“Under the Black Ensign”
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multicast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio (2008)
Approx 2 hours.

Back when I first started listening to these audio book productions of tales from the days of Pulp Fiction, or Stories from the Golden Age, I was only interested in the Science Fiction and Fantasy tales, but soon I was curious to hear some of the other genres because of the high quality of performance and production put into these books.

Galaxy Audio produces each story from the days of pulp fiction magazine into phenomenal performances that will remind you of the early days of radio.  The characters created by Hubbard are already well rounded and over the top and the voice actors bring each character to life, each one sounding like a character from the mid-20th century, just like the high drama and suspense stories that were on the radio at the time.   The vocalizations, the sound effects and the original music all come together to bring you a true theater of the mind performance.

Once I had listened to all the sci-fi and fantasy stories I started then listening to the back issues of these audio pulps, and no matter what genre I heard, I was entertained and enjoyed the great story.  Hubbard wrote many stories during the time of the pulp magazines and in many genres.  This time around we dive into a sea adventure, but even more exciting (I was especially looking forward to listening to this one) a pirate adventure.

Originally published in “Five Novels Monthly” August,  1935, “Under the Black Ensign” could be called the perfect swashbuckler romance.  Set in the Caribbean of the 17th century this story blends piracy, British men-of-war, a girl of aristocratic birth disguised as a boy, and an officer unjustly stripped of rank.

Tom Bristol’s career as first mate of the Maryland bark Randolph abruptly ends during shore leave when he is press-ganged into serving aboard the British HMS Terror.   Back in the day the crews of naval vessels were the underlings and treated as such.  One day onboard the Terror Bristol drops his marlin spike while working aloft and it nearly falls on a Lord who is on his way to take over a fort and prison in the Caribbean.  The Lord, being the hoity toity well-to-do royalty type, thinks Bristol was attempting to assassinate him orders Bristol to be given 100 lashes (a punishment that would bring death.

Just as Bristol is about to receive his lashes, the vessel is overtaken by pirates and after the melee Bristol is seen to be tied to the mast and given the opportunity to join the pirates.  Bristol is one of the valuable few that understand navigation on the high seas.

When Bristol is confronted by another pirate that wants to commit mutiny he kills the mutinous scalawag.   His new pirate mates desert him quickly after he’s found guilty of killing a mutinous pirate and unwittingly harboring a woman on board.   The woman was actually Lady Catherine who escaped the Spanish by disguising herself as a boy.   Bristol is then marooned on a deserted island, with nothing but a small supply of water, a gun and just enough bullets to kill himself.

The woman is put off toward more civilized confines but she steers her boat toward the island where Bristol is alone and they set up camp to decide what to do.  As fate would have it Bristol watches a Spanish ship battle a Dutch slave ship and abandon the Dutch ship and its cargo.  Bristol and the lady row out to the ship and free the slaves, who are sailing men themselves.   Bristol now has a crew and they manage to seize a ship through trickery and he sets out for revenge against the pirates and the British on his own vessel sailing under the black ensign.

Great swashbuckling, pirates, battles, and dames what more could you ask for.  This story beats any Pirates of the Caribbean story you’ll find.

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