December 14th, 2008

breaking bad

HMS Ulysses

I'm listening to HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean, read by Denis Quilley. Alas I could only get an abridged version (I don't think a full length audio has been made). I have read it before - long ago, I think when I was a student - but it's pleasant to hear it read.

Spoilers, but this was published long before I was born.

Ulysses is a British battleship escorting a convoy bringing tanks to Murmansk, for Stalin. The route is through the Arctic ocean north of Russia. It's a type of story familiar from black and white war films, but it is much bleaker. A film with such a nihilistic view of the British navy and the futility of heroism would never have been made in the fifties, when this was published.

It reminds me of Alien. The ship and the crew basically fall to pieces, destroyed not by an alien but by annihilating cold, mental collapse, and tuberculosis. The destruction is unremitting, and the only redemption is the futile courage of individual crew members as they are picked off, and eventually the ship itself is destroyed.

It's never been made into a film, and I think Ridley Scott should consider it. He might get some of his form back.