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Ann & Jeff VanderMeer – Fast Ships, Black Sails

March 14, 2012

25. Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (2008)

Length: 248 pages
Genre: Short Stories, almost all with a Fantasy or Sci-Fi flavor.

Started: 18 February 2012
Finished: 03 March 2012

Where did it come from? Bought from Amazon.
Why do I have it? I was indulging in some retail therapy after a bad few weeks, and it cropped up in my Amazon recommendations – how could I resist SFF pirates?
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 26 January 2011.

Short stories for those
with salt water in their veins
and stars in their eyes.

Summary: Yar, mateys, do ye be lamenting the vasty lack of a proper piratical-themed anthology in yer sea-chest? Have ye been been pining for pirates that are the terror not only of the seven seas, but the solar system and beyond? Well, hold on to your eyepatches and cutlasses, because Fast Ships, Black Sails has got all of your fantasy and sci-fi pirate needs covered.

Individual Summaries and Reviews: – “Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette. A lowly mechanic on a sentient pirate spaceship has to save the day when the captain seizes some questionable – and highly dangerous – cargo. This story reminded me a lot of Farscape, but once I got over my gut reaction of “But Moya’s a *good* ship, she doesn’t eat people!”, I enjoyed this story quite a lot. (Bonus: available as a free podcast: Part 1 & Part 2)

– “Castor on Troubled Waters” by Rhys Hughes. A man goes out to get some cash to settle a gambling debt and winds up kidnapped by pirates. Short and exceedingly silly, but it made me laugh. (Bonus: Podcast)

– “I Begyn as I Mean to Go On” by Kage Baker. Pirates follow a castaway’s tip to an island covered in emeralds, only to find that the treasure’s not so easily claimed. This was one of my favorites, really good at creating a spooky atmosphere without relying too heavily on anything supernatural.

– “Avast, Abaft!” by Howard Waldrop. This story is what would have happened if Gilbert & Sullivan and J. M. Barrie got together and got very drunk of an evening. As much as I normally like Peter Pan-themed things, I never quite got into the swing of this one.

– “Elegy to Gabrielle, Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves” by Kelly Barnhill. A confession, told by a clergyman, of his daughter, conceived on the sea and destined, against her mother’s wishes, to return there. Another of my favorites, the language was lovely, the story felt almost mythic, and I could absolutely picture the colonial island community.

– “Skillet and Saber” by Justin Howe. A young man is taken on as apprentice in a pirate ship’s galley, and must prove his worth in a very unconventional duel. Amusing, but with a few gruesome twists.

– “The Nymph’s Child” by Carrie Vaughn. A widow and former pirate is visited by the officer who arrested her, and now needs to know the secret of how she accomplished her most famous exploit. Another of my favorites of the collection, and not just because I like women-dressing-as-men-to-go-to-sea stories; I loved how it plays with the bit of old wisdom that it’s bad luck to have a woman aboard ship.

– “68˚ 07′ 15″N, 31˚ 36′ 44″W” by Conrad Williams. A pirate captain pursues vengeance against an implacable enemy to the far reaches of the ocean. I never particularly cared about the protagonist’s search for vengeance, so this story didn’t do much for me.

– “Ironface” by Michael Moorcock. Not a story so much as a sketch, of a pirate poet who is looting the planet of Venice. Well-written, but too short to make much of an impression on me.

– “Pirate Solutions” by Katherine Sparrow. A group of hackers find some magical rum, and start their own version of a pirate fleet. This was fun, and cool, and an interesting play on the more modern use of the term “pirate”.

– “We Sleep on a Thousand Waves Beneath the Stars” by Brendan Connell. A pirate captain takes a strange young island girl captive, only to unleash a set of horrors upon his crew. I liked this one well enough while I was reading it, but it didn’t stick with me very long.

– “Voyage of the Iguana” by Steve Aylett. A series of entries in a ship’s log from the unlikeliest crew to ever set a course of south-by-north-east. I got some chuckles out of the constant absurdities, but it went on for too long without ever getting to much of a point.

– “Pirates of the Suara Sea” by David Freer & Eric Flint. A story of what happens when a pirates try to take a ship full of other pirates. This was one of the stories that used a sci-fi setting to best effect, I thought, and it had a good hook, and a great twist to it as well.

– “A Cold Day in Hell” by Paul Batteiger. Another story of piratical vengeance, set in a world where the oceans have turned to ice. Not a bad story, but it felt like it was relying too hard on the “Pirates…. On Ice!” angle to make itself unique, but actually wound up feeling very similar to the Conrad Williams story earlier in the collection.

– “The Adventures of Captain Black Heart Wentworth” by Rachel Swirsky. Some pirate rats set sail for the open sea, and whatever adventures await them there. It was a cute idea, and had some clever twists on the standard pirate tropes, but it didn’t really have anyone I could cheer for.

