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.