When Naval Institute Press decided to publish “The Hunt for Red October” in 1983, few ever imagined the book would become a hit, much less create a literary genre.
But it did, and as a result, author Tom Clancy took his place among the American pantheon of authors – a place that many of the reviewers in the elite media seem to ignore, at best.
I have been a Clancy fan since I was maybe eight years old. I read his books constantly – to the annoyance of my eighth-grade English teacher. Of course, my teachers’ preferences were more towards the adolescent fiction of the era. Did Jane Austen ever invent an entire genre? How about F. Scott Fitzgerald or James Faulkner? Could Ernest Hemingway make an Aegis cruiser in the midst of a naval battle come alive? Could John Steinbeck combine technical accuracy and a good literary pace?
Clancy does all that – and yet academia looks down on his novels despite his pioneering the techno-thriller.
In one sense, the academic disdain for Clancy is no surprise. We know what many of the elites in Hollywood, academia and the media really think of the military, and in Clancy’s novels, the military is seen as perhaps one of the greatest forces for good.
If you need a refresher course on Hollywood’s attitude, see what sort of films got put out relating to the War on Terror in the aftermath of 9/11.
Clancy’s novels are always a good read – from the first stories set during the Cold War to the latest books, which feature an off-the-books intelligence/covert operations agency. The attention to technical details is one hallmark (Clancy famously freaked the Navy out when “The Hunt for Red October” came out). It is often said through the 1980s and 1990s, that
One sign a Clancy novel had just come out during the ’80s and ’90s was when someone in the E-ring’s higher levels would shout, “who the Hell declassified this?”
Some literary themes remain universal. One of the biggest is that America is well worth defending because it is the last, best hope for mankind. In “October,” hero Jack Ryan literally steps up when his country needs him to help Soviet officers defect.
On the flip side, Clancy’s novels never hesitated to pull punches in describing the flaws of the adversaries America faced. In the early books, the failures of the Soviet system, both on the moral plane as well as in the practical arenas, are outlined. The books from the 1990s, especially “Executive Orders,” showcased the moral bankruptcy of a radical Islamist while still standing for freedom of religion. Clancy’s latest novels have tackled the thorny issues surrounding the War on Terror.
Clancy deserves the credit for pioneering the techno-thriller. While he has demurred on taking credit, without the success of “October,” numerous other techno-thriller writers, like Larry Bond, Dale Brown, and Brad Thor would not have been given a shot had Clancy’s novels not succeeded.
Indeed, I count myself as one of the techno-thriller authors who owes a debt to Clancy. In writing “Strike Group Reagan,” Clancy’s novels were both a standard to live up to in terms of their portrayal of the military and accuracy as well as an inspiration.