Sunday, 18 July 2021

Two British Library short story volumes

I love the British Library's volumes of short stories. They tend to come in several different formats: murder mysteries, science-fiction and 'weird fiction'. Hard to say which I appreciate the most, possibly the weird fiction but it only just has the edge on the other two. The following two books comprise murder mysteries and science fiction.

First up, Deep Waters: Mysteries on the Waves edited by Martin Edwards. 

This anthology is, as it says in the title, all about water. Not just the sea but also rivers, lakes, harbours and so on. A few usual suspects are here. We have Sherlock Holmes' first case as a teenager, The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, set on the Norfolk Broads but essentially a story of a convict ship where the convicts had taken over the ship. Raffles and Bunny are also present in The Gift of the Emperor by E.W. Hornung, where the two are on cruise and Raffles sets his sites on pinching some valuable pearls. 

One of the best stories to my mind was The Echo of a Mutiny by R. Austin Freeman. This one is set around the Thames estuary on one of the lighthouses there and is a story of two men horrified to meet again after a historical onboard mutiny they'd both been complicit in. Austin Freeman's detective is a Dr. Thorndyke and he's brought in in chapter two to solve the murder. I'm quite keen on these Thorndyke mysteries and must read the book of four novels I have on my Kindle. This short story had a very strong sense of place, very 'foggy Thames river, Kent coast' in atmosphere. Loved it. 

Another good Thames mystery was A Question of Timing by Phyllis Bentley, describing how stopping a murder can literally be all about dilly-dallying somewhere for a while, thus delaying you, and then finding you're in the right place at the right time to save someone's life.

Other good stories, The Thimble River Mystery by Josephine Bell, set among the permanent dwellers on yachts on a tributary of the Solent at Southampton, Man Overboard by Edmund Crispin, a tale of incrimination by letter, a clever Cornish fisherman story, The Queer Fish by Kem Bennett and Death by Water a DI Appleby story by Michael Innes, also set in Cornwall. (I really must get around to reading one of the novels.)

These anthologies do vary a bit in quality but all in all this one was very strong. I enjoyed every one of the stories and a few were excellent. Most of all I loved the strong sense of place in most of them, I am rather fond of a good watery murder but nevetheless these would stand up even if that's not your favourite thing. Excellent collection. Beautiful cover too.

Lastly, Spaceworlds: Stories of Life in the Void edited by Mike Ashley. This was sent to me by the British Library for a free and fair review.

These are short stories written before space flight was actually achieved, imagining life 'out there' in the void. It has some very famous sci-fi writers within its covers too: Anne McCaffrey, E.C. Tubb, Jack Vance, Eric Frank Russell, John Brunner. I'd already read just one story, The Ship Who Sang by Ann McCaffrey, but the story of how babies with no hope of survival can have their brains merged with a spaceship is always worth a reread. This one spawned a seven book series, mostly co-written with other authors, entitled 'Brainship'. The E.C. Tubb offering tells of the Sun about to go nova and the Earth's efforts to build a shield to protect the planet. But building is behind schedule, why? A nice human psychology kind of story. Sail 25 by Jack Vance was an interesting 'test the space-cadets' story. One of my favourites in the anthology was O'Mara's Orphan by James White. This is another of the 'hospital in space' series and I've read one or two others in other collections. Such a good story of a juvenile alien that one of the staff has to learn to treat. I must search out more of these. Ultima Thule by Eric Frank Russell recounts how a ship jumps forward, by mistake, into a complete void outside known space. Well written and disturbing. Another favourite was The Voyage that Lasted 600 Years by Don Wilcox. This is a 'generational ship' yarn. A professor will go with them and will be the only one to last the whole trip by being refridgerated and woken up to check on things every 100 years. It illustrates how one mistake he makes at the beginning, by admitting one extra man, can affect the whole project in unimaginable ways. All in all, this was another excellent anthology. Every story was very readable, some quite thought provoking and others very imaginative. I don't think of myself as a huge 'space' fan as regards sci-fi writing (I'm more into alien planets) but I thoroughly enjoyed all nine of these stories and look forward to more of these excellent collections. 


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Oh wow, I misread your earlier post about this and didn't think I realized this was a shorts collection - even better! I do like this author.

Lark said...

I don't read a lot of short stories or short story collections, but I have to admit both of these sound good. You know I love mysteries, but I have to admit I'm a little more intrigued by the stories in Spaceworlds. Maybe because I've been wanting to read more science fiction lately. :)

Cath said...

Diane: Yes, they're both short story collections. I used not to read many short stories but now I seem to have developed a taste for them.

Lark: I never used to read many short stories either but then The British Library started publishing vintage collections and suddenly I was a fan! I used to read heaps of sci-fi as a teen and then not so much for many years but now I seem to be getting back into it. Plus I've been really hooked on Star Trek: Enterprise for the last year and I think that's helped.

DesLily said...

Well... with Anne McCaffrey I suppose it would be good!! (I read the ship that sang years ago!!) I haven't read a thing in a month. I tried once or twice and it was like brain fog.. kept getting lost.. But on the good side I did watch the 2 seasons of the Mandalarian for the third time! *snort*

Cath said...

Pat: I looked up The Mandalarian and it isn't available on Netflix or Prime. Just Disney I think. Never mind, it'll be available at some stage I'm sure.

TracyK said...

Both of these collections sound good although I think I might enjoy Spaceworlds more. On the other hand, the various waterways in the UK would be very interesting to read about as a background for a mystery.

Deep Waters has a different cover in the US edition but it is still very nice, I am strongly thinking of buying it soon.

Speaking of weird, I am reading a book of weird stories, or so they seem to me. They are by Charles Beaumont, written in the 1950s mostly, and he wrote some stories that were used for Twilight Zone stories.

Cath said...

Tracy: Funnily enough, both of them were good, which in itself is unusual. Some collections are a bit 'meh' with just a few good stories but both of these had multiple excellent stories, especially Spaceworld.

I'm very tempted by the Beaumont collection, if only for that wonderful cover. And I love weird stories. In fact the British Library sent me another one today, a book of Cornish tales. They obviously have no idea how appropriate that is!

Susan said...

I don't know why, but I've never been a fan of short stories. The mystery collection sounds good, though, and the "weird fiction" designation made me laugh.

Vallypee said...

Ooh, how did I miss this? I wonder if we can get these BL collections over here? I'd love to dip into those!

CLM said...

I brought Giver of Stars with me for two days on Cape Cod. Is it near the top of your pile yet?

Cath said...

Susan: That mystery collection was 'very' good. They vary a bit I know but that one was excellent.

Val: They're all out on Kindle at quite reasonable prices.

Constance: It's not only not near the top, it's temporarily gone as my daughter borrowed it.