Thursday, October 3, 2013

Goodbye Tom Clancy

Yesterday afternoon I heard that Tom Clancy died. He was 66 years old, so fairly young relative to the normal American lifespan.

I first encountered Clancy's writing in the Spring of 1988. I had recently moved to Kuwait and was short of reading material. What was available in-country in English wasn't much to my liking. A man came from the U.S. on a temporary duty assignment. I saw that he carried a paperback book titled The Hunt for Red October. I hadn't heard about it, asked him for some info, and then borrowed it from him. I devoured it in two or three sittings in the evening in the hotel. It helped that the wife and kids were still in the States, waiting on family visas.

Red October was an eye-opener for me. I didn't rush right out and start to write books. But it was such a good book I think it spurred in me the notion "Boy, I'd love to write a book like that." At the same time the research that went into that—of military hardware, personnel, and tactics; of CIA operations; of diplomatic goings-on, both American and Russian—seemed daunting. I didn't know that any of it was correct, but it all seemed realistic. And fascinating.

Without knowing the correct term, I loved how Clancy worked in back story on various characters. We learned more about Jack Ryan's earlier years with each chapter. Toward the end of the book I was a scene where higher-ups in the CIA talked about extracting an agent from Russia, codename "Cardinal". He had passed important information that helped the U.S. deal with the Red October situation, and may have taken an inordinate risk to do so. Reading that scene I realized we had seen that character before. I hunted through the book, reading the first paragraph of a bunch of scenes until I found it. Sure enough we saw who I was sure was Cardinal talking with Russian bigwig and gaining the information that was eventually passed. Enough of his story was given to ID him. I asked the guy I borrowed the book from if he had realized that, and he said no.

Of course, until Cardinal of the Kremlin came out it was just an educated guess on my part. Turned out I was correct. That was skillful how Clancy developed that, and how he had set up the future book in the first book.

Eventually Clancy published Red Storm Rising and Clear and Present Danger, both of which I found as well written and entertaining as the first two. I've picked up a number of his books, mostly from remainders shelves and used book stores, but haven't gotten far in them. The Sum of All Fears is one I started. It looks good, but unfortunately life and other things have gotten in the way.

Clancy's writing has been panned by many. He doesn't write well, they say. He doesn't limit his adjectives and adverbs. He adds scenes dealing with everyday things. Randy Ingermansson, a mid-list novelist who gives writing and publishing advice to us who want to be published writers, has had some blog posts about how Clancy's writing isn't very good. I remember on post where he railed against Clancy for including donut eating in a scene. Ingermansson said it was unnecessary to the story. I haven't read that particular Clancy book. I would just say results speak, and suggest anyone compare the sales figures of Clancy and Ingermansson and see who should be critiquing whose writing.

I will miss Tom Clancy as a writer. The world of books is made poorer at his passing.

1 comment:

vero said...

I'm glad I read this post. I did not know Tom Clancy had passed. I don't believe I've read any of his books. I will have to read them.