The Wreck of the Titan (or Futility, alternatively) was published in 1898 by Morgan Robertson. It came to my notice in another book (Flying to Valhalla) where its eerie prediction of the Titanic disaster was noted. Once again, a too-huge-for-its-own-good steamship. Once again, trying to set a speed record in foggy conditions. Once again, an unsinkable ship. And once again, that big lethal chunk of ice.
Even given the weird gramophone, black-and-white writing of way-back-then, it’s an interesting read. Our main man (once Naval Lieutenant Rowland but now Common Seaman Drunkard Rowland) is a deck-swapping, hair-of-the-dog failure ever since he courted Myra and got in a three-way relationship which included her other boyfriend, God. Not Christian enough, Rowland lost his girl, drank to forget and was cashiered. And so now Myra and her new, older, more steadfast (and quite prickish) husband are aboard the Titan, sneering down their noses at him and forever losing their young daughter.
The Titan has issued instructions that it is not a ship to be trifled with, that it will run down any vessel that gets in its way. This seemed to be a growing concern back then (especially among hull-bait smaller ships) and it turns out to be a valid worry point – the Titan cuts a brig in half in the fog and doesn’t stop, unable to afford the time to pick up survivors. The lookouts all accept the captain’s kickback to say “what brig?”, all save Rowland. In an attempt to ruin him, the captain orders him drugged, puts him on watch, if only to compromise him. And it backfires when the ship rams the iceberg, the bridge (with Rowland and Myra’s perpetually-straying daughter) comes off and lands on the ice, only as the rest of the ship slides back off, fills with water like a sticky gin bottle and promptly sinks. And now starts the trial of Rowland.
First there is that half-starved polar bear sharing the berg with them. After rescue, there are the legal battles. And then, while attempting to return Myra’s daughter, he’s arrested on “kidnapping” charges. Really, nothing seems to go right for this poor guy. You’ll have to read it to find if Rowland ever finds happiness (or that honest highbrow peace).
I really loved parts of this book. I loved the moment Atheist Rowland prays (only for the girl’s sake, not his own) which is precisely the moment a rescue ship spots him. I love some of the dialog (campy as it is). And if you ever needed to see the dangers of forcing accents in dialog, look no further than the story’s Irish cop (or the Jewish lawyer – oi vey!). But overall its a fun short sea-story, available for free download from Project Gutenberg HERE.
Pull it down, load it up, and have a go. A fun story from a century past!
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