Seeking eerie tales of the icy sea
November 21, 2017 9:56 AM   Subscribe

A number of my favorite books and stories are eerie tales of the sea - China Mieville's novel The Scar, John Wyndham's Out of the Deeps, the boat parts of the Earthsea Trilogy, ghost stories that take place on ships, the Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, etc. Eerie tales of the sea are extremely restful, for some reason. I especially like tales of Antarctica, such as Ursula Le Guin's "Sur" and Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica. I would like more.

I think I'm mostly looking for fantasy, science fiction and ghost stories. If you recommend non-fiction or realistic novels, please avoid the "everyone freezes to death and dies" kind - if people are lost at sea, they should be found at sea later, because the purpose of this exercise is to enjoy the power of the sea rather than contemplate death.

If you want to recommend non-fiction books about the sea itself, that is also good. I am a particular fan of The Sea Around Us, even though it's a kids' book - the big format, illustrations and calm tone are restful.
posted by Frowner to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, eerie stories set in Antarctica is my favorite genre! They tend to not be about boats MOVING through the water as much as boats STUCK in the water (ice), are a couple off the top of my head:

The Terror by Dan Simmons. So good. You feel cold while reading it.

If you're looking for uplifting true stories about navigating around Antarctica, you should read everything you can about Earnest Shackleton. Start with the incredible Endurance. I have foisted this book on so many people. So exciting! And a happy ending.
posted by silverstatue at 10:13 AM on November 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

would Mievellie's "Railsea" count ?
posted by k5.user at 10:14 AM on November 21, 2017

Not sure if it passes though because some people do die. But spellbinding read.
posted by 15L06 at 10:17 AM on November 21, 2017

Rolling in the Deep, if you can find a copy (it was limited release), and Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.
posted by okayokayigive at 10:24 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Children of the Shark God" in this book of short stories. It's beautifully written, serene and moving.
posted by greenish at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2017

The Wreck of the Mary Deare is a mystery, not SF, but it's very good, and much of it is set at sea. On the other hand, much of it is also set in an Admiralty court-room, so if you want a totally immersive marine experience, this is not it.
posted by ubiquity at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2017

I don't have a specific work to recommend but a person, Ernest Shackleton. Undoubtedly there is some non-fiction retelling of his amazing and arduous adventures near the south pole. I know of him through an Omnimax movie about his journeys.
posted by mmascolino at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Haha, I have a perfect recommendation for you. Pym by Mat Johnson, and that of course also leads to the recommendation of the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket the one and only novel written by Poe.
Creepy nautical mysteries of voyages to Antarctica both.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:14 AM on November 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's YA, but The White Darkness was plenty creepy.
posted by praemunire at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2017

"Ghost stories that take place on ships" are a recurring theme in a lot of William Hope Hodgson's stories and novels.

Try The Ghost Pirates, the Sargasso Sea Stories, and The Boats of the "Glen Carrig", in whatever form you can find them.

Two of the five volumes of the Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson series are dedicated to his nautical stories:

* Boats of the "Glen Carrig" and Other Nautical Adventures (volume 1)
* The Ghost Pirates and Other Revenants of the Sea (volume 3)

His public domain novels are on Gutenberg.
posted by rollick at 11:29 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

There was a similar request several months ago, might have some more of what you're looking for.
posted by doctornecessiter at 12:07 PM on November 21, 2017

Peter Watts Rifters series starts deep under the sea and is spooky as hell - start with Starfish.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:25 PM on November 21, 2017

The "sea" aspect is debatable (there's some sea travel but more travel on icy northern rivers..) but on the edge of the territory you're exploring you might enjoy Eowyn Ivey's "To the Bright Edge of the World."
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:29 PM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was waffling on recommending Starfish because the details are fuzzy for me and it might be more problematic than I remember, but since somebody else did it's available on Peter Watt's website.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:29 PM on November 21, 2017

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver.
posted by neushoorn at 12:39 PM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

The sea is not a big focus in At the Mountains of Madness but Antarctica certainly is. Also, there are "sinister penguins".

(I enjoy this book but the standard Lovecraft caveats apply.)
posted by darchildre at 1:25 PM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you might like Philip Hoare's non-fiction books RisingTideFallingStar and The Sea Inside.
posted by paduasoy at 1:45 PM on November 21, 2017

You should read Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson.
posted by suelac at 2:06 PM on November 21, 2017

I know you asked for books, but if you haven't seen the movie Whale Rider, you should. It is based on the book by the same name. (I haven't read the book.)
posted by luvmywife at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2017

Seconding The Terror, it really captures the feeling of being stuck in the ice with a crew of people who are all slowly going crazy.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:43 PM on November 21, 2017

If you are up for short stories, consider Water: Tales of elemental spirits by Robin McKinley and her husband, Peter Dickinson. It's sci-fi/fantasy and definitely eerie, though it may have less of a focus on the sea itself and more on creatures found in the sea (Kraken, non-Disney mermaid etc.).

