Dead Water by Simon Ings is the most fabulously dystopian novel about shipping, containers, ships, airships, tsunami, shipping, and dastardly deed that can happen when vast numbers of ships are circumnavigating the globes with vast numbers of containers on board. One of his main characters invents containers:
The box does not sway, or ping, or flex, or buckle, or bounce. It rings like a bell. […] The container’s bell-like reverberation sounds the death-knell for a small boy’s dream of running away to sea. From this point on there will be no more stevedoring, no more trimming, no more ordinary seamanship, no heave, no drag, no thrust, no groan, no weary back or throbbing arm or beer-parched throat, no barrel to roll, no crate to crack open, no cart to pull. The future’s robots now, and cranes, and serial numbers, and coordinates (153).
As if this is not dystopian enough, the container is then put in the service of mysterious forces (I can’t really say more than that – the best part of the book is the slow unfolding of the secret at the heart of it and of container ships). The thing is, that the dystopian vision above -of a sterile and human-free industry- has not been fully realised (yet), though shipping firms certainly would like to get rid of the “meddlesome component” of militant workers.
Ings has definitely done his research on the shipping industry and the shellgame they play. One of the ships around which the novel pivots “is flagged in Tonga and mortgaged -through a Maltese holding company that exists only on paper as a mailing address in the capital, Valletta- to a Shanghai branch of Germany’s Bayerische Landesbank… That it’s operated by a company registered in Albania and Delaware, and maintained through layers of corporations in Austria and Lichtenstein…” (pp. 279-280)
The novel itself happens in a lot of different parts of the globe and has a global cast. Something about the scale -which matches our lives and times- really appeals to me. Plus, it has a few interesting passages about Dhofar.
If you really want to read about containers and the way they have changed the world, the book to go to is Marc Levinson’s The Box. It seems to me that Ings has also read it and some of my favourite parts of The Box also appear in passing in his novel.