'And then went down to the ship.' Thus, with a nod to Homer, Ezra Pound began his own epic odyssey through the world of literature and the modern world. There is no literature without a departure, a setting forth; and very often that has meant leaving the land for the more uncertain world of the sea. Many great writers have written about life at sea and the adventures that are to be had, and in this selection of short stories, Tony Tanner's aim was to avoid the obvious and where possible to seek out their more neglected works. As a separate and recognizable genre, the sea story was effectively invented by American writers and they are well represented, with contributions from Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. From Herman Melville(who wrote no short stories) we read his account of the final three days of the chase of Moby Dick, which concludes that novel and is one of the high points in American literature. Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, John Masefield, E. M. Forster, Malcolm Lowry, and Peter Ustinov are some of British authors in this collection.
Although not British in origin, the greatest of all writers of sea fiction is Joseph Conrad, the only writer to be represented by two stories: 'Initiation', which begins the volume, and 'The Secret Sharer', in which he charts one of the most extraordinary relationships between men at sea ever imagined and analyzed. In his introduction, Tony Tanner seeks to explore and establish the particular qualities that emerge when writing takes to the waters and we, as readers, are offered what Conrad called his 'paper-boats'. This wide-ranging collection of stories will prove absorbing and thoroughly entertaining reading for anyone with an interest in the sea and its literature.