It is 1985 in this near future world. The US dollar has collapsed and the country has run out of oil. Martial law is in effect and everyone is trying to flee the country. Jonah Scott is a captain of a 797 for Air Britain. He is in New York on a routine flight from New York to London. The passengers include a mix of refugee children, diplomats, some scientist who are attending a conference and some SAS troops that were in the country to train the National Guard. Midway in flight the news comes that Israel has retaliated for the poisoning of the Tel Aviv water supply that killed 200,000. They have nuked the major Arab capitals. Russia and China blame the US for arming Israel and attack. Soon every country is being bombed out of existence. Now he has to find a safe place to land his airplane.
Yet there isn’t many options open. All the worlds cities have been hit. They find that the Azores was only neutron bombed and the airfield is still intact. Later a Soviet plane also arrives carrying the inhabitants of a village that managed to escape. Things are looking grim for the survivors. The radioactive fallout is coming and they won’t survive. The only safe place is Antarctica. McMurdo has plenty of supplies but will they have enough fuel to make the trip.
It is interesting how back in the eighties how writers would set the end of the world so close. He was only writing about five years in the future which means this book has a short self life before becoming dated. It does seem like the attitude at the time was a nuclear war was inevitable. And what a world he envisions. A black president negotiating with blacks about a separate homeland in an America coming apart at the seems. The Dutch are recolonizing Indonesia and using nerve gas. Cuban troops are in Socialist Ireland to liberate the north. Still I guess a lot can happen in five years. Could anyone five years ago envision how our world is now. How different will it be in five years in the future.
This book was a well done that kept the reader’s interest which is no small feat considering most of it takes place on a jetliner. Told in the first person by the captain we are drawn into this deteriorating future. From the anarchy of New York and the desperate search to find a safe place to land. An interesting fact is there were two ending for this book. The British edition has an ending where they all die at the end. The American version has a happy ending where a tilt in the Earth’s axis bring Antarctica to a more temperate climate and the hope for a new start. I don’t know why the two endings. I have the American one and it is an upbeat ending for what is a very pessimistic book. Possibly the grim ending didn’t go over very well and it was rewritten.
The author in his foreword states that he is an epitome of a rabid outspoken atheist. That his purpose was to “demonstrate that man is alone in his own personal Hell, that he would inevitably sow the seeds of his own destruction, rising and falling in a few hundred millenniums which represent the tiniest fraction of eternity. Now-damn it all-I’m not so sure.”
This story definitely set out to do this. I have never read such a total nuclear war anywhere else. Huge bombs are dropped everywhere causing massive radioactive fallout. Even the Falkland Islands are nuked. Still there were some very noble acts throughout the story. The fifty Russians who jumped out of a plane so it could rise above the fallout clouds. The people in the Falklands who left their shelter to find out if Antarctica is viable. There was hope in this pessimism and I think it shows a man who was in doubt over his beliefs. A very well done book.