE OLD WORLD!

All morning long the bells had been ringing, those bells which had been for a while silenced so that the sound of them might instantly signal if enemy troops were to land. But, by common consent and by clerical permission, they now sounded something else entirely. The reddish-gray-haired man looked up from the sheet of parchment, of which he must by now, it seemed, know every letter, so often had he scanned it. Immersed though he was in his text and his thoughts, still he lifted his head at length and spoke.

"It sounds as though every church in the city is ringing its bells," he murmured.

The friend and countryman who had so long and so often stood by his side, figuratively and literally, said, "Yes, and even in the suburbs ... the Liberties, as they call them here."

The reddish-gray-haired man made a soft, musing noise, turned again to the document, then half-raised his head once more. "One might call them liberty bells, then," he said. Another thought brought his head all the way up. "What was it," he asked, "that text from Scripture — you recall, don't you? — on the bell in Philadelphia?"

His friend and countryman considered, nodded. "'Proclaim liberty throughout the land — '"

"Aye, liberty. The Jews had a word for it. And 'unto all the inhabitants thereof,' aye...." He nodded, sighed. "Philadelphia," he said.

"Williamsburg."

Richmond."

"The Chickahominy."

"The Rapahannock."

At the door, a burly, tousle-headed fellow, cheeks stubby and shirt (none too fresh) open at his shaggy breast, looked in, listened. His face showed a mixture of impatience and compassion. Often had he listened to these and other refugees recounting, as a litany, the names of their towns and provinces. (One could not always tell them apart.) Sometimes the names of the New World (perhaps Brave, perhaps just Bold) merely echoed the names of the Old. (O servant exalted above the master!) Sometimes they seemed a concatenation of barbarous sybilants and gutterals from the aboriginal tongues. Ah, well. To duty.

"Are you quite ready for us, then?" he asked the two. They turned.

"Ah, Charles. I should think —"

"Ah, Charles. Just one more moment. A last look. You understand."

"Of course. Of course. No wish to rush you." He coughed; he raised his eyebrows. The reddish-gray-haired man went back to his text. The friend moved quietly and, gently and tactfully (he was not always quiet, or gentle, or tactful) eased the newcomer away.

"He won't be much longer at it, I promise. I know."

"Yes, yes. You've known him a long time."

"Since his hair was quite red."

Arm in arm they moved out into the corridor. There, all was controlled turmoil. Country squires and yeoman farmers with mud on their boots spoke confidentially to craftsmen smelling of machine oil and the forge. Bishops, white sleeved, listened with modified majesty to inferior clergy, all in black save for the white bands at the neck. And a member of the old peerage, head covered with a wig of archaic cut, nodded to the comments of an old man wrapped in a ragged — and still, technically, illegal — tartan. It was at least as likely that this last anachronism had crossed, recently and hastily, from long exile in France, than that he had descended from Scotland. The Estates, as the Scottish parliament was called since the revisions of the Act of Union, had done little more with the use of their regained powers than to pass innumerable acts of outlawry and attainder upon each other. But this, too, would soon enough pass away.

Very, very soon, in fact.

On seeing the two approach, one gentleman, evidently in a condition of total confusion as well as in court dress (court dress, sword and all), buttonholed the burly fellow with an agitated air.

"Where will it end, Charles?" he asked. "Where will it all end?"

"All's well that ends well," was the half-muttered reply, then added, after a moment's recollection, "Doctor."

As though needing no more than this acknowledgment of his profession, the doctor at once said, "As to where it all began, why, say I, it all began with the fatal tennis ball. Or, if I may be permitted to say it —" here he glanced around, defiantly "— the insufficiently fatal tennis ball."

"Water under the bridge," Charles muttered, tugged a watch out, glanced, then muttered again, "Water under the bridge.... London Bridge...."

But the medical man's phrase was overheard, was appreciated, was at once repeated and passed from mouth to mouth. "The insufficiently fatal tennis ball...."

And the bells rang out and the bells rang on. St. Paul's, St. Martin's, St. Clemens, Bow, St. Mary-le-Bone....

"The insufficiently fatal tennis ball...."


The Stuarts, as even the handful of still-unreconstructed Jacobites would needs admit, the Stuarts had their faults. But they had not hated their heirs. That is, the Jameses and the Charleses had not hated one another. Anne, to be sure, now, Anne — Anne had certainly shown no fondness for, first, Sophia, Dowager Electress of Hanover, and for Sophia's son, George. But they were only Anne's distant cousins, and were far off in what someone later was to term "a despicable Electorate." Poor Anne! Last of the Stuarts actually to occupy the throne, thirteen (thirteen!) pregnancies, and no heir to outlive her, she might have been (and was) excused for not wishing the sight or presence of her so-distant kin.

