Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, December 21, 2020



Openers:  The shadow of a large bird fell athwart the path one morning as the earliest mists cleared away.  Two men were approaching upon one horse, and Thrag of the watchtower by the South-East Way made present haste to scurry down and confront them.  He who held onto the reins was a young man of sturdy build, his brown beard attrimmed onto two points, with a cunning cast to his broad mouth.  Riding abaft was an older and thinner one with a bony brow and gray eyes of a sort which at first seem almost blind but soon enough disclose themselves as seeing more than common well.  

"Greetings, blessings, salutations and welcome, Venturers," Thrang sang out, his splay feet slapping the familiar stones as he came hoppitting down and leapt in front of them.  He held his arms wide, as though he would gladly embrace them, his gesture somever sufficing to halt the old horse.  "Fortune favor you --"

"Sun shine upon you, Snagglebeard," the first rider said, commencing to guide the horse sideways roundabout him.

"-- and grant you all your just desires," said the downcomer, skipping to the side.  As the rider with a sigh and a grunt reined in his mount and raised his thick brows, he upon the ground said, "Much do we welcome those of a jeting and humorsome disposition, such as you, my young, to this Tawallis Land.  As a mere point of referential accuracy, a hem hum hum, my style it is Thrag, the father of Throg, and I farm the watchtower (such as you may see above yonder there, affollowing my finger) by this South-East Way from the True Lord of Tawallis.  Again, welcome, and again."

-- Avram Davidson, "Basilisk" (first published in New Worlds of Fantasy, edited by Terry Carr, 1967)

"Basilisk" is a quest story. told only as Avram Davidson could.  It features Mallian sonHazelip, sent by his father to find a medicine for the ills of his native land, currently struck low by the Great Gene Shift.  In this opening scene, Mallian and his squire, Zembac Pix, are threatened by Thrag to pay tribute.  It's a scam and Thrag keeps the loot for himself.  "Basilisk" is the second story Davidson published about Mallian, following "Bumberboom" (F&SF, December 1966); I have a feeling the two were designed to be incorporated into a novel that never materialized.  "Basilisk" has never been reprinted to my knowledge.

Davidson was "perhaps the modern fantastic's most explicitly literary author," according to John Clute, who also notes the Davidson "very quickly established a reputation for sometimes obtrusive literacy, considerable wit, and the estranged sidling worldliness that has evoked comparisons of his work with writers like Jorge Luis Borges."  Davidson's writings veered into the ornate, embellishing his stories with fascinating side details.  His biggest flaw was his inability to complete planned sequences and sequels -- his mind was too rich and perhaps too cluttered to do so; perhaps because there were so many ideas within him.  As a person, Davidson could best be described as righteous -- quick to anger, exceedingly generous, with a moral and ethical standard, every curious, in love with the richness of words and the little side corners of history, with a literate bent to humor.  He was sui generis.

Although he had written for Jewish magazines before, Davidson burst fully formed into the science fiction field with his 1954 story "My Boyfriend's Name is Jello."  He won a Hugo Award in 1959 for his story "And All the Seas with Oysters."  Davidson also garnered three World Fantasy Awards, a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Short Story Award, and an Edgar Award.  He served as editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1962 to 1964 (I had a friend who, on learning that Davidson was stepping down as editor, cancelled his subscription to the magazine because he felt it would never be as good without Davidson).  He authored two novels as "Ellery Queen," And on the Eighth Day and The Fourth Side of the Triangle.  A collection of true crime articles originally appearing in various men's adventure magazines, Crimes and Chaos, was notable because, as Algis Budrys once said, he didn't make anything up.

Davidson explored many science fiction and fantasy tropes in his well-respected novels, but for me he was at his best with his short stories, including many involving series characters such as Jack Limekiller (taking place in an imaginary Central American country in the 1960s) and Dr. Ezterhazy (set in the fiction Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania, the fourth-largest empire in Europe during its declining days).  Also not to be missed is his Adventures in Unhistory, in which Davidson circuitously and entertainingly discusses various legendary and mythical subjects.

Anything -- everything -- written by Davidson is a reader's delight.  He cannot be recommend highly enough.


