February 16, 2009
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The Far Side of the World

by Patrick O'Brian

I was not satisfied with a short trip to Treason’s Harbor. And so I followed Captain Aubrey and Dr. Maturin in their first long voyage to the far side of the world, a voyage in which HMS Surprise (in the role of HMS Phoebe) pursues the USS Norfolk (USS Essex) into the Pacific and far beyond. It’s hard to remember that, even at such a late date, whole swaths of the Pacific were unmapped, nondescript, essentially unknown to science. And it's always fun to see how little plot O'Brian requires in order to drive his novel along at a thrilling pace – he can generate a topsail breeze from a casual grumble or a seaman’s sigh. But O'Brian’s vessel can cope with storm and flood, too, and here she swims amidst infidelity, abortion, men overboard, the captain overboard, and an armed raft of Lesbian Polynesian Separatists.