October 3, 2013
RIP Tom Clancy: The Cold War Is Truly Over
This week author Tom Clancy passed away at age 66. With him ends an impressive series of books that began with The Hunt for Red October, and will (likely) conclude with this December’s Command Authority.
Even with 17 of his novels appearing on The New York Times best-seller lists, Clancy was no Ernest Hemingway or J.D. Salinger. While the latter two were novelists and wrote books that will endure through the ages – for good or bad, and personally this reporter finds Salinger to be as overrated as sliced bread – the former was more an author that was very good at churning out disposable page turners.
In other words, I find the works of Clancy to be far more enjoyable than Hemingway, Salinger, Faulkner, Kafka or Tolstoy. Don’t get me wrong, those people could write. They had a way with words and could pen stories that were really, really well written. Some of their work was also painfully dull.
Perhaps for 1951, Catcher in the Rye was cutting edge, but it is a bore compared to Clancy’s works.
In some ways – and I’ve said this before – Clancy was a visionary. He wrote a character that flies a jumbo jet into a building in Washington, D.C. – years before 9/11. He wrote about the capture of a terrorist leader months before Bin Laden was taken out, and more recently he predicted cyber attacks conducted by the Chinese military. He even offered up a chilling scene of terrorists shooting up a shopping mall – not unlike the recent event in Kenya.
Clancy was able to see the post-Cold War world as it was, unlike most other writers. Of course it could be that his work was a blueprint for some of the bad guys. It would be difficult not to imagine that the 9/11 hijackers, or those in Kenya, might have read Clancy’s works.
Stepping back, we have to also consider that Clancy wasn’t like his characters. He wasn’t a CIA analyst like Jack Ryan, or a black ops type like John Clark. Clancy was a former insurance salesman, but he knew how to craft a good story and he knew how to research the facts.
More importantly he did it in a day when you couldn’t just turn your computer on and Google “Spetsnaz” or “Makarov pistol” and get the information you needed. Yet Clancy was able to turn out 500+ page books year after year.
In recent years he’s had help – a lot of help from the likes of Mark Greaney – but Clancy still managed to deliver novel after novel. Salinger only published one real novel, along with a handful of compilations and novellas. Not to diminish what Salinger accomplished, but compared to Clancy he barely wrote!
Here is where Clancy was more like Hemingway – the latter wrote 10 novels, another dozen works of non-fiction and plenty of other works. Both Clancy and Hemingway also had their works turned to film – and thus have found an audience who may have never picked up the books.
Now with Clancy’s passing we are left with only one final story that chronicles the lives of Jack Ryan, John Clark and actually Jack Ryan Jr. The latter has become the central figure picking up the family counter-intelligence torch long ago.
While it is a sad passing, perhaps for the characters it will allow them to live on. In some ways it seemed in recent books that Clancy couldn’t let go of his old friends. Now they’ll just keeping fighting the bad guys in our imaginations.
Image Credit: Gary Wayne Gilbert