Saturday, August 03, 2019

48. Davy by Edgar Pangborn

I cannot remember how Davy was recommended to me.  Once again, it was a book on my list for quite a while.  I am trying to figure out what the hype was.  I have to be honest, this was a tough slog.  It felt self-indulgent to me, with very little story and really not a whole lot to say, at least in today's context.  Perhaps in the mid-60s themes critiquing religious dogma, the folly of human conflict and frank sexuality seemed refreshing.  If so, they needed to be at least in a package that had something else going on besides a lot of reminiscing using folksy language and a sort-of bildungsroman about a young man coming of age.

I have gotten ahead of myself.  The story is about Davy brought up in post-WWIII upstate New York which is now several countries in somewhat of a medieval state, with a few larger towns and many small villages protected from the wilds by stockades.  There is a more rigid social hierarchy, with slaves and indentured servants and most people practice a kind of post-apocalyptic "Murcan" Christianity, which has all kinds of dogma, particularly around childbirth to prevent the proliferation of "mues".  Davy is an orphaned indentured servant with an adventurous spirit who runs away, joins a trio of wanderers and then the Ramblers, a performing/snake-oil selling caravan.  It is narrated from a present where he eventually became part of a larger political reformist movement that go overthrown.  All that stuff is interesting, but it actually makes up very few of the pages.  Most of the time we get philosophizing between the characters that was just not very interesting.  There are little incidents in between that are not unentertaining but when you have neither clear narrative nor thematic drive, one wonders what it is all in aid of. 

The world itself was also not uninteresting, but there was something so one-sided about the way it was presented.  It felt like a campaign where the Dungeon Master spends the whole time telling you what the world is like and does endless conversations between NPCs to show you all his brilliant little nuances.  I get that mainsplaining was sort of the default for science fiction from this period, but somehow Davy felt particularly egocentric to my reading. 

One bright spot was that the back of the book has lists of other books for sale by Ballantine including this gem:

Now that is the kind of book I want to read!

[A tip of the hat to Mporcius who wrote a much better review with a similar opinion and who must have had the exact same copy and spotted the gem above near the bottom of the non-fiction titles, where I had petered out.  I also stole his picture above, so go read his blog!]


Paul Fraser said...

The first few chapters appeared as two novelettes in F&SF magazine. I loved “The Golden Horn”, the section that tells of his encounter with the mutant.
It was well received at the time as it was the runner up for that year’s Hugo Award (losing to Leiber’s “The Wanderer”).

OlmanFeelyus said...

Thanks for that info, Paul (and my apologies for the delay in publishing your comment). I can see how that chapter would be appealing. On its own, it was quite cool, right up my own personal PA alley. And at the time it came out, it would have been even more impactful, I imagine.