Return Home

Vintage Treasures: Strange Seas and Shores by Avram Davidson

Saturday, October 10th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Seas and Shores Avram Davidson-small Strange Seas and Shores Avram Davidson-back-small

Strange Seas and Shores by Avram Davidson (Ace Books, 1981). Cover uncredited.

Avram Davidson was one of the most respected fantasy short stories authors in America during my formative years as a reader. He was nominated for the Nebula Award ten times, the World Fantasy Award nine times, and won a Hugo for his classic story “Or All the Seas with Oysters.” That’s some serious street cred right there.

He’s not well remembered today, though. Criminally, we haven’t paid much attention to him at Black Gate either (aside from a Birthday Review by Steven Silver), and that’s a serious oversight. I found his third collection, Strange Seas and Shores buried in a collection I purchased recently, and want to settle in with it this weekend. I also found this compact review at the PorPor Books Blog; here’s a taste.

In his Introduction to Strange, Ray Bradbury notes that Davidson (1923 – 1993) crafted his short stories in the mode of the renowned Saki, O. Henry, and Chesterton. That is to say, Davidson employed surprise or trick endings in his short fiction, preferring to withhold the background detail of his plots at the outset, letting these details unfold along with the narrative, with the revelation / punch line coming in the last paragraph or sentence.

Many of the entries in Strange Seas and Shores are five or fewer pages in length, so providing synopses of these tales is essentially the same thing as disclosing spoilers… Some tales use quirky or satiric humor for their revelations… Others take a grimmer tone… Some of these stories have a ‘New York City’ sensibility to them, Davidson’s home throughout most of his life. In this manner they represent a sort of alternate approach to John Cheever’s examinations of NYC life in the postwar period.

It’s interesting to observe that Davidson steadfastly adhered to the classical, or traditionalist, format for his short fiction, even as the New Wave movement overtook sf publishing. His writing is clear and unambiguous, devoid of stylish affectations, although this being Davidson, readers will need to prepare for an expanded vocabulary: ‘circumambulation’, ‘nostra’, and ‘ratiocination’, among others…. Strange Seas and Shores is dedicated reading for Davidson aficionados; those others, who appreciate short stories in the ‘classical’ mode, may also want to seek it out.

Want to know another thing I discovered about Strange Seas and Shores this weekend? It is not the same book as his 1965 collection, What Strange Stars and Skies. For the last 40 years I’ve gotten these two titles confused. Glad to get that cleared up.

What Strange Stars and Skies-small What Strange Stars and Skies-back-small

What Strange Stars and Skies by Avram Davidson (Ace Books, 1965).
Cover by Jack Gaughan. Totally different book. Just FYI.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for Strange Seas and Shores.

Preface by Avram Davidson
Introduction: Night Travel on the Orient Express Destination: Avram by Ray Bradbury
“Sacheverell” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1964)
“Take Wooden Indians” (Galaxy Magazine, June 1959)
“The Vat” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1961)
“The Tail-Tied Kings” (Galaxy Magazine, April 1962)
“Paramount Ulj” (Galaxy Magazine, October 1958)
“A Bottle Full of Kismet” (Dapper, February 1966)
“The Goobers” (Swank, November 1965)
“Dr. Morris Goldpepper Returns” (Galaxy Magazine, December 1962)
“The Certificate” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1959)
“Ogre in the Vly” (If, July 1959)
“Après Nous” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1960)
“Climacteric” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1960)
“Yo-Ho, and Up” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1960)
“The Sixty-Third Street Station” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1962)
“The House the Blakeneys Built” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1965)
“The Power of Every Root” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1967)
“The Sources of the Nile” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1961)

Davidson wrote more than a dozen SF and fantasy novels during his long career, including The Phoenix and the Mirror (1969), Peregrine: Primus (1971) and its sequel Peregrine: Secundus (1981), Joyleg (1962), Clash of Star-Kings (1966), and Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty (1988) with Grania Davis.

But he’s best remembered for his short story collections, including Or All the Seas with Oysters (1962), The Best of Avram Davidson (1979), The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998), and The Other Nineteenth Century (2001).

Strange Seas and Shores was published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1971, and reprinted in paperback by Ace Books a decade later, in August 1981. The paperback is 219 pages, priced at $2.25. The cover is uncredited.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

7 Comments »

  1. One of my very favorites. There’s no now-obscure sf/fantasy writer that’s more deserving of rediscovery and celebration.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - October 10, 2020 3:18 pm

  2. Yet another author I really need to read one of these years.

    Comment by Joe H. - October 10, 2020 11:17 pm

  3. Try his collection ‘The Other Nineteenth Century’ It’s Victorian era alternate fantasy.

    Comment by bobby_5150 - October 12, 2020 12:06 am

  4. The short, sharp, witty sf novels that Davidson wrote in the 60’s – Mutiny in Space, Rork, The Enemy of My Enemy, Masters of the Maze – are a great introduction to him.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - October 12, 2020 10:55 am

  5. > Try his collection ‘The Other Nineteenth Century’ It’s Victorian era alternate fantasy.

    The Other Nineteenth Century 2

    Bobby,

    That’s probably the Davidson collection that’s recommended to me most often. Rich Horton has a fine review at his blog Strange at Ecbatan; here’s a snippet:

    “What Strange Stars and Skies” has been a favorite of mine for a long time — telling of a Dame Philippa, who does charity work in the slums of London, and when ministering to the poor near a sailor’s house, encounters a very curious press gang. The last line is wonderful.

    I first encountered “The Man Who Saw the Elephant” in this book, and it delighted and moved me — it’s about a Quaker couple, the wife hardworking and only just tolerant of her husband’s dreams … one of which is to see the elephant that a traveling showman advertises. In the end, the husband does get to see … well, if not an elephant something quite wonderful anyway, it seems to me.”

    Read Rich’s complete review here:

    https://rrhorton.blogspot.com/2020/07/revised-review-other-nineteenth-century.html

    Comment by John ONeill - October 14, 2020 12:19 pm

  6. Two other Davidsons are well worth seeking out – The Avram Davidson Treasury and The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy. There’s actually one copy of Adventures available on Amazon – a beautiful new Owlswick hardback, just like the one I bought (so Amazon tells me) eighteen years ago.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - October 14, 2020 10:03 pm

  7. > There’s actually one copy of Adventures available on Amazon – a beautiful new
    > Owlswick hardback, just like the one I bought (so Amazon tells me) eighteen years ago.

    Thomas — not any more. I just bought it. Thanks for the tip!

    Comment by John ONeill - October 15, 2020 12:17 am


Comments RSS  |  TrackBack URI

 

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Black Gate Home
This site © 2020 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.