Friday, 30 October 2015

Alistair MacLean – a master of non-stop action

Alistair MacLean was a Scottish author who was very well known, mostly for his war novels that were made into movies, for example The Guns of Navarone (written in 1957 and filmed in 1961) and Where Eagles Dare (written in 1967 and filmed in 1968). Personally I think his war novels were great, but WEAKER than his best books (best in my opinion). My favourites are The Golden Rendezvous (1962), Night Without End (1959), The Satan Bug (1962, originally released under the pseudonym Ian Stuart) and The Last Frontier (1959, released in the US under the title The Secret Ways).

I remember perfectly well the first time I have read a novel by Alistair MacLean. It was titled Night Without End and I stumbled upon it while I was searching through my parents’ library. The cover was black and white with a patch of yellow and red. It looked like this:

Both the cover and the title was a mystery to me, so I looked at the first page. And I was lost. The action started from the very first sentence and never let up. I was so hooked that I read HALF of the book in ONE sitting. Most of MacLean novels are like this. He is a master of non-stop action.

On the site I found this sentence: “MacLean's books are exceptional in one way at least: they have an absence of sex and most are short on romance because MacLean thought that such diversions merely serve to slow down the action.” Yes, it’s true. Moreover MacLean books are not brutal. There is some violence, but never graphic violence. Such approach makes his books readable for teenagers, even though they are clearly written for adults. It was perfect to me when I read Night Without End for the first time (I was no more than 15 years old) and it is still perfect to me today. I don’t like horrors and I hate graphic violence.

Many novels by Alistair MacLean are connected in some way with sea and ships or snow and ice, probably because MacLean served in Royal Navy from 1941 till 1946 and took part in 2 Arctic convoys. HMS Royalist (with MacLean onboard) also escorted carrier groups in Operation Tungsten (against German battleship Tirpitz in the far north of Norway) and operated in the Mediterranean Sea AND in the Far East. Quite a journey.

The main-plot ideas of MacLean novels are very interesting and EXTREMELY varied. The action can take place on a sea ship (The Golden Rendezvous for example), on top of the Greenland ice-sheet (Night Without End), in the top-secret laboratory dealing with deadly viruses (The Satan Bug), behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War (The Last Frontier) or many other unique places.

Alistair MacLean is a master of first-person narration. In his novels narrated this way the reader knows no more than the main character, which is great. The story-immersion in MacLean novels is perfect and complete. No other author can compare to MacLean in this regard. To be honest after reading his novels I have trouble reading “normal”, third-person narration books, even today.

Most of MacLean novels are a little dated by today’s standards, but it makes them even more interesting and fun to me. It’s great to read such “vintage” novels as a refuge from today’s crazy high-tech world.

I am going to review my favourite Alistair MacLean novels. I will do it from my memory – the way I remember them after all those years. The last time I read them it was between 10 and 15 years ago. I am going to re-read them in the next year (2014), for the first time in original (in English). I will update my reviews then.

PS. Comparing Alistair MacLean to Glen Cook I must say that they are quite similar. They value action above all else. Their best novels are written in first-person narration. They are both very good at sarcastic or self-depreciating humour. Personally I think that MacLean is slightly better than Glen Cook at ALL these aspects.
If only MacLean had written fantasy novels.

(Wednesday, 27 November 2013)

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