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Nautical Fiction Writers

OK, I know this is a loaded question, because everyone has their own opinion but I would like to see if there is a consensus.  I have read a lot of the threads on this forum and got some great ideas for reading material.  I raided my public library tonight and picked up a sampling of what I think are good writers in this genre (based on input from this forum).  I got (and you have to appreciate that my library has limited resources):

 

Jullian Stockwin - Treachery

C. S. Forester - Hornblower and the Hotspur

Alexander Kent - Richard Bolitho, Midshipman

Patrick O'Brian - Master and Commander

James Nelson - The Guardship

 

I have read that Patrick O'Brian invented writing in this genre.  I guess he is the most prolific writer in this era.

 

I have seen the Hornblower series on our local public TV channel but have never watched them.  

 

I'm not familiar with the Richard Bolitho series or books by James Nelson.  

 

I used to read Bernard Cornwell (not mentioned above) and thoroughly enjoyed his novels such as Sea Lord, Stormchild and Wildtrack but they were modern day adventures. After reading that series I found I had no interest in his next Sharpe series. 

 

I am also intrigued by the fact that the Stockwell Kydd series follows the life of a seaman from just boarding a vessel for the first time through to Kinghthood (I believe, the third last book addresses him as "Sir").  I would love to read this series (if it's worth it) but my library doesn't have the first few novels.  Of course I would rather start from the beginning and continue forward and am willing to purchase the novels in order but I don't want to shell out the investment if the consensus says they aren't worth the money.

 

Again I realize everyone is going to have his or her own opinion.

 

I plan to read a few chapters of each book to see what interests me, including story line and writing style.

 

I would appreciate your thoughts

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How about one of the original authors in this genre Frederick Marryat. Who actually served during the war in the British Royal Navy.  Mr Midshipman Easy was written in 1836 and is pretty funny to read. Can be found here at Project Gutenberg.  Because this was written in the early 1800s the writing style is...different to say the least.  Many other books of his are also available for free as well.

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Thanks Micheal, will check it out tomorrow, thanks for the suggestion and I love the price lol.

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I've read all of the O'Brian books and am just finishing Julian Stockwin's Inferno. I started from the beginning with both series. Although both series are similar in that both heroes have a learned friend as a foil, I frankly I found the Stockwin series more enjoyable. Like you said I enjoyed how both start with a young man who knows nothing about the sea who has to learn everything. You learn all facets of life as a seaman from the bottom to the top. You also learn a great deal of the history of the British Navy during this era. I was lucky. Being a member of a club I was able to purchase the entire O'Brian series in paperback along with the companion book Sea of Words ( a dictionary of nautical terms ) for ten dollars from the back table. I also was able to purchase the Stockwin series in used hardcover, most for less than ten dollars with shipping. It's amazing how both heroes took part in just about every part of British naval history.

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Dewey Lambdin has a series about a Alan Lewrie which is quite good. The character is more of rascal type but not as much as Flashman. All of the others are good but much less original. There is nothing as good as finding a new author that you like.

 

Kurt

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There are many Dutch books on VOC (Dutch East Indies Co.) history that have diaries of sailors and ship captains of day to day events such as explorations and shipwrecks.

I know most of the members do not read Dutch.  Some books have been translated in English and in German.

 

Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons is a very thorough historical event of the shipwreck on the Australian Coast.

There is a very good book about the events of the HMS Bounty by a female author. (best book I have read about the Bounty)

Several Dutch and English books have been written about Abel Tasman and Willem Barentsz.

Last but not least much has been written about the VOC in books, PhD thesis's and just general long detailed articles.

 

Most of these reads are on various websites and free for downloading. I know that the above is specific towards Dutch history and not everyone is interested in that.

 

Marcus

 

 

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I got started with reading the whole Hornblower series in High School.  Alexander Kent's, a pseudonym for Douglas Reeman, and who just passed away recently, Bolitho series has almost the same storyline as Hornblower.  Both authors are easy to read.

 

Reeman also wrote a series of books about the Royal Marines, Merchant Marine, and the Royal Navy in WW2.

 

I just finished the O'Brien series.  Took me awhile to get into his writing style.  I felt he could be quite winded with either too many details, but once I got the feel of his prose, I took a big liking to his novels.

 

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O'Brien reminds me of James Mitchner in that sometimes the story gets run over by the details.   Even still... excellent reads.

