The techie novels of Nevil Shute


27 Responses to “The techie novels of Nevil Shute”

  1. tacochuck says:

    Maker-Works Ann Arbor is a great community workshop. If you are anywhere around there and can possibly spare the time, it is very worth it to take a tour, if for no other reason than to see the resources available to you.

    The place is super friendly and I have found everyone I spoke to there very helpful and encouraging.

    I am borderline agoraphobic so it took a fair amount of effort for me to visit, but literally, from the moment I walked in the people there made me feel comfortable and welcome.

    I almost cried the first time I went to the “Go-Tech” monthly meeting of makers/nerds/geeks/etc that meets there once a month. For the first time in my life I felt like I was surrounded by 30 or 40 people very much like myself. I have never had that experience before and it was amazing.

  2. len says:

    He seems to have been a bit of a reactionary:

  3. NickPheas says:

    His wartime books are interesting. He was working on ideas for commando operations and weird tech, and put several rejected ideas into ‘Most Secret’. I’m not sure if he was ever working with Ian Flemming, but they were coming up with similar ideas.

    ‘Pastoral’ is one of my favourites, in which be pretty much invents the Bomber story as shown in Memphis Belle or Catch-22. You know the sort: If we fly 25 missions we get to go home/transfer to a safe command/live out the war. Only this last one though. It might be a nice easy mission. Really, it might be. 

    ‘What happened to the Corbetts’ is pre war but manages a fine set of predictions about how England would react to the Blitz. A few things didn’t quite work out – the UK gets hammered and the Royal Navy winds up in France preparing for a counter invasion at the end, but it gets a lot right.

    One of my favourites is the entirely non techie ‘Ruined City’, written in the 1930s with the Great Depression still crippling the Tyneside shipbuilding industry. A banker suffering a mid life crisis has his life saved by a charity (pre-NHS) hospital in a city destroyed by the closure of their shipyard and tries to bring it back to life. Both a hymn in praise of capitalism and, because of the rules that need to be bent, a demonstration of why strict adheranceto the rules of the Market will never achieve anything.

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  4. Sarah Anderson says:

    “Round the Bend” is fascinating. Somewhat British-Empire condescending in part, but has a real _Stranger in a Strange Land_ proto-religious theme.

  5. geezer says:

    I’ve read all his book-length work. Shute was a great story teller.  The political sentiments in many of his novels (and his autobiography) would be considered pretty conservative today, but there are protagonists of real integrity and complexity, and an evocation of “brotherhood” especially in Alice, Chequer Board and Trustee that have attracted me to his novels over the past 40 years.  

  6. Jia says:

    It is really informative. Thanks

  7. The Unknown Project says:

    Huxley spoofs are better:

  8. GeekMan says:

    I read my high school library’s copy of No Highway during my adolescence. At least in part, I credit it with my present-day fascination with air-crash investigation. 

  9. annomination says:

    I have fond memories of listening to audio versions of his books on family car trips. Shute designed dirigibles, and it is cool the way technical knowledge leaks into his texts. Thanks for bringing him back to my attention!

  10. Richard Kirk says:

    Neville Shute worked at RAE Farnbrough, and worked on the DeHavilland Comet. My parents also worked on the same project, and in fact had a model of the aircraft on their wedding cake. They were mathematicians, and Shute was in structures, so they did not work together, but my parents knew there was someone who wrote books in his spare time.

    The ‘Reindeer’ aircraft is an oblique reference to the Comet – ‘Comet was one of Santa’s reindeer. There was a feeling amongst some that this aircraft was trying to go too far, too fast, and some piece of hitherto unknown physics was going to bite them. Have a look at the thing…

    ..and remember it was flying in 1949.

    Shute’s ‘Reindeer’ suffered from a temperature-dependent high-frequency fatigue failure. That is a bit unlikely, but a perfectly respectable guess for his day. The Comet suffered form a low-frequency fatigue failure of the fuselage, aggravated by the squarish shapes of the windows.

    There are some Shute books here I have never heard of. I must go and root them out. Thanks! 

  11. Chris Williams says:

    ‘An old captivity’ has a marvellous section in it about the amount of effort that a 1930s single-engined plane takes to keep in the air. Shute was as anti-left as they come, but he was at least pretty anti-racist for his time. There is/was a move afoot in York to try and preserve the building in Picadilly which was the old Airspeed factory. See:

    • Jonathan Badger says:

      I’m not sure you can really call his views “anti-left” — “On the Beach” was probably the most influential anti nuclear war book ever, written at a time when criticizing the arms race was was a radical left position. Yes, he did have a thing against bureaucracy, which made him an enemy of Britain’s fledgling national health system,  and yes, he over-romanticized Australia’s frontier spirit, but these weren’t part of a consistently right-wing view.

  12. What I like about Shute’s books is the recurring theme that ordinary people, placed in extraordinary circumstances, can become extraordinary people.

    No one’s mentioned Pied Piper?

    And I have a soft spot for Most Secret, not only because it’s a barnburner (*Heh* I see what I did there) of a story, but because it has a decidedly odd narrative structure that nonetheless works well.

  13. Nick Carter says:

    Round the Bend is my religion, Trustee is amazing and In the Wet is a great SF story. Shute was a maker’s maker (read “The Secret War” by Gerald Pawle for a lot of fun details, it has a forward by Shute). Please read every one of his books, you will be richer for it. Vineland the Good is a great play.

  14. johnnyd48 says:

    The Nevil Shute Norway Foundation website is

    Among numerous other things you can do on the site are: subscribe to the monthly email newsletter, look for Shute enthusiasts in your locality and find out if there is a reading group near you.  There’s also a Google discussion group although it’s not always all that active.

    The next Shute conference will be mid-October of this year in Hobart, Tasmania (NZ was a relatively close miss.)

    Round the Bend comes pretty close to being my religion, too.

    Most of Shute’s books are now available as e-books. 

  15. pjcamp says:

    I saw A Town Like Alice years ago on Masterpiece Theater (when Alastair Cooke was still kicking it). It was pretty awesome. But there’s an even earlier, and equally awesome, black and white movie version from the 50′s starring Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna.

  16. Roy Trumbull says:

    I highly recommend Slide Rule. On the maiden voyage of the airship from England to Canada there were workmen who went out on the skin to repair tears. There was a way to get to the top of the ship’s body and a sort of lounge to take it all in albeit from a perilous post.
    The title says it all. We were well into the 1980s before structural designs could be done by computer. Prior to that it took tedious manual computations plus checking and checking again. 

  17. Great post. I recently read Shute’s “Requiem for a Wren” and blogged a few thoughts on it:

  18. skreader says:

    I too read “A Town Like Alice” after enjoying watching it on PBS.  I liked it (except for the racist bits), but on my second re-reading, I was struck by the thought that the Jean Paget and her trustee have worked so hard to achieve… Gopher Prairie! I also  wondered whether another novel, written by Jean’s child would discuss stultifying small town life ;)

  19. Doc Rod says:

    “Round the Bend” is one of my top-five, all-time favorite books. The one sentence review doesn’t do justice to its themes of loyalty, honor, enlightenment, and betrayal. Sometimes hard to find, but well worth the effort.

  20. Jonathan Colvin says:

    Missed “An old captivity”, one of the best Shutes. Lots of aviation and quite moving to boot, like most Shutes. What a master story-teller.

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