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British midshipman literature set in the late-17th and early-18th centuries makes you feel like you’ve entered into an exclusive club, one which is nonetheless open to anyone who comes along and cracks the spine of the latest high seas adventure of a young man in flux.

A midshipman at the time was apt to be a 16- or 17-year-old boy who joined the King’s Navy with the expectation — or hope — that he’d eventually progress to lieutenant, and from there, if all broke well, to senior lieutenant, and on to captain.

This boy immediately took up a role as what we might now think of as management on these ships. The bulk of the crew were career-long sailors who could neither read nor write. Many of whom were victims, at one point, of England’s notorious press gangs, seized into service when they were drunk and stumbling home from the pub.

At which point, the King now owned you, and you would do his royal bidding at sea where you were likely to be impaled by a sliver of wood, flung from the rigging, ran through with a sword, or roasted in a fire. To compensate for the attendant risks of the job, you’d be plied with rum, and inebriated throughout most of your days.

More… “Novel Helmsman”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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When Dennis Chamberland looks at the sea, he sees land. He sees a vast unpopulated kingdom that can, and will, become a new habitat for humans. He sees neighborhoods where families will live and work and grow their own food. He sees the future generations that will be born underwater, and he sees these people as stewards of the sea. The time for sea living is here, and Dennis Chamberland — star of the recent VBS.TV episode “The Aquatic Life of Dennis Chamberland” — intends to be its pioneer. This underwater dominion will be named Aquatica. “We are the first humans who will move there and stay with no intention of ever calling dry land our home again,” he writes on his Atlantica Expeditions website. “We represent the first generation of a people who will live out their lives beneath the sea.”

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Flying into Provincetown on an eight-seat prop plane, you see what Norman Mailer meant when he wrote the preface to Are We in Vietnam? — “In Provincetown, geography runs out, and you are surrounded by the sea. So it is a strange place.”

 

In the summer of 2009, I arrived at the end of geography, one of the inaugural Norman Mailer fellows — seven writers who spent a month in Provincetown and attended seminars in Mailer’s house, established as a writer’s colony after his death in 2007.

After settling into a condo a few houses down from Mailer’s, Larry Schiller — filmmaker, writer, and the colony’s enigmatic executive director — gave us the four-digit code that would allow us to enter the Mailer house for exactly 28 days, at which point the code would change and stragglers would have… More…

I could not get used to the windows in Classroom 3. They ran from floor to ceiling, lining the entire portside wall. The Pacific Ocean rolled by. Later, in other seas, there would suddenly be land when we weren’t expecting to see land, or The Voice would come over the speakers and announce the sighting of sea turtles, and we’d all have to stop what we were doing and run over to see for ourselves. After a week, the students had gotten better about not staring out at the wavering horizon; I still found those windows distracting.

“Help me close the shades,” I said, and began to lower the one closest to the podium. Collective groan. “Sorry,” I said. “We’re looking at slides today.”

I powered up the overhead projector. The ship rocked. I clutched at the podium. The first time my balance faltered, the students laughed; now it was… More…