  • Charles Birkin, Devil's Spawn.  Horror collection. Birkin (1907-1985) was the anonymous editor of Philip A1llan's Creeps series of horror anthologies (14 volumes, 1932-1936), for many of which Birkin contributed stories under the pseudonym "Charles Lloyd."  In 1936, all fourteen stories he had written for the series, plus two original tales, were published in this volume.   Devil's Spawn has been a very difficult (and expensive) book to get until Valancourt Books reissued it in 2015.  The stories are more grand guignol than traditional.  After this, Birkin stopped writing.  He succeeded his uncle as the Fifth Baronet Birkin in 1942.  He went back to writing horror stories (most likely at the urging of Dennis Wheatley) in 1964, publishing an additional seven collections before his death.
  • Kim Mohan, editor, Amazing Stories:  The Anthology. Collection of thirteen stories and one essay Mohan was editor of Amazing Stories from May 1991 to Summer 2000, first under gaming publisher TSR, then (with a two-year hiatus) under gaming published Wizards of the Coast.  Twelve of the stories here are from his years of editing the magazine; a story and the essay (both by Robert Bloch) date back to 1953 and 1983, respectively. Among the other authors are Ursula Le Guin, Thomas M. Disch, Gregory Benford, R. A. Lafferty, Paul Di Fillippo, and Alan Dean Foster.
  • Mickey Spillane [edited by Max Allan Collins and Lynn F. Meyers, Jr.], Primal Spillane:  Early Stories 1941-1942. A collection of "text filler" stories that Spillane wrote before he entered the Army for comics books to meet Post Office requirements for cheaper mailing.  These were very short (two-pages usually) tales, hastily written and usually with a twist ending.  In 2003, Gary Lovisi's released the first edition of this book under his Gryphon imprint.  That edition now goes for over $100 on the used book.   market -- far too expensive for me.  A new edition came out from Bold Venture Press in 2018, which included many additional stories, including one that was previously unpublished.  The text fillers for the comics were often unsigned, as were the comic book tales themselves, but Spillane managed to put his name on thirty-nine of those he wrote (he probably wrote more than fifty text fillers in his brief comic book career) -- this book contains all that appeared under his name.  It is interesting to see how Spillane perfected his craft and how his comic book tales influenced his writing style.
  • Eleanor Sullivan, editor, Alfred Hitchcock's Tales to Send Chills Down Your Spine, apa Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology #5.  Collection of 29 stories from AHMM.  "Do you like to be agitated?  Shock?  Jarred? Do you like your reading disquieting, turbulent, icy?  Do you like it to shake you up?  To pack a wallop?  To fill you with fear and trembling?  This fifth anthology of stories from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine provides the cause of chill-causing excitement you've come to expect from the Master of Suspense."  Hitchcock, of course, lent his name to the magazine and had nothing to do with it otherwise, but it continues to be one of the most prodigious mystery magazines today.  Authors include Robert Bloch, Henry Slesar, Donald E. Westlake, Jack Ritchie, Lawrence Block, Bill Pronzini, Patricia Highsmith, and Paul Tabori.

Stimulated:  Late last night  both houses of Congress agreed to a $9 billion stimulus bill and a vote on the bill is expected today.  The agreement came after months of negotiations, posturing, and -- in the eyes of some -- bad faith.  Each side had to give up much of what they wanted to make the deal.  The question remains:  is this too little, too late?

The agreement has not been released to the public but appears to call for a $600 direct stimulus payment for most Americans and a weekly unemployment payment of $300 for 11 weeks.  Also included are a $284 billion for the small business program (PPP), $25 billion in rental assistance, $13 billion in enhanced SNAP benefits, $82 billion for schools and colleges, $10  billion for child care assistance, and an end to the practice of surprise medical billing.  How these funds will be distributed and how much of it will go to those it is intended to is something that remains in the air.

Democrats are hoping that this will be a first step in providing relief from the economic devastation that the pandemic has brought.  A lot of what will happen next depends on the control of the Senate and the Georgia run-off election next month.  Although both the Republican incumbents are basically a waste of protoplasm, the result of that election is uncertain.

While congress has been dithering, many American families are in economic trouble and many are close to being homeless.  Unemployment is increasing rapidly and most of the new jobs being created are low-wage and fragile.  The income gap is growing ever wider and the average American is feeling the pinch.  The direct stimulus is far to little to be of much help for many families.  Our resident, with just under a month remaining in office, has lost any interest he may have had in leading (actually, his interests have always been in ruling rather than leading) and is obsessed with his efforts to remains in office and in protecting himself, his family, and his cronies from future legal ramifications.  His strategy for that appears to create as much chaos as possible.

Two COVID vaccines have been rushed to approval, bringing much-needed hope for the future, but it will probably August before most of the country has been vaccinated.  Many Americans still feel that the pandemic is a hoax and that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu due to this misinformation and conspiracy theories thrown at them by the ultra-Right.  It id going to be a long, hard road before we are anywhere back to  normal.

