Alistair MacLean born on 21st April 1922 in Glasgow spent much of his childhood in Daviot near Inverness. Of Scottish nationality, his real name in Gaelic is Alasdair MacGill-Eain. His father, a Reverend Minister, had the same name, and his mother's name was Mary Lamont.
He joined the Royal Navy in 1941 during the Second World War and served as an able seaman and torpedo operator. Exposed to ships machinery, and mechanical technologies, many of his novels were about the same subject of sea, and the men and machines that lived upon it.
He could describe the inner workings of anything mechanical and seemed to have an understanding of engineering. Many people found it very interesting to read about this, as I certainly did when I was in my youth.
His style of writing is considered very clear even today. His first language was not English and as a result, he spent a little more effort in making sure that everyone understood the concepts he was writing about. This is very important in any kind of publishing venture.
An interest in teaching, and becoming a teacher after graduating, influenced his style of writing. Consequently, there was never any mindless violence, sex, or romance in his novels. The bad people were courteous, and any kind of killing by either side was generally within the context of war; sorry old chap but we have to do it attitude, and of course always observing the rules of engagement, and international treaties.
His story plots are always nicely structured as he had a very logical way of thinking, and reminded me very much of the way I used to write my mathematical proofs, where each line follows from the previous with impeccable logic. As a result, most mathematicians and engineers generally love reading his novels for that reason alone. If you were an engineer working for the Navy somewhere in the sea, you would most probably be hooked on all of his novels.
His novels were very much the early beginnings of technology-based thrillers that became the mainstream on television. I remember rushing home from school to watch, The Man from Uncle, on a monochrome television set. This was very much in the style of Alistair MacLean novels with spy plots, military, and technology mixed.
During the ending, he would typically collapse each thread of the plot logically and systematically. Sometimes there is a twist and the good person turns out to be the bad person. Alternatively, sometimes the bad person dies and turns out to be the good person who was protecting someone. Often there is a heroic act at the end.
Some of his books
- Ice Station Zebra
- Where Eagles Dare
- The Guns of Navarone