Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, September 12, 2023


"The Stone That the Builders Rejected" by Avam Davidson  (previously unpublished and likely written in the mid-1950s; the original manuscript title was "Caretaker;" a hand-written note changed the title to "A Very Old Custom;" under the current title, it had been purchased for Harlan Ellison's legendary and still unpublished anthology The Last Dangerous Visions* but was eventually returned to Davidson's estate; it was finally published in Volume 1 of AD100:  100 Years of Avram Davidson; 100 Unpublished or Uncollected Stories ((2023).

A short, sharp story.   Joe Gilson was broke, a stranger in town, and down on his luck.  Employment agencies were of no use -- they wanted their nut up front before they paid applicants for any work done, in fear job applicants would skip town before giving the agencies their due.  So there was Joe, in the cheapest and dingiest bar in the cheapest and dingiest part of town. counting his nickles in hopes that he had fifty cents to cover a meat loaf sandwich (35 cents) and a "big short beer" (15 cents), when he met Burry, Jack, and Valdo, three friendly construction workers (who did not seem to be fairies).  They took pity on Joe and brought them to their work site, where Benny, their boss, was upset about a story in the papers about an office building under construction in Omaha that had collaped. killing three men and injuring seven, two of the not expected to survive.  Benny as well as Joe's three new friends were upset that the construction workers were foolish enough not to take proper precautions.

Joe goes to work for the crew, all of whom treat Joe as a new member of the family.  Joe did not even have to join the union until he had been working there for thirty days, so he could save a little money ahead.  Jack and Valdo shared a large apartment with an extra room for Joe until he could get a place of his own.  Burry's wife cooked a large meal for them and served plenty of wine.  Joe felt he was the luckiest guy on Earth.  Later, Jack and Valdo took Joe to a place that was not a bar and was run by a woman named Mary.

Sometimes if things appear to be too good to be true, they probably aren't.  Ah. Joe...

Avram Davidson (1923-1993) was one of the truly great and sadly underacknowledged writers of the twentieth century.  He began his writing career as a Talmudic scholar aroun 1950 and his first stories were published in Commentary and in other Jewish intellectual magazines.  Although he had been active in science fiction fandom since his early teens, he burst onto the professional science fiction and fantasy scene with "My Boyfriend's Name is Jello" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1952), the first of many challenging and often unclassifiable stories over his career.  Davidson has won the Hugo, Edgar, World Fantasy (three times), and Ellery Queen Awards, as well as being given a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award.  Davidson also served as editor for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and ghost-wrote two highly acclaimed novels as "Ellery Queen."

Davidson's Adventures in Unhistory is a collection of highly researched, digressive, articles about the hidden corners of history and legend, and are a joy to read, as are his stories about Dr. Eszterhazy. an erudite Sherlock Holmes figure in the fictional county of Sythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania, the waning fourth-largest empire in Europe, and his tales of Jack Limekiller, a Candaian ex-pat living in a mysterious and imaginary Central American country, and his stories about Vergil Magnus, a medieval magician based on the poet Vergil.  No matter where you dip into Avram Davidson's works, you'll find a rich, rewarding, and often twisty tale, embued with literacy, slyness. and wit.  Unfortunately, Davidson's love of exploring new ideas led to the abandonment of many planned and begun  series -- it was as if, with the best of intentions, he..."Squirrel!"

Critic John Clute's observation in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that Davidson "is perhaps sf's most explicitly literary author" can easily extend to his many other genres.

* Sometimes listed as "The Stone Which the Builders Rejected."  The Last Dangerous Visions may soon be published if all goes well with the Ellison estate, and will include many of the stories Ellison originally bought for the anthology, and will include many newer stories;  I don't know of anything by Davidson** will be included in the final version.

**Davidson did collaborate with Ellison on at least one published story, "Up Christopher to Madness" (Knight, November 1965; included in Ellison's 1971 collection Partners in Wonder).  A proposed collaborative crime novel, Don't Speak of Rope, died -- perhaps thankfully -- aborning, although Ellison listed it as a forthcoming novel for several years before all mention of the book was dropped.  I know I can't be the only person who wished that novel had born fruit.


  1. Neither Ellison nor Davidson seemed to think much of that aborted novel, though the PARTNERS IN WONDER prefatory material has an amusing anecdote or several from both writers, including the pitch meeting at which it was sold to Knox Burger at Fawcett Gold Medal (and Davidson managed to put a cigaret burn in Burger's suit jacket).

  2. Avram Davidson is an underrated writer and editor. He died too young in 1993 and remains unappreciated by most readers today. I have plans to do an FFB about him sometime soon.