In the meantime, we muddle through...with 318,000 deaths thus far.

It didn't have to be like this, folks.

Humbug Day:  From The National Day Calendar:

"Humbug Day on December 21st recognizes the Ebenezers, the Scrooges, grinches, and curmudgeons who suck the joy out of the holiday season.  

"Sometimes even the most joyous of us all get bitten by the hum-bug.  Regardless, it is essential to do our best to remember all those of us who suffer from it the most.  Spread some joy their way and bring the holiday spirit into their lives.  However, the day was created to spread our frustration, to let the Scrooge in all of us out, and let him reveal himself.  Whether we declare it through a humbug or two or just avoid the people-y places, the day gives us a break from the hustle and bustle of activity that comes with the season.

"It is a stressful time of year for many reasons.  Some us us may be lonely, and others may feel pressure to do more than is humanly possible.  We may also set our own expectations quite high, too.  As a result the stresses of the holiday season pile up, leaving us feeling a little like Scrooge."

To which I add:  "Hey!  You damned kids get off of my lawn!"

Also:   Today is the Winter Solstice, marking the first day of winter.  Since this is 2020, it also means that there are only 83 days left in the year.  **sigh**

Today is also the day of the Great Conjunction, where Jupiter and Saturn meet for the first time in almost 400 years, and it has been nearly 800 years since this has happened at night.  You can view this with the unaided eye by looking toward the southwest just after sunset.  Unless, like on the Florida Panhandle, the sky is overcast.  **HUMBUG!**

And it is Crossword Puzzle Day.  To hell with you, Suduko!  Crossword Puzzles rule!

And National French Fried Shrimp Day.  Yum-yum.

National Phileas Fogg Win a Wager Day marks the day the fictional Fogg returned to the Reform Club to win his wager of travelling around the world in eighty days.

The winter solstice (as well as the summer solstice) also mark Anne & Samantha Day, honoring Anne Frank and Samatha Smith.  Everyone knows about Anne Frank, but how many remember Samantha Smith, the 10-year-old girl who wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, asking him to support peace.  Andropov eventually answered Samantha's letter, addressing each of the girl's questions and inviting her to visit the Soviet Union.  Samantha Smith became known as America's Youngest Ambassador.   Tragically, she died in a plane crash in 1985.  She was only 13.  To celebrate Anne & Samantha Day, write a letter to the Postal Service asking that stamps be issued to recognize each of these extraordinary girls.  

Finally, this is National Maine Day, National Flashlight Day, and National Homeless Persons' Remembrance Day.


Today's Poem:   
Winter Solstice

When you startle wake in the dark morning
heart pounding, breathing fast
sitting bolt upright, staring into
dark whirlpool black hole
feeling its suction

Get out of bed
knock at the door of your nearest friend
ask to lie down ask to be held

Listen while whispered words
turn the hole into deep night sky
stars close together
winter moon rising over white fields
nearby wren rustling dry leaves
distant owl echoing
two people walking up the road laughing

Let your soul laugh
let your heart sigh out
that long held breath so hollow in your stomach
so swollen in your throat

Already light is returning pairs of wings
lift softly off your eyelids one by one
each feathered edge clearer between you
and the pearl veil of the day

You have nothing to do but live

-- Anonymous

A rather truncated Bits & Pieces this week.   I wish you all a very Merry Christmas -- or what ever holiday you may celebrate.  May your week be filled with peace, meaning, and gratitude.


  1. Your Bits and Pieces entries are more populated than a month's blogging from me of late...and ant singing the praises of Davidson's work is certainly not wasted effort by me...I take it you knew him, at least a bit, something I think you might've mentioned before, as my slow memory kicks in..."My Boyfriend's Name is Jello" is pure fantasy, and delightful..."The Golem" might be his first sf story published...I should check.

    Meanwhile, he remains my favorite F&SF editor, even as he was the one of shortest tenure (Joseph Ferman in an excess of caution signed himself as editor of his young [recent BA grad] son's first year actually in the job). A whole lot of recent online comment has been about how poor and notional Davidson's selections were...poor taste will out. Then again, D&D creator Gary Gygax as a teen whined about his choices in a published letter at the time (never liked his games! And his TSR did a rather poor job of getting Amazing out onto the newsstands!)...

    Happy new year!

  2. Any singing of the praises of Davidson, that should be...