Archives » Avram Davidson

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith

Grafton, 1993, 395 p.

Ammonite cover

There is a well-established trope in children’s literature whereby the parents must be got rid of (benignly or otherwise) in order for the protagonist to have the scope for the adventure the book will describe. Ammonite has what I assume is a feminist variant on this device, which is to remove men, rather than parents, from the equation. Nothing wrong with that. This is SF after all. Thought experiments are more or less mandatory.

The newly rediscovered Grenchstom’s Planet – shortened to GP, or Jeep – has begun to be exploited by the Company only for it to find that a virus is endemic; a virus which kills all men but only a percentage of women. Jeep is thus quarantined and the surviving Company women stuck down there. Nevertheless the earlier human inhabitants, now of course all women, are able to have children and have been present on Jeep for many generations. This parthenogenetic ability is somehow linked to the virus.

Our main narrative viewpoint character Marghe (Marguerite Angelica Taishan,) has been given an experimental vaccine against the virus – which she has to take every day* – and sent to the planet’s surface, knowing if it fails she may die or would in the best case never return to Earth as the Company will most likely pull the plug on its venture and leave its employees to their fates. Other scenes are presented from the viewpoint of Commander Danner, head of the Company’s base at Port Central.

Marghe’s explorations amongst the natives lead to her capture by a particular clan. Here she learns some of the ways and beliefs of the inhabitants but realises they are slowly declining and dying out. As a result a kind of death cult begins to flourish and a tribal war breaks out. Marghe seizes the chance to escape and makes her way in the middle of a harsh winter to seek refuge at another outpost, almost dying as a result, but is rescued by another native tribe. Meanwhile Commander Danner is exercised by the problems of surviving on Jeep and the presence in her charges of those excessively loyal to the Company.

Marghe’s relationships with her rescuers lead her to develop an ability known as deepsearch which connects the natives to their pasts and, if undertaken with a companion, allows conception. Children simultaneously engendered in this way are known as soestres.

Whatever Griffiths’s intentions were on writing Ammonite the interactions between her characters are recognisably the same as in any other SF novel; indeed any other novel. We have goodies and baddies, conflicts, betrayals, loves, endurance, but the final battle is averted through dialogue.

I remember Ammonite being well received when it was first published but didn’t get round to it then. The years since may perhaps have been unkind to it as it no longer reads as being particularly distinctive. For example the planetary wanderings and the contrast between the “civilised” newcomers and older inhabitants reminded me of Avram Davidson’s Rork! which I read a few weeks ago. (There are, though, only a few variations on a theme.)

Pedant’s corner:- *I’m not sure vaccines actually work that way. An occasional booster – perhaps only once – to replenish the immune response, yes; but not a continual daily dose. “Accompanying them were a contingent” (was a contingent,) “They all wore scarves wrapped around their nose and mouth” (noses and mouths.) “Drink lots a of fluids” (‘Drink a lot of’. Or. ‘Drink lots of’. Not ‘Drink lots a of’.) Llangelli (Llanelli?) “the triple handful of riders were returning” (the triple handful …. was returning,) “perhaps she should talk to these two again some time” (this two,) Dogias’ (Dogias’s,) “a thumbs up…. That gesture had travelled to this world all the way from ancient Rome,” (true, but in ancient Rome it signified death, not approval,) “where people ate and breathed and relived themselves” (‘relieved themselves’ makes more sense.) “The less personnel risked, the better” (the fewer personnel,) Cardos’ (Cardos’s,) Huelis’ (Huelis’s,) “one less softgel than there had been” (one fewer softgel,) “another group of six were struggling” (strictly, a group was struggling,) “port Central” (otherwise always ‘Port Central’,) “to wipe the sweat from their brow” (brows,) “Fuller’s earth” (I believe it’s Fuller’s Earth.) There were a few uneasy glances” (a few is actually singular, grammatically,) “‘I nearly gave up, laid down and died’” (lay down and died.)

