Fast Ships, Black Sails: Pirates and adventure!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Fast Ships Black Sails anthology Jeff VandermeerFast Ships, Black Sails edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer

I was never a big fan of pirates (ninjas, on the other hand…) but nonetheless, the very word evokes adventure and the high seas. Fast Ships, Black Sails doesn’t really stray far from that expectation and delivers eighteen stories marked with action, treachery, and a sense of wonder.

A good chunk of the stories revolve around traditional concepts of a pirate, with only a few exceptions, such as “Boojum” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, which takes place in space. The rest take place on stormy waters with sea-worthy vessels manned by rascally crews. Surprisingly, many of the stories are modern in the sense that they subvert the cliché (erroneous as it may be) that women are bad luck on a ship, as the stories not only feature female protagonists but female pirates, be they allies or antagonists. (Of course, real life sometimes thumbed its nose at this superstition too, as evidenced by historical female pirates such as Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Grainne ni Malley.)

The first story that caught my eye was “Castor on Troubled Waters” by Rhys Hughes. The tone is light and funny, and this entry stands out because I feel this is more of a trickster story than a pirate one (although obviously, there is room for overlap). The brevity is also a welcome change of pace.

“The Nymph’s Child” by Carrie Vaughn is in a precarious situation. This is one of those open-ended stories that, if not executed properly, could leave readers unsatisfied. For me, it works and ends at just the right scene. Characterization is the strength of the piece and the author manages to subvert a couple of genre tropes while making good use of those that she retains.

My third favorite piece is Naomi Novik‘s “Aramina, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake.” Novik writes a compelling and interesting character as well as constantly inserting conflict and tension into the narrative, making this one of the more exciting pieces in the anthology. No dragons in this story, but the subtle inclusion of the fantastical is just about right.

There are several other stories that I really enjoyed in this collection as well as some that I found to be ho-hum. Overall, your impression of Fast Ships, Black Sails will depend on your expectations. If you’re looking for unconventional literary stories, this isn’t the place to find them. If you want pirates and adventure, go grab this anthology. The gems — there are a couple of ’em and I’m not even a huge pirate fan — in my opinion more than make up for the stories that didn’t strike my fancy.

FanLit thanks Charles Tan from Bibliophile Stalker for contributing this guest review.

 (2008) Publisher: 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! Swashbuckling from the past into the future and space itself, Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, presents an incredibly entertaining volume of original stories guaranteed to make you walk and talk like a pirate.

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CHARLES TAN, one of our guest reviewers, is the owner of the blogs Bibliophile Stalker and Comic Quest. He also edits Philippine Speculative Fiction. You can read his fiction in that publication and in The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories. Charles has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Comics Village.

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