Ice Station Zebra, by Alistair MacLean, was first published in 1963.
The first sentence is: “Commander James D. Swanson of the U.S. Navy was short, plump and crowding forty.”
U.S. nuclear submarine Dolphin and its crew have been sent on a rescue mission. Sixty hours ago, a ham radio operator in Norway picked up a faint SOS signal. Twenty-four hours ago, a trawler picked up a message sent from Ice Station Zebra, a British meteorological research station, situated on ice drifts approximately 300 miles from the North Pole. There had been a fire which had destroyed most of the station. Bombers from the USA, Great Britain, and Russia had searched for Ice Station Zebra, but because of weather conditions, had been unable to locate it. Because of the drifting Arctic ice, the exact location of Ice Station Zebra is unknown. A Russian submarine had been dispatched, but it was determined that it would be unable to break through the ice. Now it’s up to the Dolphin, the pride of the U.S. Navy, to rescue the survivors of Drift Ice Station Zebra.
The narrator is Dr. Carpenter, who has been assigned to the Dolphin in an unorthodox fashion. The captain of the Dolphin is suspicious of him, and under interrogation, Dr. Carpenter reveals that he is “loosely connected” with the Royal Navy, and claims to be an expert in frostbite and gangrene.
Dr. Carpenter is allowed to stay on the Dolphin as it makes its way, heading due north, toward the possible location of Ice Station Zebra. Dr. Carpenter is even given a detailed tour of the cutting-edge technology of the U.S.S. Dolphin.
Since bombers from three countries, with sophisticated scanning technology, had been unable to find Drift Ice Station Zebra, it’s possible that none of the buildings are no longer there. If the buildings are gone, then the researchers are already dead, and the Dolphin‘s mission is already doomed to failure.
It’s not a spoiler to say that neither Dr. Carpenter nor Ice Station Zebra are what they claim to be. The real mystery is what’s been going on, 300 miles from the North Pole.
Ice Station Zebra is a thrilling adventure. It’s a straightforward tale of military procedure, combined with detective work. With all the detailed descriptions of its advanced technology, the U.S.S. Dolphin becomes a main character.
I was intrigued by the idea that the story is told by the man who is at the center of the mystery, and it still remained a mystery until the end.
I enjoyed Ice Station Zebra a lot more than I thought I would. Military thrillers are not my usual choice for reading material. But I did like this book.
Why I chose this book:
I saw this book in the employee lending library at work. I borrowed it from there, which I suppose qualifies it for this category. Actually, by that reasoning, any book I check out from the Seattle Public Library would qualify for this category. I’m not especially fond of this Reading Challenge category.
All I knew about Ice Station Zebra is the esoteric trivia that Howard Hughes supposedly watched the film adaptation continuously, for several days, during the last years of his life. So it was the name recognition that caught my eye.
Curiously, there were two paperback copies of Ice Station Zebra on the shelf. One declared, on the front cover: “Now an exciting motion picture!”. There were photos of the movie’s stars on the back cover. The covers of the other one looked exactly the same, except that they didn’t have the movie tie-in. I borrowed the latter one. I don’t like reading books that advertise movies on the cover. I guess there is a side of me that’s a book snob.