Rork! by Avram Davidson

Penguin, 1969, 140 p.

 Rork! cover

The planet Pia 2 is isolated, so isolated it only has a spaceship visit every five years. Despite this it is home to the redwing, a crop which can be processed to manufacture an important medical treatment. In the time of the culture’s Great Wars Pia 2 was cut off for centuries. The humans there evolved into gruff, hardy creatures speaking in a stripped down patois – still recognisable but not standard. These “autochthonous” humans are known as Tocks and exist in tame (near the Station) varieties and wilder ones. It is the Tocks who harvest the redwing and bring it into the Station. The planet also harbours really native animals like crybabies (known as such for their calls at night) and others which can be dangerous, like the rips and especially, the titular Rorks, giant spider like creatures. Rorkland is a no-go area except perhaps in the Cold Time, when Rorks become sluggish.

Ran Lomar has been sent to the Station to see if there is any way in which redwing production can be increased. The local humans – not to mention the Tocks – are set in their ways and very resistant to change. Having entangled, then disentangled, himself with a local Station woman, Lindel, Lomar sets off to the South of Tockland to try to encourage those there to improve the yield of redwing. He, his Tock companion Old Guns, along with his daughter Norna, are captured by a wild bunch of Tocks and Old Guns is killed.

Aided by Norna, Lomar makes his escape, and the pair are forced to travel into Rorkland to evade recapture. It is obvious by now where this is going and what they are going to find out about Rorks on their travels. Davidson handles it well though and had I read this in the 1960s I would no doubt have thought it excellent. It now reads as a little well-worn, however, and its sexual politics are very much of the 1960s.

Davidson’s use of the words wee, besom and pogue indicates a Scottish connection somewhere but the internet is unforthcoming on what that might be. He can string sentences together though and spin out a plot. I’m not averse to reading more of him.

Pedant’s corner:- In the author information; Wand Moore (Ward Moore.) Otherwise; “Here and they the passed gatherers” (‘there’ for the first ‘they’,) melancholy (melancholy,) Flinders’ (several times, Flinders’s,) “born along” (borne along,) distanthill (distant hill,) “had not know” (known,) “the natural exultance inevitably to the male” (inevitable.) “‘Harb did not even seemed to be waiting” (seem,)”the spaces between the peoples was increased” (were increased,) “grimy impatient” (grimly.) “The mouth seemed trying to say something” (seemed to be trying,) exploitive (exploitative.)

Rogue Dragon by Avram Davidson

In The Kar-Chee Reign and Rogue Dragon, Ace, 1979, (188 p out of 381.)

The Kar-Chee Reign and Rogue Dragon cover

Since the reign of the Kar-chee ended the diaspora has rediscovered Earth – as a resort for dragon hunting. This takes place under the control of the Gentlemen of the Hunt Company. Jon-Joras is an emissary from his home planet. When an impromptu dragon hunt goes wrong he is thrown into a set of adventures which leads him to discover that not everything on the “Prime World” is as it seems. He falls into the hands of a group of so-called “doghunters” who resent the Gentlemen and who train dragons to resist the distractions (and therefore become rogue) as a means of resistance and seem to think Kar-chee and dragons are the same species. Thereafter his travels take him into a forbidden region called The Bosky where the dragons are said to be more dangerous than the more or less domesticated ones kept for the hunts.

Overall I would say that this is fairly typical of mid 60s SF.

