Fast Ships, Black Sails

I picked up Fast Ships, Black Sails at Worldcon this year, and have finally gotten around to finishing it. This is a pirate themed, science-fiction/fantasy anthology of short stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and published by Night Shade Books.

  • “Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
  • “Castor on Troubled Waters” by Rhys Hughes
  • “I begyn as I Mean To Go On” by Kage Baker
  • “Avast, Abaft!” by Howard Waldrop
  • “Elegy to Gabrielle, Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves” by Kelly Barnhill
  • “Skillet and Saber” by Justin Howe
  • “The Nymph’s Child” by Carrie Vaughn
  • “68° 07′ 15″N, 31° 36′ 44″W” by Conrad Williams
  • “Ironface” by Michael Moorcock
  • “Pirate Solutions” by Katherine Sparrow
  • “We Sleep on a Thousand Waves Beneath the Stars” by Brendan Connell
  • “Voyage of the Iguana” by Steve Aylett
  • “Pirates of the Suara Sea” by David Freer and Eric Flint
  • “A Cold Day in Hell” by Paul Batteiger
  • “The Adventures of Captain Black Heart Wentworth” by Rachel Swirsky
  • “Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake” by Naomi Novik
  • “The Whale Below” by Jayme Lynn Blaschke
  • “Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe” by Garth Nix

The VanderMeers start this anthology off with a bang with “Boojum”, where we are introduced to a living entity being used as a spaceship, and being attacked by pirates. This immediately brings the fantastic elements of this anthology.

Sparrow’s “Pirate Solutions” was perhaps the most unexpected of the stories, as it deals more with data pirates than high seas pirates. It didn’t quite match the same feel as the other stories, but was still enjoyable.

Another favourite was “Pirates of the Suara Sea”. Freer and Flint do an excellent job of characterizing the alien Altekar: “There are lots more deck-planks. Maybe even… five.”

“The Voyage of the Iguana” is an absurdist piece, and quite amusing. It’s a series of short journal entries documenting the voyage of an incompetent captain and his crew.

Paul Batteiger’s “A Cold Day in Hell” was an interesting concept of piracy on the high ice sheets, in a world undergoing a new ice age. The ships, instead of floating on water, skate over the ice.

Perhaps the most memorable story in the collection is Rachel Swirsky’s “The Adventures of Captain Black Heart Wentworth: A Nautical Tail”. In this tale, the pirates are black hearted rats. It’s a wonderful little story, although I was disappointed to see that in this story, ships guns were called canons instead of cannons. It’s not a musical piece,  nor is it a selection of works of literature or art.

Novik’s tale was another enjoyable fantasy tale, with elements of magic.

Garth Nix’s story “Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe” is an excellent one to end the anthology. I wished it was a much longer piece, as the characters and setting were quite intriguing.

Overall, a good anthology. There was a great depth of literary references throughout the stories, such as to Lavinia Whateley in “Boojum”, and Edward Teach in “Pirates of the Saura Sea”. Some stories re-imagine pirates entirely, while other stories are a more traditional retelling, with some added fantasy elements.

2 thoughts on “Fast Ships, Black Sails”

  1. LOL. Sorry about the typo! I kind of like the idea that the rats were firing off collections of literary work.

    “Be downed with Hawthorne, ye scurvy knave!” “Meet yer death with a blast of Quixote!”

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