Fast Ships, Black Sails Anthology

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

I am an admitted sucker for most things sci-fi, and sci-fi pirates certainly hit the spot! This story involves the mid-solar-system exploits of a pirate crew, focusing on a lower-decks engineer and her relationship with the strange, space-faring creature which they use as a vessel. Great character development and a great short-story overall.


Castor on Troubled Waters
Rhys Hughes

A quick tale of alternative history and a lifetime as a pirate leaves a pair of friends flabbergasted—and without a gambling debt owed to them. A clever, quick read.


I Begyn As I Mean to Go On
Kage Baker

The tale of a pirate crew’s trip to find an ill-fated emerald mine and the two runaways they pick up in the ocean, this one is a really well-written, detailed story that captures the period feel of the best pirate yarns.


Avast, Abaft!
Howard Waldrop

This was a different sort of take on pirates that seemed to use a lot of the conventions of the pirate stereotypes and work them in with a little twist from a few classic stories involving pirates. I think that I “got” the story in some ways, and I liked it, but it might have needed to be a longer to get Waldrop’s real point across.


Elegy to Gabrielle, Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves
Kelly Barnhill

This magical story is an excellent one—the story of a witch-healer and her child, drawn inexorably to the sea where she was conceived and the pirate ship her mother healed while pregnant. The girl’s story is reported by a church official, who describes how the governor of their island became obsessed with hunting her down along with her ship. One of the better stories in the anthology, “Elegy” mixes a little fantasy in with the usual round of pirate fare.


Skillet and Saber
Justin Howe

A young kitchen boy’s tale, this one is packed with excitement and a grotesque sense of horror as he works to prepare dish after dish in the belly of a pirate ship—and avoid the twisted whims of the captain by means of a magical herb. But when the cooking skills of his boat get called out by the captain of another pirate ship, it might be all out war in the kitchens. A really cute and occasionally twisted story that’s a lot of fun.


The Nymph’s Child
Carrie Vaughn

I have been a Carrie Vaughn fan for years, admittedly, since I read her first Kitty novel, and part of the reason that I wanted to read the anthology was for this story. She certainly did not disappoint—this eager and heartbreaking story is worth every word and is a gem among the rest of the book. The ill-fated romance of a pirate captain and his first mate—a woman posing as a man so that she can sail with the ship—is touching and more than a little sad. It could easily be the entry into a longer book as well, so good is the author’s quick character-building.


68 ° 07′ 15″N, 31° 36′ 44″W
Conrad Williams

On a mission of vengeance to punish the slayer of his former crew, Captain Low is single-minded in his quest. Cobbling together a crew of half-dead men whose zeal for their mission is nowhere near that of their captain, he tracks his foe, always northbound. Strangest of all is Mr. Greenhalgh, whose origins are shaded with his status as a stowaway and unique way with the macabre. I have a theory on what was going on at the end of this story, though I suspect I am not right. It is a well-written and interesting story that keeps taking darker turns; definitely one of the better stories in the anthology.


Ironface: A Vignette
Michael Moorcock

This one paints a teaser of a picture of a sci-fi-based pirate story, centered around the jewel of a world called Venice for her canals and beauty—and the equally elegant pirate who occasionally preys on the planet. Easily this could be a start to a greater story; as it is, readers can’t help but want more.


Pirate Solutions
Katherine Sparrow

Lured in by “bone rum”, an elite group of computer hackers (modern day “pirates” of the most hated sort) make off with a handy rich man’s boat and sail for treasure—and more rum—and a place to stage their computer-nerd heists in peace and solitude. I am not really sure that I “got” this story, but it is still definitely interesting, and I think it paints a new picture of Internet pirates for anyone who reads it. It is not bad—I just think it might resonate more with other readers.


We Sleep on a Thousand Waves Beneath the Stars
Brendan Connell

“Cruel and generous”, the captain is an intellectual, a sort of pirate-Darwin set upon studying the natural world while pillaging for booty to support the “expedition”. Then one day, the crew sets foot on an island populated by a strange group of natives with tribal marks capable of chewing off a man’s finger—and all hell breaks loose. But the captain, ever insatiable for knowledge, lets the female of the group survive for study, with an interesting set of consequences. I really liked this story; it is definitely one of those that I wish was just the introduction to a longer work; the erudite captain and the setting is awesome, and I am hungering for more pages.


