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Davy Mass Market Paperback – 1976
All Books, All the Time
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Later printing with Boris Vallejo cover art. Pangborn's classic novel, a post-apocalyptic coming of age tale.
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Good read once you get over the "new language."
The story is classified as science fiction mainly, I suppose, by virtue of the fact that it takes place in the future, after a brief (but devastating) nuclear war - a theme touched on by a great many works of the Cold War era. Beyond that, it could easily fit into the broader genre of literary fiction - it's well-written and imaginative enough to appeal to a wider spectrum of readers. The sci-fi label is enough to put some people off, and that's a shame - there's a lot of great literature that's filed there, and a lot of folks are missing out as a result.
Pangborn fashioned a very believable world in which Davy and his friends (and foes) could dwell - and he peopled it with characters that are easy to accept as well. Science and learning have fallen by the wayside in this setting - the once-mighty USA has crumbled into a number of smaller nations and city-states, most of them operating under what they term as democracy. They're a far cry from it. The Holy Murcan Church is very powerful, and exerts a lot of control over both sacred and secular matters - the governments, such as they are, bow to its will generally without much grumbling. Books have been banned as evil, leading as they did to sin and destruction in the Old Times (pre-war). The Days of Confusion followed, during which the Church arose from the ashes with the rest of the survivors, and consolidated its power.
Davy is a bondservant - born to a prostitute and left in a Church-run orphanage to grow up, he runs away from his job at an inn after losing his childhood (or finding his manhood, take your pick) with the innkeeper's daughter. The book recounts a number of his adventures - he travels alone in the wilderness for a while, falls in with a small group of other outcasts, joins up with Rumly's Ramblers (a sort of post-apocalyptic American version of gypsies) for a bit, journeys to Old City in Nuin where he meets the love of his life, falls into a place in the government with her (her uncle is a progressive regent), fights in an uprising, and goes into exile. He writes his story from that vantage point, looking back over a period of twenty years or so.
Along the way, Pangborn manages very deftly to make quite a few astute comments about the state of things in the world as it exists today, by way of `looking back' at them from Davy's perspective. He does so with a serious eye, but also with a large dose of humor - he's not afraid in the least of poking the world in the gut and then giving it a good Dutch rub on the head as it bends over, something it could mightily use now and again.
A lot of the place names that are used can be easily linked to current ones - `Murcan' is probably meant to be a bastardization of `American', `Nuin' is `New England', `Moha' relates to `Mohawk', &c. Others, like `Conicut', `Vairmant' and `Penn' are more obvious. It's also hilarious the way history has been twisted over the time of the Days of Confusion - with no books to keep it alive, many, many events are tied up together and confused, and these confusions themselves make for very wry and astute observations by both the author and his rough but lovable narrator.
It's a shame this book is out of print - it's one that should be made available again, a classic not only of the sci-fi genre, but of 60s literature. It should be on the shelf right alongside Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s astonishing A CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ. DAVY is a dark vision of a `possible future' - one that we could all stand to learn a bit from in order to prevent it.
A fine speculative writer, one can't help but wonder that Pangborn, a gay man, imagined and explored a world coping with a plague that attacks the very essence of us 15 years before AIDS first struck the world.
I first read this book as a 14-year-old, and later I would snap up every copy I found in used book stores to give away to friends. I reread this book every few years, just to make sure it's shine is still there, and my love for the book grows deeper with each reading.
We readers find Davy writing a biography of his teen years. Interspaced throughout the book are narrative asides allowing him to cast perceptive observations and nuanced profiles of several inhabitants from his intriguing world. The charm of this book is the personality of Davy a lad wise beyond his years.
This book is one of that select group of SF novels that combines dynamic, identifiable characters, a well thought out "pocket universe" and a story that enlightens us without being doctrinaire - highly recommended.
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walking next to Davy I was young again, I loved, I...Read more