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Book Talk: Ice Station Zebra by Alistair Maclean

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Ice Station Zebra

Alistair Maclean

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    Ice Station Zebra is a 1963 thriller novel written by Scottish author Alistair Maclean. It marked his return to Arctic setting. After completing this novel, whose plot line parallels real-life events during the Cold War, Maclean retired from writing for three years. In 1968 it was loosely adapted into a film by the same name.

Plot

    Drift ice Station Zebra, a British metereological station built on an ice floe in the Arctic Sea, suffers a catastrophic oil fire. When, several of its men die, and their shelter and supplies are destroyed. The survivors hole up in one hut with little food and warmth.

    To salvage the situation. The (fictional) American nuclear powered submarine USS Dolphin is dispatched on a rescue mission. But just before it departs, Dr. Carpenter, the narrator, is sent to accompany it. Carpenter’s background is unknown. But he claims that he is an expert in dealing with frostbite and other deep-cold medical conditions. And, he carries his orders from the Chief of Naval Operations of the United States Navy. Commander Swanson, the Dolphin submarine captain, is suspicious of Carpenter. He calls in his superior Admiral Garvie. Garvie refuses to allow Carpenter on board without knowing his mission. So, under duress, Carpenter finally reveals that the ice station is actually a highly equipped listening post, keeping watch for nuclear missile launches from the Soviet Union, a statement that convinces both the commander and the admiral.

    The Dolphin reaches the Arctic ice-pack, and dives under it. It surfaces in a break in the ice and succeeds in making a tenuous radio contact with Ice Station Zebra. Carpenter confides to the Captain that the commander of the station is his brother. Having obtained a bearing on the station, the Dolphin dives again, and succeeds in finding a lead five miles from the station and breaks through a crack in the ice above. Carpenter, Executive Officer Hansen, and two of the crewmen are put above on the ice-pack. They make the journey to the station through an Arctic storm on foot. Taking with them as many supplies as they can. They reach Zebra after a near-impossible trek, only to find that eight of the men on the station are dead, while 11 others are barely alive. While investigating the corpses, Carpenter finds that one of them has even been shot. They find that their radio has been damaged, and so Carpenter and Hansen return to the Dolphin. The US submarine moves close to the station, and finding no open water, blows a hole in the ice using a torpedo.

    The sick men are taken care of by the Dolphin. Carpenter does some more investigation, and finds that the fire was no accident. In fact it was only a cover to hide the three dead men who were murdered, one of whom was his brother. He also discovers several unburned supplies hidden at the bottom of a hut, while Swanson finds a gun hidden in a petrol tank. The surviving members of Zebra are now brought on board the Dolphin, and the station is abandoned. While still under the ice, a fire breaks out in the engine room and the submarine is forced to shut down its nuclear reactor. Finally, the crew succeeds in saving the ship, after several hours of hard labour, where Swanson’s ingenuity plays a big part.

    Carpenter calls a meeting of the survivors, and announces that the fire was no accident. He reveals that he is an MI6 (British Intelligence) officer, and that his real mission was to retrieve photographic film from a reconnaisance satellite that has photographed every missile base in the US. The film had been ejected from the satellite so that Soviet agents operating under cover at Zebra could retrieve it. Carpenter’s brother had been sent to the station to prevent this. Carpenter finally reveals the identity of the Russian agents, and successfully retrieves the film.

Synopsis written by Kamlesh Tripathi

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