Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Sum of All His Years

By now, you have probably already heard the news that thriller author Tom Clancy--several of whose novels were turned into Hollywood films--died yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He was 66 years old.

As Dave Rosenthal of the Baltimore Sun writes,
Tom Clancy ... almost single-handedly created the techno-thriller genre and some of his books, including “The Hunt for Red October,” have become classics.

The Baltimore author introduced complex military terms to millions of readers, in hefty books that ran hundreds of pages. But he never got lost in the alphabet soup of Pentagon and Kremlin acronyms. He created compelling characters such as Jack Ryan, who was played by Harrison Ford in movies such as “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games.” ...

Ryan’s legacy was extended to younger fans through video games, a perfect match for the genre that he popularized.
The New York Times’ obituary adds that
Mr. Clancy was an insurance salesman when he sold his first novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” to the Naval Institute Press for only $5,000.

That publisher had never released a novel before, but the editors were taken with Mr. Clancy’s manuscript. They were concerned, however, that there were too many technical descriptions, so they asked him to make cuts. Mr. Clancy made revisions and cut at least 100 pages.

The book took off when President Ronald Reagan, who had received a copy, called it “my kind of yarn” and said that he couldn’t put it down.

After the book’s publication in 1985, Mr. Clancy was praised for his mastery of technical details about Soviet submarines and weaponry. Even high-ranking members of the military took notice of the book’s apparent inside knowledge.
Not everyone, though, was a Clancy fan. His conservative political views were judged “noxious” by many readers. As the “intelligence aggregator” NNDB explains, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Clancy insisted that left-wing politicians in the United States were partly responsible for those disasters because, he claimed, they’d been “gutting” the Central Intelligence Agency. In The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner gives Clancy credit for successfully moving past the Cold War in his fiction, but adds,
[E]ven if Clancy could see past the Cold War, he could never see past his rather limited political views. This is why it was alarming that Clancy was taken seriously as a military and political analyst, and invited on talk shows to give his opinion of serious subjects. ... Dan Quayle, in his infinite wisdom, once stated, “They’re not just novels. They’re read as the real thing.”

Clancy’s politics can best be described as Rambo-esque: The blame for American military defeat can best be paid at the feet of pointy-headed intellectuals and the media; America would be a better and stronger country if we would just let our tough guys take care of business; America is a great country, but government bureaucrats hold us back. The key difference was that Rambo was somewhat of a counter-cultural figure, with his long hair and alternative lifestyle. Clancy’s heroes are basically boring, straight, all-Americans. (Jack Ryan is jokingly referred to as a “boy-scout.”)
Still, it’s hard not to praise Clancy for the longevity of his authorial career and the book sales he generated during those three decades. According to the Times, “More than 100 million copies of his books are in print.” And he has another novel, Command Authority, due out from Putnam in early December of this year.

READ MORE:Tom Clancy’s 5 Big Rules for Writing and Life,” by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield (Salon).

1 comment:

Richard L. Pangburn said...

Most authors of novels are liberal, even if their books are non-political. It is the nature of fiction: the end of literature is empathy and--ultimately and at its best--compassion. Right-wingers tend to fall short in the compassion department.

There are some exceptions. Two of them, Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy have passed on this year.

RIP, I say.