Book Review 2008 #44: Adventures in Unhistory

Adventures in Unhistory is a collection of columns in Issac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine by the late Avram Davidson in the 1980’s. In these columns, Davidson takes on a mythological/fantastic subject that has fascinated people for centuries, and unwinds its history and origins in popular culture, and tries to find the grain of truth in the mountain of myth and legend.
Its a wonderful set of essays. The style of Davidson is conversational, jovial, joking, digressive but in the end illuminating and entertaining. As I read his analysis of mermaids, werewolves, dragons, Aleister Crowley and others, I could imagine myself in a deli in Manhattan, listening to Davidson over a bagel and coffee explain in a style that has to be read to be fully enjoyed. Here he is in an essay about Sindbad (Sinbad) with one of his side digressions…
In a way, there really was a Sindbad, sort of;his name was Mohammed Ibn Battuta;and he was a Berber, a native of Northwest Africa;if anything, as far as time and territory are involved, he out Sindbaded Sindbad. I believe that he spent something like 34 years in travelling, from Morocco to China, and back again. The only troube is that he didn’t draw the long bow near as much. Perhaps he had been influenced by Sindbad, perhaps he was a reincarnation. Even if you have never heard of him you have heard of anyway one of his stories, under the name of the Indian Rope Trick: evidently Ibn Battuta was the first to mention it in writing.
I’m tempted to bring in Ibn Battuta right along here because of his Sindbadian parallels or whatever; or also because his life experiences are so exceedingly interesting. But I think I’ll withstand the temptation and perhaps employ him or them some other time…perhaps in and adventure entitled The Man Who Was Sindbad the Sailor. Perhaps…and perhaps not.

Anyway, the book is a real treasure, and I enjoyed it immensely. I can think of a few of my friends who will love this, if they haven’t already beaten me to reading Davidson’s work.
My only regret is that it was too short. I don’t know how many of these columns he actually wrote; if another volume of his columns were collected and published, I’d get it in a heartbeat.