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Literature / Uncharted Seas

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Uncharted Seas is a 1936 Science Fiction / Adventure novel written by Dennis Wheatley.

The passengers and crew of the Swedish tramp steamer Gafelborg are crossing the Atlantic. Almost everyone has a shady past or something to hide or is otherwise untrustworthy. Basil Sutherland is a drunkard. "Harlem" Joe is an educated black man from America with an eye for stirring up trouble among the crew. Synolda Ortello is on the run from her past in South Africa, a past with which the Venezuelan Vicente Verde seems to know an awful lot about. Unity Carden is travelling with her father, Colonel Carden. And the Finnish Juhani Luvia is even more of an enigma than anyone else.

When a storm hits, the French Captain Jean de Brissac orders everyone to abandon ship. They drift in the lifeboat for days. "Harlem" Joe attempts to instigate a mutiny, which results in Unity's father being killed. After subuding Joe and his fellow mutineers, the group soon finds themselves clear of the storm and drifting right back to Gafelborg, which it turns out didn't sink. But as they climb back aboard they realize the ship is headed inexorably towards the infamous Sargasso Sea, a land of carnivorous, flesh-eating weed, giant octopuses and crabs, and two islands populated by the descendants of shipwreck victims, perpetually at war with one another. Can the passengers and crew of the Gafelborg find a way out of the monster-infested Sargasso Sea, or will they be trapped there forever...?

One of Wheatley's more (in)famous novels, it was adapted into the Hammer film The Lost Continent.

Tropes used in this novel:

  • The Alcoholic: Basil, although he undergoes a character arc where he gives up the booze and rises to the challenge to become The Hero.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The inhabitants of Satan's Island. They appear to live only to regularly raid the neighboring island for women to kidnap and rape, and when any white people get shipwrecked on their island, they crucify the men and take the women as sex slaves. They also kill the "half-caste" children they have with the white women they rape, for fear of "polluting" their people's blood.
  • Asshole Victim: Vicente Verde, who gets killed by the attacking black men. He was a creepy jerk who blackmailed Syndola into having sex with him.
  • The Captain: Jean de Brissac. No cowardly Frenchman he. When the going gets tough, he grabs a gun and starts blasting away at whatever is threatening his ship.
  • Dirty Coward: Corncob. He runs away when the giant crabs show up and ends up getting killed by them.
  • Derelict Graveyard: The Sargasso Sea has everything from pirate ships to World War I Imperial German warships.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Although life on the white people's island is relatively idyllic, everywhere else in the Sargasso Sea is basically a nightmarish Lost World filled with savage Scary Black Men and giant sea monsters.
  • Funetik Aksent: All of the non-white characters except for Vicente. Chinese cook Li Foo says things like "Me so solly" and so forth, while all of the black character with speaking rolls are given a "Yes massa" type accent, even Joe, who is supposed to be well educated (although in his case it might be Obfuscating Stupidity).
  • Genre Shift: It starts out as a standard story of survival with the characters adrift at sea in a lifeboat with seemingly no hope of survival, then about halfway in it abruptly shifts into a Lost World story with a nightmarish version of the Sargasso Sea filled with monsters and hostile tribes.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: One of the smaller islands - a little outcropping, really - is home to several of these creatures.
  • Giant Squid: Well, octopuses. Called "devil fish," they live underneath the Sargasso weed and regularly drag down anyone they can get ahold of.
  • Groin Attack: The chief of the inhabitants on Satan's Island gets shot in the junk.
  • Legacy Character: Since the original Sir Deveril, all his descendants have been named that.
  • Lost at Sea: The first half of the novel is the protagonists adrift in the lifeboat after the storm, having abandoned ship thinking the Gafelborg was sinking.
  • The Mutiny: "Harlem" Joe tries to stage one in the lifeboat. When that fails, he turns traitor and runs to join the inhabitants of Satan's Island.
  • Mysterious Past: Almost everyone aboard the Gafelborg has one.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Satan's Island! Come on! Satan's. Island. Then there's the evil pirate the Red Barracuda, a man so evil he was the only person the other, more peaceful island's inhabitants ever executed.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Juhani Luvi makes liberal use of the N-word when describing the inhabitants of Satan's Island, who are all black, and refers to Li Foo as "Chinkee." Although in the latter case, he means it affectionately. His views on women are also pretty extreme, even for the time; when he finds of Syndola slept with Vicente, he reacts pretty violently.
  • Really Gets Around: Synolda. Or at least Luvia seems to think so.
  • Scary Black Man: An entire island of them. Satan's Island is inhabited by the descendants of black slaves who've turned savage. They regularly raid the neighboring island to abduct white women to rape.
  • Sex Slave: What the denizens of Satan's Island have in store for the women they capture. Unity and Syndola almost suffer this fate, but are rescued.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Vicente really has a thing for Synolda.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Most of the black characters, but Corncob in particular. He acts tough and brave and eager to lend a hand, but the minute things get dangerous he alone out of the group turns into a Dirty Coward (which gets him killed).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Joe. He just kind of disappears after leaving for Satan's Island. The rescue party does glimpse him briefly with the chief, but he isn't among those killed in the battle to rescue Unity and Syndola.
  • Where da White Women At?: The black men of Satan's Island seem uninterested in their own females and regular abduct white women to rape.