Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Tom Clancy

It was in March 1984 when I read a blurb in Time Magazine about a book that was all the buzz in Washington, D.C. Written by a sometime insurance salesman, it was a Cold War thriller about submarine cat and mouse in the Atlantic between the United States and the U.S.S.R. 

What the "buzz" was about was the possibility that the young bureaucrat who had written the book had somehow gotten hold of classified information. Some felt the book was so detailed in its description of cutting-edge submarine technology, he had to have had inside information.

So I went down to the bookstore and bought what must have been a second or third edition hardback of the book, and remember being truly impressed by the sheer quality of the book itself. From the dustjacket to the stitching to the sheer . . . tightness of the book, it was clear Naval Institute Press put out a fine product.

The now familiar plot goes that the Soviet Union launches a new submarine named the Red October that ostensibly, because of new cavitation technology, is inaudible to Americans, thus making it a potential game-changing "first strike" weapon. A young naval commander named Jack Ryan has a theory that the commander of the new sub might very well be planning to defect to the United States, taking his sub with him.

In terms of the book, yes, the plot intrigued me, and yes, I liked the Jack Ryan character. But what had so impressed all those folks in D.C., all those details about submarine technology, those I found a little . . . boring. Just thought it was too much, is all.

When he put out his next book, Red Storm Rising, I immediately went out and bought it in hardback, brought it on a plane, tried to get into it, and just could not suspend my disbelief that there could be ANY scenario in which the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would ever fight a conventional, non-nuclear war. I put it down not even half-read, and never read another Clancy. Enjoyed the hell out of the movies, though.

At any rate, I hadn't at all intended to leave my thoughts on this book, or on Clancy, however hearing the news today that Tom Clancy had passed, I thought I'd jot a few things down. 

And of course, it turned out Tom Clancy had no special access to classified information while writing The Hunt for Red October. He simply did his homework.

RIP, Mr. Clancy. You certainly did something right.

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