A storm … a bleak, dry landscape inhospitable to human life … the only things between life and certain death: engineering knowledge and teamwork. Sound like The Martian? The similarities are remarkable, but Elleston Trevor’s masterpiece of 1964 recounts the tale of an airplane crash in the Libyan desert, not a spacecraft on Mars. I’ve given several five star reviews lately, but this one tops them all without question.
The personnel aboard the plane must coalesce into a team if they are to escape. The pilot Towns has a crisis of confidence, knowing that his bad judgment in flying into the sandstorm instead of turning is cause of several deaths already and could doom the rest of them. Harris and Watson, a captain and sergeant in the British army, contrast starkly, one haughty and condescending, the other full of simmering resentment of the upper classes. Stringer, an arrogant young aircraft designer, is determined to fashion a working craft out of the remaining parts of the wrecked plane so they can fly out, but his petty superiority enrages Towns who is used to being in charge. Moran, the navigator, has the people skills to serve as moderator, counselor, therapist, and negotiator. The rest of the survivors have their own issues and personalities which are so believable as to resonate with the reader. We all know someone like each one of them.
This is a book about the human condition, the difference between survivors and defeatists, between technical brilliance and wisdom. The author is clearly very knowledgeable about aircraft and their design. Engineers and vintage aircraft buffs alike will appreciate the detail with which the author relates the technical and scientific challenges that are dealt with.
The survivors encounter thirst, starvation, hostile Bedouins, sandstorms, and their own human frailties. The plot is expertly filled in equal measure with riveting suspense and keen observations about what makes humans both wonderful and horrible creatures.
I listened to the audiobook. The reader is outstanding. Each character comes alive as a unique individual. I highly recommend this book.