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I was looking on Amazon for the various books and found that they had a set of the first three books of the Kydd Series with a "look inside" function.  I clicked on it and they gave the first two chapters of the first novel.  I was hooked.  I downloaded the Kindle version.  I think I will enjoy this series.  However, I'm going to have my dictionary with me for the first while, there are a lot of words I am unfamiliar with but figure it's a great way to learn.

 

Thanks for all your thoughts and advise.

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Greetings gentlemen:

 

Patrick O'Brian was certainly not nearly the first author in this genre,  whatever he may rank by quantity.  Leaving aside the Marryatt mentioned above (who also write 'The Children of the New Forest',  once a children's classic)  C. S. Forester,  who died in 1966,  wrote the Hornblower series between 1937 & 1962.  It was only after Forester's death in 1966 that an American publisher suggested to O'Brian that he should try writing historic fiction set in the sailing navy era;  which was obviously a great success.

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

 

 

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Okay, I'm just gonna come right out and say it: PATRICK O'BRIAN ROCKS!! Whew! There -- I said it. I feel better now. Been holdin' that in a long time.

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I've read all the books of each series you mention in your original post with the exception of the last. I've read one or two books by Nelson but not any entire series. I started with Hornblower as a young kid of 12 or so. I started POB later in life. I would place him far and away the best of the genre. His character development and storylines are incredible. He puts you in the era. Hornblower and Bolitho are easier to read and also excellent stories. In fact, I would say my favourite story is of Hornblower drifting down the river Loir to escape Napoleon's soldiers. Excellent reading. It's a bit later in the series though. If you want my suggestion, read them all. Start at book one of the Kydd series perhaps. Or the Hornblower or Bolitho series. Don't start with POB or you'll be disappointed when you move on to the others. Enjoy them all then join the Aubrey Maturine appreciation society group on Facebook. There truly is a cult following of POB.

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I see you're in Ontario, Canada. I grew up in Cornwall, a few hours down the river from you. You can access ALL of the books through Inter Library loan. Decide what series, (start with Hornblower I'd suggest) and order each book in turn as you need it. The Hornblowers will read quickly, 150-200 pages of pretty easy reading per book. By the time you reach POB, they're 3-400 pages each and the reading is not beginner reading. Still well worth reading all of them. I have them all on my shelves and read through each series in turn from time to time. 

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I'm a big fan of the Patrick O'Brien books, but I would recommend listening to the unabridged books read by Patrick Tull as Books on CD. Tull is great at bringing the dialogue alive and is very good at reading the action scenes. Here is a clip of him reading 

 

The Hornblower series is very good - not quiet as realistic as O'Brien, but still very good. Hornblower isn't necessarily a sympathetic character, but that is part of his character, which is refreshing.

I really like the Dewey Lambdin books - they are much more modern in tone and jokey, but very entertaining.

Alexander Kent and Douglas Reeman are good, but pale in comparison to O'Brien and Forester - maybe it would be better  to start  with them, so you can appreciate them without comparing the work to the big two.

Not as big a fan of Nelson and the Kydd series. They are good reads, just not as good as the others in my opinion.

 

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Thanks to Larry Van Es for his post.  I downloaded book one of the Kydd series on my Kindle and so far it is extremely good.   Caution though for us modelers.  If you have built an English frigate or ship of the line from a kit, the details in the book will be interesting but may be meaningless at times without doing a bit of research.   For those that are well  read on these ships and/or have scratch built a fully framed plank on frame model, you will be able to picture the details as if you were there.  If you rigged a large English warship model you will feel like you are part of the crew, be it in the tops, reeving a line through a block or serving and stropping a new block.   Incredible detail to be found in this first book so far.   The more you know going in, the more the book will be enjoyed.  In reading a bit of Julian Stockwin's CV, he has the creds to make me believe his details are quite accurate regarding some of the things that he describes that were new to me.  If there is a down side, his character development leaves a bit to be desired, at least so far. 

 

Allan

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,

As the title of this thread is "Nautical Fiction Writers" I feel that this is on topic (just).  I've read POB, Stockwin, Reeman, all the authors mentioned in the previous posts.  They all have their good as well as bad points.  It's a matter of taste which you prefer.

 

Two much more recent nautical books were written by the Dutch writer Jan de Hartog.  The one is entitled "Captain" and details the life of a salvage tug during WW2.  I found it brilliant, here is a review that I found on Amazon:

 

It’s an incredible chronicle of a converted tugboat used to rescue sailors from sunken convoy ships in the North Atlantic in World War II.

