Monday, November 24, 2008

Book/Magazine Review: Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

I was never one of those people who's a big fan of pirates (ninjas, on the other hand...) but nonetheless, the connotations of the 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.

For the most part, a good chunk of the stories revolve around traditional concepts of a pirate, with only a few being the exception, 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 cliche (erroneous as it may be) that women are bad luck as the stories not only feature female protagonists but female pirates (be they allies or antagonists).

The first story that caught my eye was "Castor on Troubled Waters" by Rhys Hughes. The tone is light, funny, and certainly 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". The author manages to write a compelling and interesting character as well as constantly inserting conflict and tension in 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, Fast Ships, Black Sails is about meeting expectations. If you're looking for unconventional literary stories, this isn't the place to find it. If you want pirates and adventure, go grab this anthology. The gems--there's 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.

No comments: