If I’d had a smartphone and been on a social network Sept 11, 2001 I’d have tweeted something like “I feel like I’m in a #TomClancy novel.” (Yes, I know, smartphones and social networks didn’t exist in 2001, but go with me here.) Fans of Clancy’s will know that the novel that most came to life that Tuesday was Debt of Honor. (I won’t tell you how the book was so similar to 9/11 in the way it ends because when I was reading it for the first time, someone told me the ending. And I was quite annoyed. But that is another story.) Clancy’s books featuring Jack Ryan somehow managed to capture a little twist on the present and near future all through the 1980s and 1990s. Since 9/11, the one Ryan book to be published didn’t have the same edge. As history actually unfolded and both collided with and diverged from Clancy’s imagined world, the Ryanverse couldn’t keep up. Clancy has begun a new series featuring Jack Ryan Jr., who was born in Patriot Games, but I wasn’t impressed by the first of this set published in 2003. Possibly the next will be better if Clancy took the time to integrate the reality of our world and the crazy way it collided with his imagined world in 2001.
The first of the Ryanverse books, published in 1984 (ancient history!), is The Hunt for Red October. I listed Red October as the Clancy book I’ve read more than 3 times, but I’ve actually read many of the Ryanverse books 3 or more times. Debt of Honor is the one I’ve read most often (5 times). I’ve only read Red Rabbit, Teeth of the Tiger (both post 9/11 publications), and Without Remorse once. (My friend the Biologist likes Without Remorse the best and is always shocked when I say I haven’t re-read it.) Red October is actually the book that hooked me on Clancy, thus I thought it would be best to list it as representative. Plus, I first read it long before I started keeping track of my reading in 1993, so I don’t know how many times I’ve read it.
I’m not sure I think Clancy is great literature. I’ve re-read his books a few times, and I think they do interesting things. He builds a very believable parallel universe populated with characters that are consistent through the 12 books. This is very impressive and difficult to do. He does some interesting things with ethics and ethical arguments. Jack Ryan is Roman Catholic and so the ethics of the books are very Catholic. The problem is that the ethical lectures in Clancy are too obviously ethical lectures, handily placed in the mouths of characters. Better to show not tell, or so I’ve heard. I think someone could do an interesting thesis on Catholic ethics in the Ryanverse. Clancy tries hard not to be anti-women. I’m afraid he just doesn’t make it there. His female characters are interesting, but ultimately they always need the protection of the men in their lives. Sigh.