26 January 2017

Review: The Riddle of the Sands by Erkine Childers

Trade paperback, 301 pages
Published 2011 (originally 1903)
Acquired September 2013
Read January 2015
The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service
by Erskine Childers

I read this book while travelling to the Eaton Collection to read science fiction from 1890-1910 during with future war/revolution. This turned out to be something of a coincidence, as The Riddle of the Sands is pretty much a member of the same genre-- except that it's not science fiction. It's about a planned German invasion of Britain, but the invasion is thwarted during the trial stages, meaning there's no counterfactual or future history proposed. Yet the book is clearly responding to the same concerns that drive contemporary science fiction novels like The Three Days' Terror and The Stolen Submarine: Britain's supremacy is under threat, but Your Humble Author knows how to rectify that, both in reality (some policy changes) and in fiction (plucky amateurism, which is the supreme skill of the fin-de-siècle Englishman).

If ever you wanted to know how difficult yachting in sandy waters was, this is the book for you. I mean that both facetiously and seriously: I never even thought about it before, but Childers really makes you the reader feel as though you're lost in an unnavigable fog. Hard going sometimes, but fun, and worth it. (The film adaptation is decent, too, though I think my wife mostly liked it for Michael York in tight trousers.)

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