But it was left for the kin themselves to exemplify the phrase of Elizabeth, her sentiment that "she could not bear to hear the mention of a Successor." And yet, even so, Elizabeth, too, had had some reason. Had she not? "The Queen of Scots hath a bonny Babe, and I am but a barren stock." Thus Elizabeth. But what reason had the sovereigns of the House of Hanover for hating, and for so hating, their own heirs? Heirs who were of their own bodies lawfully begotten — and lawfully present. Had not George I, at a court levee, publicly cursed his son, the future George II, forbidding him thenceforth to attend cabinet meetings, cabinet meetings from which, there no longer being any interpreter whom German George felt he could trust, the king thenceforth absented himself from. (And a good thing, too, said many.)

Even this, however, had faded beside the subsequent hatred of George II for his own heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales. The English, not used to the sort of thing which was evidently traditional in Hanover, the English had murmured, "Poor Fred...." Poor Fred, indeed. The king could not, after all, immure the Prince of Wales in a palace prison, however much he called him "scoundrel." Nor could he cut his son off from revenues which either had been voted as "supply" by Act of Parliament, or accrued by ancient English law and custom, via the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster. However much he thought and called him "fool."

Frederick, Prince of Wales, was, however, subject to all the coldness, the scorn, hatred, spleen and exclusion of which his father, George II, was capable. He was left to molder in his own petty counter-court, attended only by those politicians who were not merely out of favor but entertained no hopes of ever being again in favor while George lived. The prince was left to admire the poems of Pope. And he was left to play tennis.

It was the blow upon or near the breastbone, the blow from a hard-struck tennis ball, which gave the princely physician a concern. "I fear me," the meddlesome apothecary had murmured, "I fear me that this blow might be the occasion of an imposthume. And that, should Your Royal Highness suffer at some future date from a severe cold ... an inflammation on the lungs...."

"Is nothing to be done?" inquired the prince, somewhat languid from opium and ipecac. "Am I so soon to leave nine orphans? [There had been, after all, one other thing in which the king was powerless to constrain him.] Should we send for the chaplain?" But the physician-in-ordinary was not ready to send for the chaplain.

"I should propose to bleed Your Royal Highness once again," he said. The Prince of Wales, however, was not ready to be bled once again. "Then I should propose to purge Your Royal Highness once again." But the prince absolutely refused to be purged once again.

The physician-in-ordinary threw up his hands. "In that case," he said. And stopped. "In that case.... In that case, I must recommend ... in fact.... In that case," he said, firmly, "I indeed must insist upon Your Royal Highness taking a long and immediate change of air."

As was to be expected, the king managed to contain his grief.

"A change of air? Vhere?" he demanded.

"The Isle of Wight has been suggested, Your Majesty."

"Der Isle of Vhat?" A map was brought and the Isle of Wight pointed out to the king, who was pleased to give a grunt, interpreted as a Gracious Assent.

However and however.

"His Royal Highness does not, it seems, desire to go to the Isle of Wight."

The king had been playing backgammon with his mistress and already felt bored with this interfering subject.

"Teufelsdreck! Dhen vhere he vants to go?" It was intimated that the prince had expressed a preference for either Hanover or France as the scene of his recuperation. The king gave a shout of rage and kicked the backgammon board across the room. Hanover? Never! Hanover.... In Hanover.... In Hanover the air was sweeter, the water purer, the food better, the populace more loyal ("— than in England" being understood). Hanover was reserved for the king himself to go to for changes of air. And as for France —

"He vould intrigue vhit der French king! He vould efen intrigue vhit der pretender!" It was pointed out to him that the pretender now lived in Italy, and rather meanly, on a papal pension. But the king would hear no arguments. Once let Frederick set foot upon the Continent, why, what would prevent his going even to Italy? "Der force of graffity, maybe?" he screamed, with immense sarcasm.

"Nein! Nein! He can go to der Isle of Vight — or he can go to Hellundundif he doesn't vant to go to Hell, den he can go to America!"

At this, the royal mistress was unwise enough to allow a snort of laughter to escape her lips. The entire court waited breathlessly for the lightnings. But the king, having had his attention called to the fact of his having made a joke, abruptly decided to enjoy it. His hard-bitten little red face grew redder still, and the court, breathing inward sighs of relief, joined in the now royally permissible laughter.

And on this merry gale, the prince's vessel was wafted out to sea.


First aboard the Anna Maria was the royal and proprietarial governor. His cocked hat showing above the railing as he climbed the ladder, he was demanding, "Have ye got me snuff with ye? Have ye got me madeira? Have ye brought me mail, me newsletters?" With a heave and a ho he clambered on deck, looked all around. "Have ye got any pretty wenches that have come to seek their fortunes in the new-found world? Have ye —" And here his face, which had just that moment focused on a slender and somewhat pale passenger, underwent an absolutely fascinating transformation.

