Hell Ships (3 Monstrous Sea Tales): Ben Hammott
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Hell, as someone once said, is other people. In the case of Ben Hammott’s collection of not-so-short stories, hell is more likely to breathe through its neck. As the title suggests, these three novella-length tales involve the briny deep, and the horrors lurking therein. We’ve mapped around 1% of the ocean floor, so there could be all kinds of unimaginable terrors down there in real life, but here, you might be forgiven for thinking that you’ve seen it all before.
The book starts with The Derelict, where a ship’s doctor struggles with greed while his crewmates fight off an invasion of fungal squid thingies. Imagine any kind of giant squid story, replacing the squid’s head with some kind of mushroom, and that’s basically your monster here. It made me think of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters more than anything scary, and there’s not much to latch onto when it comes to the characters either, as they flop around trying to make sense of it all, or save their own skin. While there are a few amusingly cheesy one-liners, the story never manages to rise to the campy level of entertainment it should. Crawling along at the pace of a sea slug, there’s also a painfully long epilogue which spends way too much time getting to what could have been a neat sting in the tale.
Swimming onwards to Desolation Bay Whaling Station, which wants to be a badass action movie but suffers from an infuriatingly scatty opening, and drawn out monster encounters that never manage to get the blood pumping. The plot centres on the crew of a 1700’s whaling ship who are pitted against a fifty-foot sea serpent with legs and claws – you can tell because the author includes a picture of it early on, which felt like an odd choice. There seems to have been some decent period research done, but somehow the story doesn’t feel old fashioned enough. The tone is familiar but uninspiring, like a period movie made with costumes and locations you’ve seen in a better production. Add to this a cringeworthy Russian character who talks in broken “me good you bad” English, and an expendable crew who are just as easily forgotten as they are slaughtered by the serpent’s hungry offspring, and you’re not left with much to write home about.
Finally, there’s The Lighthouse, a more modern tale of a thief on the run who ends up in – well, you can probably guess. Waiting for him there is more than just a large rotating lightbulb, as a reluctant lighthouse keeper tells his story of beastly encounters with various sea-dwelling nasties. Not a bad thing, but including pictures of the creatures leaves nothing to the imagination, and renders the descriptions of them pointless – another strange choice. This suffers from more bloat than a seaborne corpse, and way too many moments where the eventual narrator tells the thief things other people were feeling, hearing etc. Worse still, the story he’s telling includes a transcript of a journal he found – which either means he’s got a photographic memory, or the story isn’t put together as well as it could be. It’s all over the map in fact, lost at sea with too many ideas thrown around, and an ending which aims for campy fun but comes off as laughable.
More of a shipwreck than an extended pleasure cruise, I can’t recommend a trip on any of these hellish vessels.
Three scary tales of sea monsters and the humans who are unfortunate to cross their path.
When medical student Nathanial Larkin is assigned as ship’s doctor aboard the Falcon, he is determined to make the most of the undesirable posting. Looking upon it as an adventure, he climbs aboard. Thrown off course by a savage storm, they spy a derelict ship. Little knowing what horrors he and the crew would shortly face, they board her. Finding no sign of life; they turn their minds to salvaging the cargo. However, the ship might be derelict, but it is not abandoned. Something is on board and is coming for them.
Desolation Bay Whaling Station
A whale hunt turns deadly when the hunter becomes the hunted. With their ship damaged and in danger of sinking, the crew of the Harpooner head for the nearest safe harbor, Desolation Bay Whaling Station. They arrive to find it abandoned and partly destroyed. As they set out to repair their ship, they are unaware that the whaling station has been built on another’s territory. She is pregnant, vicious, and doesn’t take kindly to trespasses.
The lighthouse was meant to save souls in peril. Instead, it drew evil men into a world their worst nightmares would shun.
They have nowhere to run to.
They have no way to leave.
They have no hope of rescue.
They only have one choice; to fight.
But how can they fight and hope to win against something that isn’t human, is faster, stronger, and has them outnumbered…
Welcome to The Lighthouse.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.