– “Araminta, or, the Wreck of the Amphidrake” by Naomi Novik. The Lady Araminta is sent overseas by her parents in order to keep the family from scandal, but Araminta sees it as her opportunity to be everything she’s always been denied. Highborn young women finding themselves through piracy, what’s not to like? I did think that the magical elements weren’t worked into the story as seamlessly as they might have been, however.

– “The Whale Below” by Jayme Lynn Blaschke. An airship attempts a salvage operation on a derelict whaler, only to discover the dangers that led to its abandonment in the first place. This was the only story that had air-pirates (vs. sea-pirates or space-pirates), and it took me a while to get my bearings in the language of the story. Plot-wise, there was plenty of action, and I can see this forming the basis of a very good episode of TV.

– “Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe” by Garth Nix. A man and his puppet-companion lie their way onto a pirate ship in order to gain entry into a guarded treasure cove… only to find out that there’s more defending it than they’d thought. The closing story in an anthology is typically supposed to be the strongest, but I wasn’t crazy about this one, despite typically liking Nix’s work. Too setting and action-heavy, without an equivalent amount of character development, I think. (Bonus: Podcast)

Recommendation: In the epic battle of pirates vs. ninjas, I come down firmly on the side of pirates. If you do too, and you don’t mind not all of your pirates being strictly historical-Earth-bound, then you’ll get a kick out of this collection. It’s not the most consistently excellent anthology I’ve ever read, but for every story that drags, there’s at least one that’s great. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Mervi’s Book Reviews, Stella Matutina
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: At least part of the current fascination with pirates, including our own, has to be about freedom, frontiers, a yearning for adventure and a desire to explore exotic locales.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 52: “A huge black galleon of two centuries gone came by, sails furled, moving against the scud and wrack, surrounded by corposantos, trailing a blur of dying sparks.” – another name for St. Elmo’s Fire.
  • p. 73: “A feast – from a ship with a kitchen as large as a closet and more rumtilliumption aboard than hardtack?” – Google does not believe this word exists, so.
  • p. 73: “These questions and more kept me occupied all my waking hours until I dreamed of nothing but simmering soups and mashed mofongo.” – a Puerto Rican dish of mashed fried plantains with pork cracklings and garlic.
  • p. 93: “Fetter had stolen every man’s tongue, and done for every eye with a wooden fid.” – a wooden or metal pin for parting strands of a rope.
  • p. 123: ““It sounds like they are having some luck with the game,” Lagoverde, first mate, a quinquagenarian, an Italian, a man with a long, thin jaw said.” – 50 years old.
  • p. 124: “A mass of accent colours, blonde beards and long wispy black moustaches, bright red sashes and brown jack boots; semi-aniline faces embossed with carefree grimaces, some men with willow legs, some with spruce, others with legs of oak, strong burly knuckled fellows able to stand their ground against hurricanes or men.” – a colorless, oily, slightly water-soluble liquid, C 6 H 5 NH 2 , usually derived from nitrobenzene by reduction: used chiefly in the synthesis of dyes and drugs.
  • p. 205: “A raft a hundred or so feet long and maybe a third as wide, the cutting stage floated above the thick forest of inquilinic seaweed that grew from the kelper’s back and hid much of the carcass from view.” – an animal living in the nest, burrow, or body of another animal.
  • p. 217: “Instead the bag held a mere four snaphance pistols of quite ordinary though serviceable make, an oiled leather bag of powder, a box of shot, and a blued steel main gauche in a sharkskin scabbard.” – A left-handed parrying dagger.
  • p. 218: “He had left his armour behind at the inn where they had met the messenger from the Council of the Treaty for the Safety of the World, and though he was currently enjoying the light air upon his skin, and was optimistic by nature, Hereward couldn’t help reflect that a scarlet shirt, leather breeches and sea boots were not going to be much protection if the drunken pirates aboard the xebec they were sailing towards chose to conduct some musketry exercise.” – a small, three-masted vessel of the Mediterranean, formerly much used by corsairs, now employed to some extent in commerce.
  • p. 232: “Most of the pirates hurried to prime pistols or ease dirks and cutlasses in scabbards, but one woman, a broad-faced bravo with a slit nose, laid her elbows on her oars and watched Hereward as he reached into his boot and removed the brassard he had placed there.” – a decorative cloth band, often braided or tasseled, worn around the upper arm, as by military personnel to signify a particular group, regiment, etc.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2012 8:40 am

    This does sound like a nice collection of pirate stories. Cool cover too :)

    • March 19, 2012 11:07 am

      Bookworm – In retrospect, I was sort of surprised that I hadn’t come across a pirate-themed anthology before this… pirate-mania is not as big as vampire-mania, but it’s still a pretty big thing…


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