Thursday, October 26, 2017

Song of the Sirens by Ernest K. Gann

The SS Albatross docked at the Four Hills port last Thursday evening at Capt Arms' hootch.  First Mate Gillen was on shore leave in Tucson, Boilerman Blackledge was working on the Junkers up in Rociada, and Lt. Easterling was at sea for a while.  Bosun's mate 3/c Simon kept the ship's journal for Thursday.  All hands are expected to grab a holystone and turn to until we get through the doldrums and back into the freshening Trade Winds of Life.  Seven stalwart sailors gathered and the mates sang their solos:

Keith - excellent description of sailing ships and life at sea, not a biography, this was an autobiography , but a one dimensional one about a man’s love of sailing ships. Liked the jokes about women and boats. Lots of sea jargon. I learned quite a bit about sailing ships. I wished for more character development. The only character developed was Gann. What about the two women, Henderson and Post. I would have enjoyed knowing more about them. His style could have benn more concise. Grade - B

Jack F. - I enjoyed certain elements of the book, such as the analogies and metaphors. Gann used language well. The most dramatic passage for me was the description of the storm at night. All the boat terms were distracting. I got very tired of all the different kinds of rails. Grade – B+

Charlie – Grade – B this is a niche market book that is redeemed by good writing. The boat jargon put me off. I skipped it, but it would be cool for a sailing guy, especially because there is so much of the book devoted to being on the sea in a sail boat.

Tom – Liked it a lot. A solid craftsman of language. I thought he went overboard with descriptions when he did not need to. Otherwise, I was glued to his adventures at sea. Grade - A-

Dick A. – Having sailed, I understood the jargon, although I did look up certain terms to get the precise definition such as brigantine. This is my second time reading the book. I loved the construction of the book, especially unifying the different sailings and boats with the sitting “In Harbor” in Rønne, Denmark waiting for the foul weather to break. Gann has authored 18 novels and several screenplays. He is a good writer. He is one of my favorites. Some of the boat descriptions were very funny. Grade –  A

Bob S. – I liked the book. It took a bit of time to get appreciate the nautical terminology. Finally, I disregarded the terminology and went with the sea yarns. It is essentially a chronology of his boats and his sailings. The writing was good. Grade-  A-

and from far outside the fishing lanes:

 The next time someone asks me, “If you graduated from the Naval Academy, why did you go into the Air Force?” I will have a ready answer: “Read Song of the Sirens by Ernest K. Gann.”  If they insist on more specifics, the answer is captured in Gann’s story of battling the Fred Holmes for over two days through 60 to 100 knot winds, and advancing but 10 miles toward their destination. The sheer terror, the utter frustration, the feeling of helplessness against the elements – this captures life on the high seas. It produces some great sea stories – and a great deal of excess stomach acid.

 Gann has a great sense of humor merged with his talent for description, as exemplified in this excerpt about taking on water in the doldrums: “We were not in any danger except the remote possibility of cannibalism if the calm continued. We persevered at the pumps mainly because it was something to do. Still, our doctor, who had been a stalwart at the pumps, now came down with the affliction known as the GIs. We nursed him with tender sarcasms about physicians healing themselves …”

Well above average writing on a somewhat personal subject of average interest. B+
    -   Mike of the Desert

I enjoyed reading Song of the Sirens.  Gann is a good story teller and a good writer.  There were two things that bothered me:  the use of nautical terms that I did not know and the strange organization where he jumped from the story of one boat to another -- he interrupted the story on one boat and suddenly jumped to the story of another and then back to the original story.  I found that somewhat distracting.

It also dawned on me that I am really not very interested in stories of boats or sailing.

As I said, I did enjoy the book and I will pass it on to my nephew in Utah.  I hope you have a good discussion.  Sorry I won't be there.  I would give the book a B+

   -  Dick Jensen