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BOOK REVIEW -  DAVID GRAHAM – DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA. (1981) Fawcett Crest 

 

Graham (Pen Name of Robert Hale), using a title drawn from the poem Kublai Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, gives the world one of its best anti-nuclear novels since Neville Shute’s On The Beach with this work. The devastatingly simple premise is narrated in the first person by British pilot, Jonah Scott (not the name you would wish your pilot to have on any plane). He tells how he flew off on his last scheduled flight with a fully booked passenger jet at a time when American and Soviet conflict was getting out of hand. As the plane flies, World War Three erupts. The plane’s crew are almost blinded by the mushroom clouds and they get an aerial view of the near Biblical destruction going on below them. There is a problem however, in that the destruction of the airports means that they no longer have anywhere safe to land a major commercial jet liner. Even if they do get to the ground, they risk slow and horrible radiation poisoning.  The story now focuses with for the most part, some realism (as opposed to Airplane disaster movie soap opera theatrics) on the plight of the plane as it tries to land before the fuel runs out.  Eventually, a town is spotted which has been hit with a neutron bomb, which has killed everyone but left buildings standing, and which has low yield radiation. The plane touches down and refuels. However, radiation from less considerate bombs is closing in and the survivors are forced back into the air. They decide to head for the Arctic, hoping the climate will keep the radiation at bay. There, they meet up with survivors from a Russian plane, who have the same initiative, and after some bitter feuding and recrimination, the passengers and crews of each plane decide to work together in a Utopian desire to rebuild civilization. The sentimentalism of the finale detracts from the harsh doomsday scenario of the preceding work, but it is an under-rated work, that still screams out for a film version to be made.

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Arthur Chappell

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