It's part of an elemental series, but to my knowledge they've only done 2 (Fire is the other one), which is a bummer because they're seriously excellent.
posted by widdershins at 2:48 PM on November 21, 2017

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea is a short and recent SF novel by Adam Roberts that captures a certain strangeness.
posted by rollick at 3:15 PM on November 21, 2017

Seconding "The Terror," "Railsea," "Antarctica," and "Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym." That last one integrates some ideas of John Cleves Symmes, Jr., one of the original proponents of the Hollow Earth Theory, as does another Poe work, a short story called "MS. Found in a Bottle." (MS. = Manuscript) I think MS. Found in a Bottle fits as an answer to this question.

Shackleton was mentioned above, and one book of his I can recommend is "The Voyage of the James Caird." He wrote the story of the difficult voyage in one of the remaining boats from Endurance, modified for the open ocean, from Elephant Island (where the Endurance crew was stranded, to South Shetland Island, where there was a whaling station where they could find rescue. He and 5 other men including Captain Frank Worsley (ship captain and author of the aforementioned "Endurance") made the harsh trip, followed by 3 of them crossing the island on foot in record time, a record that stands to this day even though the Royal Army sends units to replicate the crossing annually. Shackleton's method of getting out of the mountains was so unbelievably dangerous and desperate that no sane person with options would attempt a repeat.

Since it's about the last leg of the expedition, save for the trip home to England (where the crew was immediately drafted into, and substantially killed in, WWI), so read James Caird after Endurance.

I notice that Capt. Worsley wrote another book which may be useful: "Under Sail in the Frozen North," about an expedition north in the 1920s.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:34 PM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thirding ‘The Terror’. Meets your criteria exactly.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:23 PM on November 21, 2017

Maybe Moominpappa at Sea (although they're more on an island for a lot of it, but the sea and being isolated is a huge part of it). You don't necessarily need to have read the other Moomin novels for this one (most editions will catch you up on the major characters in the beginning). It's probably the bleakest of the Moomin books but in a beautiful and haunting way. It's not all dire, though. It's an entertainingly weird and delightful read.
posted by darksong at 6:48 PM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Edgar Allan Poe for the Narrative of A.Gordon Pym (complete novel); plus his short stories "MS Found in a Bottle" (available at Project Gutenberg, scroll down), and also "The Descent Into The Maelstrøm" (available at Project G as well, here, scroll down).
posted by Rash at 7:21 PM on November 21, 2017

Not fiction, but just as enthralling a read: Francis Spufford's I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination is fantastic.
posted by jokeefe at 8:03 PM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Addendum: A review by Jenny Diski.
posted by jokeefe at 8:08 PM on November 21, 2017

I'm also going to be a lone voice advising against The Terror; I read it because it had been recommended on Mefi by multiple people and was really disappointed when it descended into supernatural monsters and a huge helping of cultural appropriation. I mention this because Frowner's political acuity may lead her to some of the same reactions I had.
posted by jokeefe at 8:14 PM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I loved The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett: details about life at sea as well as what life is like for the wives of the "explorers" left behind. Lucy Bledsoe's The Big Bang Symphony is a modern-day murder mystery set on Antarctica, with much dangerous ice and lesbians.
posted by Jesse the K at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2017

Oh yes, a hearty second for The Voyage of the Narwhal: superb.
posted by jokeefe at 11:22 AM on November 22, 2017

For an eerie story in temperate climes, but Joseph Conrad has a novella called "The Shadow-Line: A Confession" (Project Gutenberg etext) about a young Captain who is becalmed on his ship with a sick crew and a fever-mad first-mate. Conrad disclaimed any supernatural elements, but as you'll see (it's a good read) plenty of readers have cause to disagree. Conrad's "The Secret-Sharer" (Gutenberg) is about a young captain, new to his vessel, who is surprised to find a near doppelganger of himself climbing aboard his ship at anchorage; he hides the double in his cabin, and before long wonders if the double is real or if he's the only one who can see him.

Along similar lines is Jack London's short "Make Westing" (etext) about a westbound ship trying to round the Cape but is ensnared by a brutal storm for week after week. I've not read London's book "The Sea Wolf" (Gutenberg)but it may also fit the bill from what I understand of the story.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:52 AM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here’s a 12-year-old AskMe question, seeking sci-fi stories set in Antarctica, just for completeness’s sake. I’d still stand by my recommendation there, but Craig Harrison’s Days of Starlight might be even harder to track down now than it was in 2005.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:10 AM on November 23, 2017

OH! OH! OH! Just finding this thread, and need to rec The Cage by Audrey Schulman. Photographer goes out with a crew to observe polar bears, things go very wrong. So hypnotically and evocatively written that I did nothing else after I started -- I am shivering just thinking about it now. This book has haunted me for decades.
posted by apparently at 7:21 AM on February 26, 2018

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