Pedant’s corner:- evesdrop (eavesdrop,) coördinate (an obsolete spelling now,) “a group of young , naked-chested archers were shooting” (a group was shooting,) wheal (weal,) a small group of Gentlemen were standing close (a group was standing,) “of the pleb-peoples’” (the “of” already makes pleb-peoples possessive, no need for the apostrophe,) “scarcely able to breath” (breathe.) “‘Wouldn’t be fools if we did’” (context demands, ‘Would be fools if we did,’) jejeune (jejune,) haled (is now archaic,) Henners’ (Henners’s,) “it was suppose to be” (supposed,) “no sooner was his …..then” (than,) took ahold (took a hold,) “‘and were guiding him’” (‘and we were guiding him’,) “scratched his naval” (navel,) “other than to affect his own capture” (effect,) “Where would he be safe.” (Question mark required,) “with tiny small lights” (tiny small??) “another species’ sport” (species was singular; so, species’s,) “he would never believed” (never have believed,) dragon-suint (dragon spraint perhaps,) “and yet he would not accept that there should be no answer, and yet he would not accept that there should be no answer.” (One of those instances of “and yet he would not accept that there should be no answer,” is superfluous,) “unless he knew the comination” (combination,) chronomoter (chronometer,) thrust foreward (forward,) “Not matter” (No matter,) despite it being a US publication we had archaeologist, not archeologist.

The Kar-Chee Reign by Avram Davidson

In The Kar-Chee Reign and Rogue Dragon, Ace, 1979, (192 p out of 381.)

The overall book, two novels in the one volume, is not a “proper” Ace Double as it does not have two authors and the second one isn’t printed upside down – and backwards – in relation to the first as in the classic doubles. It is also curious in that according to the copyright dates, 1966 and 1965 respectively, the sequel seems to have been published before the novel it is set after. Aspects of the setting and the occasional word choice (eg huntshoon as in shoes for hunting) made me wonder if Davidson had a Scottish background or connection but I couldn’t find one that was obvious.

The Kar-Chee Reign and Rogue Dragon cover

In The Kar-Chee Reign Earth’s resources have been depleted almost to zero, mainly due to its human inhabitants stripping it to make their voyages to the stars. All but forgotten by the diaspora, it has fallen to the Kar-chee – accompanied by their “dragons” – a species which specialises in extracting the last drop of resource from apparently worked out sources. They instigated violent earth movements, disrupting the land’s surface, changing the geography.

A small group in the new Britland – comprised from the new landmass connecting the former Western Isles, part of Ireland and the Isle of Man – survives without much contact with the aliens. But one day the aliens come and a few humans attack and kill them. This brings the dragons down on the settlement and the survivors flee on a raft. After exhausting most of the food they had brought on board they are rescued by a set of religious zealots who believe the Kar-chee are God’s revenge on humans for loose-living. Despite the strictures of their rescuers a few of them venture into a vast set of caverns and there do battle with the Kar-chee.

I must say this was better written than I had been expecting (I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Davidson before.) While plot is more or less everything in this type of tale (with a nod to setting) Davidson doesn’t neglect to give us character to sit alongside. While the chief zealot – and his wife – are pretty one-dimensional (then again, religious zealots tend to be so) others are complex enough to be getting on with.

Pedant’s corner:- the name of the aliens is spelled Kar-Chee in the title but Kar-chee in the text. Rowen (elsewhere Rowan,) dispell (dispel,) condescention (condescension,) gutteral (guttural.) “A pile of its timbers were stacked neatly” (a pile was stacked,) payed your own way (paid,) “buy the observation of the clouds” (by the observation,) “the ark-and the raft-group” (the ark- and the raft-group,) paniers (panniers,) painers (panniers,) afriad (afraid,) “there were a number of them” (there was a number,) Lors’ (Lors’s.) “And they silently followed them. All of them.” (And they silently followed him.) “The men’s face were grimed,” (faces,) “lay of land” (lie of land.) “It if can be done” (If it can be done.) “It was fixed into the wall of the pit firmly and on all sides were fixed into the wall of the pit firmly and on all sides were fixed the other struts,” (that second “fixed into the wall of the pit firmly and on all sides were” needs removed,) Lor’s (Lors’s,) racheting (ratcheting,) “the pattern of preceedings” (proceedings,) battless (battles.)

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