Voyage of the Iguana
Steve Aylett

The insane yet hilarious chronicles of the ill-fated Iguana, the story consists of short, captain’s log-esque entries of a vessel and crew completely past reason. It speaks for itself better than I can describe it, but be prepared to be amazed by the utter incompetence of the Iguana’s captain.


Pirates of the Suara Sea
David Freer and Eric Flint

Our lead, who ended up on the wrong side of a war, is stuck harvesting valuable materials out of the aquatic reaches of a backwoods planet when the wrong kinds of people show up at the wrong time. But once a master sergeant, always a master sergeant, and a little preparation goes a long way, especially when pirates want your blood and your booty. A sci-fi story, almost of “anti-piracy”, set in a corrupted, Firefly-eque universe, “Suara Sea” is a real winner. The main character is ridiculously awesome, and the world-building, even in this short story, is enough to make readers want more. This is one of my favorite tales in the anthology.


A Cold Day in Hell
Paul Batteiger

Another tale of pirates from the “good guy” perspective, “A Cold Day in Hell” tracks the exploits of a Royal Navy vessel and her captain as they track the infamous Captain Frost through the frozen seas. This is another superb story and I think it does a nice job of bringing in a little bit of the cruelty happening on both sides of the piracy/anti-piracy story. The hero and his crew are really a great cast, and I wish that we could get a little bit more of their adventures than just the one short story.


The Adventures of Captain Black Heart Wendworth: A Nautical Tail
Rachel Swirsky

Our heroes are black-hearted pirates, bent on destruction and plunder and murder. Their teeth are sharp and their anchor is a solid plum…and they are a pair of “piratical” rats. This is one of the most clever stories in the book and follows the adventures of a pair of rats on their buccaneering escapades. Creative and exciting, even without some of the amazing pieces in the book, this “tail” would be worth buying the anthology by itself. It made me really laugh, and the rats are completely endearing, totally in spite of themselves.


Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake
Naomi Novik

Lady Araminta has had her share of compromising incidents before making her debut into society. With a passel of sisters to share her spotlight, the Lady’s best bet is to search abroad for a husband of repute. Doing so, however, requires her to go by sea to her betrothed, and in this book, one should know that cannot end well. This story rings of Regency-era England with a fantasy twist. The lead is another of those that could carry her own, longer book very well, which I would love to see. The ending seemed a little hurried, but overall, this was a great story.


The Whale Below
Jayme Lynn Blaschke

A “things go to hell quickly” sci-fi story that is not quite as pirate-y, if just as gutsy, as the rest of the stories, “The Whale Below” is a great tale that has a lot of interesting elements. The female lead is quite frankly badass and has a tolerance level that is so low it is almost admirable in its own right. After chasing away a whaling crew, the new “owners” of a whale carcass have more to deal with than they expect once they venture into the mouth of the beast.


Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe
Garth Nix

The last story in the anthology and a member of a series of novellas by the authors, “Sarsköe” packs a punch for the final tale. Tracking an adventure of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz, a pair of traveling adventurers (and the latter being a master of sorcery—and a puppet), this one actually does fulfill my wishes for a story to be part of a larger sequence. I really look forward to finding more of these stories. Long story short, the pair is on the hunt for a wayward “godlet”—a dark being in hiding. Naturally, the easiest way to approach the situation is by bribing a pirate crew with promises of treasure and posing as a notorious captain and mate. This ends about as well as you might expect it to but with some wonderful twists along the way.


Some closing thoughts: I think the pacing of the book was a bit unsteady. The more memorable tales seemed to come in clusters, though of course this may simply be my personal preference instead of anything more sinister. I really would recommend picking up the book, but I would almost recommend reading a new story occasionally instead of sitting down to read the entire thing at once. It took me a very long time to finish the entire book, and I think that if I had read a story a day instead of the entire book in two or three sittings, I would have enjoyed its entertainment value a bit more.

There are some real gems, and I hope I have done justice to each of them. I encourage readers to find their own favorites—I am sure you can figure from my reviews which were mine.

Book Stats:

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books; First Edition edition (November 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597800945
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597800945

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Boojum Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette I am an admitted sucker for most things sci-fi, and sci-fi pirates certainly hit the spot! This story involves the mid-solar-system exploits of a pirate crew, focusing on a lower-decks engineer and her relationship with the strange, space-faring creature which they use as a vessel. Great character development and …

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One comment

  1. Thanks for the review, it sounds good. I’d take the advice of reading the stories seperately, and probably some of my fav writers would be the stories I’d pick first. Will def be on the lookout for it.