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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Whalers and whales, and their song


I picked up an intriguing collection of short stories edited by veteran Ellen Dallow, mainly because (a) I like short stories and (b) anything about the sea intrigues.

So far, it is brilliant.  A great story about a whispering skull from Western Australia's 17th century past by Terry Dowling, "The Tryal Attract," which just not have an enticing touch of history, but was eerily reminiscent of the second story in the collection, "Fodder's Jig," one that could easily have been written by a past master of the genre, John Wyndham.

But what drove me to post a sort-of assessment on my blog was a stand-out story by Ray Clueley, "The Whaler's Song."

Delving deep into history, it evokes the Scandinavian link with the sea -- with the whales and the fish that live within it.  Fishing happens one season of the year, and whaling the other .... in a primitive wresting of a living from the icy ocean. 

We begin with a relatively modern whaling boat -- too small to be called a ship, but murderous nonetheless.  There are few in the crew, but they are all driven, by history as well as economics.  One of a pair of minke whales is harpooned and butchered, with details that reveal how deeply the writer immersed himself in research.  Then, the following night, the whaling boat is sunk.  While whale attack isn't mentioned, there is a definite Moby-Dick influence, here.  The difference is the author's description of what follows afterward.

Where Melville left the reader to imagine the sequel, and the story of the sinking of the Essex by a whale is followed by the saga of an open boat voyage, the small crew of the whaling boat are cast up on a shore that has been exposed by global warming -- along with the great skeletons of the whales that have been slaughtered in the past.

A compulsive read, with a memorable ending, which I leave you to find out for yourselves.

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