– May 8
) was an American Jewish writer of fantasy fiction
, science fiction
, and crime fiction
, as well as the author of many stories that do not fit into a genre niche. He won a Hugo Award
and three World Fantasy Awards
in the science fiction and fantasy genre, a World Fantasy Life Achievement award, and a Queen's Award
and an Edgar Award
in the mystery genre. Davidson edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
from 1962 to 1964. His last novel The Boss in the Wall: A Treatise on the House Devil
was completed by Grania Davis
and was a Nebula Award
finalist in 1998. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
says "he is perhaps sf's most explicitly literary author".
Fiction and articles
Davidson wrote many stories for fiction magazines beginning in the 1950s, after publishing his first fiction in Commentary
and other Jewish intellectual magazines.
He was active in science fiction fandom from his teens. His best-known works are his novels about Vergil Magus, the magician that medieval legend made out of the Roman poet Virgil; the Peregrine novels, a comic view of Europe shortly after the fall of Rome; the Jack Limekiller stories about a Canadian living in an imaginary Central American country modelled after Belize during the 1960s, and the stories of Dr. Eszterhazy, a sort of even more erudite Sherlock Holmesian figure living in the mythical Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania, the waning fourth-largest empire in Europe.
In Joyleg, A Folly, written in collaboration with Ward Moore, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War (and of the Whiskey Rebellion) is found alive and very well in the Tennessee backwoods, having survived over the centuries by daily soaks in whisky of his own making to hilariously face the world of the 1960s.
Davidson also wrote dozens of short stories that defy classification, and the Adventures in Unhistory essays, which delve into puzzles such as the identity of Prester John and suggest solutions to them. His earlier historical essays were scrupulously researched, even when published by magazines just as happy to offer fiction as fact.
Very little may happen in a Davidson story, but he enjoyed describing it in enormous detail with many elements that beginning writers are told to avoid, such as page-long sentences with half a dozen colons and semi-colons, or an irrelevant digression in the opening pages of a story. Davidson success with this technique arose from his chutzpah and his skill with words and narrative structure, particularly a good ear for the way that people talk, an encyclopedic store of obscure and fascinating knowledge, and a comic view of the world that sees virtually everyone as eccentric.
The idea in his story "Or All the Seas with Oysters" (1958) is reputed to have become part of an 'urban legend' in the street culture of some children; namely, that bicycles arise from a life cycle that involves paper clips as pupae and coat hangers as larvae. The English fantasy author Terry Pratchett reused the idea as a major plot-point in his Discworld novel Reaper Man.
Davidson served as a Navy hospital corpsman
(medic) with the Marine Corps
in the Pacific
during World War II
, and began his writing career as a Talmudic
scholar around 1950. This made his study of and conversion to Tenrikyo
in the 1970s rather surprising. Although he had a reputation for being quick to anger when anyone tampered with his work or misunderstood it, Davidson was also greatly in demand as a storyteller, and well-known among his friends for his extreme generosity.
He was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies.
While editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction he lived in Mexico, and later in Belize. He lived in a rural district of Novato, in northern Marin County, California, in 1970, but later moved closer to San Francisco. He lived in a small house in Sausalito, at the southern end of Marin County next to San Francisco in 1971 and 1972, and it was there fans and friends were affectionately welcomed. In his later years, he lived in Washington state, including a brief stay in the Veterans' Home in Bremerton. He died in his tiny apartment in Bremerton on May 8 1993, aged 70. A memorial service was held in GasWorks Park in Seattle.
He was survived by his son Ethan and his ex-wife Grania Davis, who continues to edit and release his unpublished works.
Doctor Eszterhazy series
- The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy, Owlswick Press, 1990; includes all of the published Doctor Eszterhazy stories. Limekiller series
- Limekiller, Old Earth Books, 2003; includes all of the published Limekiller stories Virgil Magus series
- The Phoenix and the Mirror, Doubleday, 1969; the first Vergil Magus novel
- Vergil in Averno, Doubleday, 1987; the second Vergil Magus novel
- The Scarlet Fig; or Slowly through a Land of Stone; Rose Press, 2005, the third Vergil Magus novel
- The Other Magus, in Edges, edited by Ursula K. LeGuin and Virginia Kidd, Pocket Books; Berkley paperback, 1980
- Vergil and the Caged Bird, Amazing, January 1987
- "Vergil and the Dukos: Hic Inclusus Vitam Perdit, or The Imitations of the King", Asimov's, September 1997, pp. 102–113
- "Vergil Magus: King without Country", with Michael Swanwick, Asimov's, July 1998 Peregrene series
- Peregrine: Primus, Walker, 1969
- Peregrine: Secundus, Berkley paperback, 1981 Novels
- Clash of Star-Kings, Ace double, 1966
- The Enemy of My Enemy, Berkley paperback, 1966
- The Island Under the Earth, Ace paperback, 1969
- The Kar-Chee Reign, Ace double, 1966
- Masters of the Maze, Pyramid paperback, 1965
- Mutiny in Space, Pyramid Books, 1964
- Rogue Dragon, Ace paperback, 1966
- Rork!, Berkley Medallion paperback, 1965
- Ursus of Ultima Thule, Avon paperback, 1973 Ellery Queen books -- wrote the outlines for but not actual novels themselves
- And on the Eighth Day, Random House, 1964
- The Fourth Side of the Triangle, Random House, 1965 With Ward Moore
- Joyleg, A Folly, Pyramid paperback, 1962 With Grania Davis
- The Boss in the Wall, A Treatise on the House Devil, Tachyon Publications, 1998
- Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty, Baen Books paperback, 1987
With Harlan Ellison
"Up Christopher to Madness", Knight Magazine, 1965
- Avram Davidson Treasury: a tribute collection, with an introduction by Guy Davenport. (1998)