Wed
Dec 3 2008 11:28am

Fast Ships and Black Sails

Do you love the sound of a peg leg stomping across a quarterdeck? Or maybe you prefer a parrot on your arm, a strong wind at your back? Adventure, treasure, intrigue, humor, romance, danger—and, yes, plunder. Oh, the Devil does love a pirate—and so do readers everywhere.
- Night Shade Books website

I was very excited when this book, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, was announced. It features a great line-up: Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Carrie Vaughan, Michael Moorock, Elizabeth Bear, Eric Flint, and others. I had read most of the authors in this book before, but I was excited to get a chance to sample people I didn’t know, like Naomi Novik, Sarah Monette, and Eric Flint.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. My favorite stories were often from writers who both I had never read before and did something different with the pirate mythology. Paul Batteiger’s “A Cold Day in Hell” about a frozen wasteland and pirates on big ice boats was very cool (no pun intended). Naomi Novik’s story about secret identities, “Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake” was also very good. Now I know I’ll have to check out her novels. David Freer and Eric Flint took nautical pirates and moved them onto another planet in “Pirates of the Suara Sea” to great effect. “Pirate Solutions” by Katherine Sparrow took the old-seafaring pirates and mashed them together with modern-day programmers. Rachel Swirsky took the pirate standby of rats, and made them pirates instead of pirate ship stowaways in “The Adventures of Captain Black Heart Wentworth.” I can’t talk too much about the story without giving it away, but it’s a fun light-hearted tail—sorry, tale.

The top two stories from the book, in my opinion, are the Garth Nix story, “Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe,” a wild conglomeration of pirates, ancient technology, clockwork robots, general steampunkery, gods, and other whatnot with a dash of humor, and Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s “The Whale Below” (also a tale of steampunkishness, but with airships, whaling, gibbering beasts, and other good stuff). Both stories give a unique perspective on pirates as well as having a great deal of world-building that’s gone into them. As a reader, I appreciate when an author has put the effort into creating a world that I feel like I could step into and experience. Both writers have done this here.

I did have a few disappointments, but they don’t detract from the overall strength of the anthology. The Howard Waldrop and Steve Aylett stories didn’t work for me, and both authors are favorites of mine. I think I had very high expectations for the stories, and they fell short.

All in all, this is a worthy addition to anyone’s library. If you like any of the authors in its table of contents, you should definitely consider picking it up. It makes for a very fun read. There are even a few stories that I want to go back to and revisit.

[Cover art by Scott Altmann, cover design by Claudia Noble; image used with permission of Night Shade Books.]

1 comment
Joe Sherry
1. jsherry
Rachel Swirsky's story was one of the best in the anthology, as was the Bear / Monette collaboration (I'm biased, but it was good).

I had a similar problem with the Aylett story. I knew why it was supposed to be funny, and I knew why others might find it funny...but it was kind of tedious.

Michael Moorcock's story was disappointing, too.

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