AQ: Australian Quarterly

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea : Speculative fiction and the future of seafaring

“How inappropriate to call this pla net "Earth," when it is clearly "Ocean.” – Arthur C. Clarke

It was coming at the Covehithe cliff. Under its stains and excrescences were more regular markings, stencilled warnings. Paint remnants: an encircled H.

Another step – because these were clumsy steps with which it came – and all the main mass was out of the water and raining brine. It waded. Each concrete cylinder leg a building or a smokestack wide. The two on one side came forward together, then those on the other. Pipes dangled from its roof-high underside, clots of it fell back into the sea. It wore steel containers, ruins of housing like a bad neighbourhood, old hoists, lift shafts emptying of black water.

A few waves-width from the beach, it hesitated. It licked the air with a housesized flame.1


In the sleepy seaside town of Covehithe, a father has taken his daughter to watch a rare event – a decommissioned oil rig come to life, stumbling ashore to drill and then return again to the ocean. This strange short story evokes an odd mix of feelings – the grotesque and incongruous machinery infringing on the natural world is scary at first, but author China Mieville deftly twists the story to one of wonderment. Mieville hints here at the complexity of our relationship with the natural world and maritime infrastructure – an initial aversion that evolves quickly into something far more complex.

The origins of stories and literature are rooted in the fantastic and monstrous. Before movies and books, our ancestors looked away from the light of the campfire and into the darkness and imagined what might be lurking out there.

Myths and legends may tell us more about how people lived in the past than archaeology, because they speak to what people dreamed of and what they were afraid of. Stories of beasts and curses, monsters and magic, have gone hand-in-hand with human evolution

With the dawn of the age of technology came a new kind of storytelling where authors looked anxiously into the

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