More important, it is the story of a man’s growth from innocence to fear to terror to cowardice to finally conscience and understanding of the inhumanity of the wanton, mass destruction of human life in modern warfare. The Captain presents a convincing argument for conscientious objection to war."

 

The other book loosely connected, is called (here I'm having a senior moment)  something Jim (can look it up on Google) but I haven't read that one.

de Hartog wrote a number of other books (not nautical), all worth reading.  I think he is a much overlooked writer.

 

Regards

Pierre

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Hmm...  I remember reading, as kid, some books my uncle had.   There were several series...  "The Battleship Boys", "The Air Force Boys" all set in WWII.  They were, honestly, boiler room generated tripe.  Very formula and predicable.  But I do wish still had them if  for other reason than I like old books.

 

Edit.. I just remembered it wasn't "The Air Force Boys" as it wasn't the Air Force in WWII...  I'll have to do some Googling..  my bad.

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Mark, try Army Air Corps (WWII)

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Hmmm... I found the "Submarine Boys" series.   I'm wondering if the army books were a different publisher.  Rats.....  I wish I had kept at least one.   Oh well... back to ship building. The answer will come when I'm not thinking of it.

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Of late I have taken to a new author in this genre by the name of Sean Thomas Russell.  For my tastes in reading, I find it a very refreshing take with the main character having to fight off not only the French (Napoleonic era) but also people within the RN, as his wife was French and his loyalty is often challenged.  The first book in the series is "Under Enemy Colours".

 

cheers

 

Pat

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Another author worth exploring is Dudley Pope and his eighteen book Ramage series.  After publishing some naval non-fiction in the 1950's, he was encouraged to take up the genre by C.S. Forester (my personal favorite of the authors mentioned).  I'd characterize his work as similar to Forester and Kent.

 

Bill

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Never read a nautical novel in my life. But being interested in as much as building the kits I decided I would give it a go.

I have just finished reading a none fiction book The Era of the Clipper ship. This was very good and very detailed with info on just about every clipper ever built.

As for the fictional books I have started with the Hornblower series. I am reading Mr Midshipman Hornblower so I can follow him from the start of his carrier. I am only three chapters in and hooked. I will get the whole series. Then I will give some of the other recommendations a go.

Paul

 

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Then there is a re-release by Amazon of the Fox Series (14) by Adam Hardy. ...

Read them 2x long time ago, then gave them to a friend to enjoy... and forgot who!

51Kxpi5CSdL.jpg

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I am now 1/3 through book three of the Thomas Kydd series by Stockwin and am pretty well hooked on the series overall.   Darn books are going to cost me though at about $9 a pop and a book a week so far. Highly recommend this series.

 

Allan

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I too was fascinated with the period novels of O'Brian and Kent. In the past years I have gravitated to more Non Fiction reading as I find the accounting more exciting, emotional and educational. Here is a series of books I found worth reading:

 

Ian Toll: Six Frigates

Tim McGrath: John Barry An American Hero

Ian Toll: Pacific Crucible/The Conquering Tide/TBD (Trilogy) > WWII Pacific Campaign

James Hornfisher: Neptune's Inferno/The Last Stand of Tin Can Sailors/Ship of Ghosts

Doug Stanton: In Harms Way

Roy Adkins: Nelson's Trafalgar

Stephen Taylor: Commander

Tom Chaffin: H.L.Hunley

 

Hours and hours of engaging reading!

 

Joe

 

 

 

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Paul, great idea to start at the beginning of Hornblower's career. I have almost the whole set - I've read them all except Flying Colours, and I've lost my "Hotspur" (must get another copy!).

 

But when you get to "The Happy Return" you may find a few minor discrepancies between it and the other books - it was the first Hornblower book written, and Forester seems to have developed Hornblower's personality somewhat differently in later books about his earlier career (an author's privilege, I suppose). It doesn't spoil the story, though.  

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Join your local library. Mine has a lot of those titles, the rest they get through a statewide tracking system. And they notify by phone or email.

 

Neptune's Inferno was very good. It struck me as a knife fight at night, in a phone booth.

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Suggest White-Jacket:  Life on a Man-of-war, by Hernam Melville for 19th Century American Navy life on a frigate. 

 

Also, there is an unforgettable chapter in Victor Hugo's novel Ninety-Three, about the battle with the canon (from whence "loose canon" derives)  Amazon has a $2 kindle edition version, with period illustrations. 

 

For us oldsters, suggest Joseph Conrad's Youth. A good short read on a winter eve with a glass of port. 

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You're going to love Captain Jack Aubrey in all the O'Brian series.

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