"Your Royal Highness!" he bawled, and did not so much fall upon his knees as on his face.

It was in this manner that Frederick, Prince of Wales, came to America.

The king, it was reported, had near had an apoplexy when he heard the news. But he had, after all, he had given his permission. After a fashion, no doubt, but given it he had. And in the hearing of all the court. There was, then, nothing he could do about it.

From The Court Circular and Gazette:

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, and their Children [here followed a list], have, by Reason of His Majesty's Most Gracious Solicitude, engaged upon a visit to the American Plantations, in order that His Royal Highness may recruit his Health.


No member of the royal family had ever before set foot upon the soil of the American plantations ("the colonies," as it was now becoming fashionable to call them). And, suddenly, in one stroke, here were eleven of them! They moved into the home of the royal and proprietarial governor, the r. and p.g. moved into the house of the lieutenant-governor and the lieutenant-governor moved into an inn. The governor's home was, for the Americas, palatial. But it was, after all, crowded with all of them there. It was damned crowded!

"Let's build a little house," the prince suggested. "Eh, my dearest? Shall we build a little house along the river? Is that not a capital suggestion?" The princess thought that it was a capital suggestion. All her life, after all, she had lived in houses built for others. The notion that she might now have a voice in designing one for her own use fell upon her ears like harpsichord music played by an orchestra of angels. The house was to be on the Delaware River, and not on the Thames? Bless you, it might have been on the Styx for all she cared! And in the meanwhile ... in the meanwhile ... for it was crowded in the governor's house ... well, what about a visitation of the other colonies?

And so it was arranged. The youngermost ones of the royal infants remained in Pennsylvania with their nurses; the eldest of the royal infants accompanied their royal parents. New Jersey and New York had heard with curiosity what they now beheld with enthusiasm. Connecticut had been cool, but the coolness was now warmed. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island and Providence plantations had, in fact, been skeptical about the whole thing: who knew but that it was some sort of a flummery tale concocted down there in Pennsylvany? What would a prince be doing in America, anyway? It was all obviously, or half-obviously, a sort of granny's tale. Prince? There was no —

And then, thunderation! Here he was!

And would you just look-see what he was doing!

Previous examples of British officialdom had merely sniffed at the coarse foodstuffs of the frontier, hastily ordered their cooks to prepare some French kickshaws ("Or at least a decent dish of mutton!"). Not Fred. The capacity of Frederick for the New England dinner, boiled or otherwise, was prodigious.

"Look at him a-tuckin' inta the baked beans!"

"Didn't do a injustice to the hasty puddin', either!"

"How many bowls o' chowder and how many quohogs'd the prince eat down't the clambake?"

Up came the First Selectman of the Township of East Neantic, which was, so to speak, catering the affair; sweating and smiling slightly (in East Neantic they smile slightly where others would beam), he called his order for "more o'th' ha'nch o'venison fr His R'yal Highness!"

And, not very long later: "More roast beef fr the Prince o' Wales!"

In England, venison came from the King's Deer, and the king was not inclined to share. In England, one had not known that bears could be roasted; in England, one had, in fact, never even seen a bear!

The New Englanders looked at each other, looked at their prince — who gave them back a hearty grin, somewhat greasy about the chops — looked at each other again.

"Likes our vittles, do he? He do!"

"Guess we ain't sech barbarious critters after all!" they said to each other.

And they said: "Well, sir, I snum!"

"I snum!"

Even at this date one may wonder: why had Fred such an appetite, such a zest for things? Well, for one thing, the provinces of the New World were ... well, they were new! The hand of man had not yet had time to tame them as in Europe, trim them into shape like yew hedges, turn their sparkling rivers into tame canals or drainage ditches. And, in that pure air, under that clear sky, the despised son of what a later New England writer was to call a "snuffy old drone from the German hive" seemed to enter a new youth — almost without ever having, under the cold gaze and hot scorn, almost without ever having had a previous one.

Here, no one called him "fool!"

Here, no one called him "scoundrel!"

And, perhaps best of all, here, no one called him "poor Fred!"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Other Nineteenth Century by Avram Davidson, Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2001 Grania Davis. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Avram Davidson was born in 1923. He won the Hugo Award, the Edgar Award, the Ellery Queen Award, and three World Fantasy Awards. He died in 1993.


Avram Davidson was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1923. After spending some time at New York University, he served in the Marines from 1942 till 1946--and again saw action during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. For two years in the early 1960s, Davidson edited Fantasy&Science Fiction magazine. He earned awards and accolades throughout his life for his SF writing, including the Hugo Award, the Edgar Award, the Ellery Queen Award, and three World Fantasy Awards. Davidson died in 1993.

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