Sunday, September 16, 2018

From the Depths and Other Strange Tales of the Sea - edited by Mike Ashley

For the last couple of years the British Library have been publishing collections of weird tales. (Lost in a Pyramid is a particular favourite; the stories are excellent, and it's also a fascinating insight into the late Victorian preoccupation with death and the afterlife - but they've all been excellent.) this s year however, they've really gone for it with a whole lot of titles and a really nice set of jackets to match.

The first of these, out for a month or two now, was 'From The Depths and Other Strange Tales of the Sea' and it's everything you might hope that it could be. What I particularly like about these collections are the way specific themes emerge that she'd odd sidelights on contemporary pre-occupations or interests.

The limits of scientific knowledge come up a few times, and with pleasing synchronicity there was a story in this weeks Guardian which echoes one from this collection. In 'From the Darkness and the Depths' a professor manages to take a photograph of a beast that's picking off the crew of a stricken ship. They can feel it, but they can't see it, which they decide must be because it normally lives at depths where there's no light (or something like that). These translucent Snailfish sound much more benign than the monster Morgan Robertson came up with, but they're a startling reminder that over 100 years later we still don't really know what's down there.

There are stories that capture the transition from sail to steam as well, where wooden ships are imbued with a sort of sentience that their steam powered successors lack. And a couple, including the title story 'From the Depths' that dwell on the then new horror of ships being sunk by submarines.

Perhaps the most atmospheric stories are the ones where ships find themselves stranded in sargasso weed, but the most frightening is the final entry 'No Ships Pass' about a mysterious island that picks up shipwrecked sailors. There's a handful of people trapped on it, seemingly for eternity.

Altogether it's a splendid collection which does an excellent job of bringing together the sort of strange tales of the sea that you would probably expect, along with a couple that you might not. The rest of the series mean there's a lot to look forward to in the next few months.

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