Friday, October 4, 2013
Tom Clancy - in Memoriam
We lost one of my favorite authors this week. Tom Clancy passed away at the age of 66. With the publication of The Hunt for Red October in 1984, Clancy, according to some, practically invented the modern day military-espionage-thriller genre.
Clancy had 17 of his 28 books on the New York Times best-sellers list, with many of them reaching the #1 spot. His works are not for everybody, as his generally conservative politics may turn many readers away from a great story. But with 17 NYT best-sellers, he apparently didn’t turn away too many.
What I enjoy most about Clancy’s novels are the attention to detail found in them, particularly when he was writing about technological processes or gadgets. Legend has it, in fact, that this attention to detail gained the attention of the Federal Government, who wanted to know how he knew so much about military hardware.
Clancy’s stories typically take two or three (or more) separate threads and then weave them together. In The Sum of All Fears, for instance, he takes such unrelated elements as an undetonated bomb in the middle east and the construction of a Japanese temple, and uses both to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.
For my part, it’s his story telling, more than his characters that really pulled me in. That’s not to say that he didn’t write strong characters. While Jack Ryan is the principal figure of most of his novels, Clancy breathed life to dozens of rich characters, both heroes and villains, many of whom appear in several of his novels. I have my personal favorites. Mr. Clark, for instance, is a CIA field officer who, like a fine wine, just gets better with age. His partner, Domingo Chavez, started out as a sergeant in a Light Infantry division, then went back to school and earned a master’s in International Relations, which he describes to Clark as, “two nations trying to #*%+ each other.”
My favorite Clancy character, and in fact one of my favorite characters in fiction, appears in only one novel. He is Colonel Mikhail Semyonovich Filitov, the title character in The Cardinal of the Kremlin. In one scene, Filitov, a former Soviet tank commander during the “Great Patriotic War,” and 3 time Hero of the Soviet Union (analogous to a 3-time Medal of Honor winner) has been captured by the KGB as a suspected spy. The old colonel is interrogated for days, and at one point is asked why he hates the Motherland.
“I do not,” Filitov replied. “I have killed for the Motherland. I have bled for the Motherland. I have burned for the Motherland. But I did not do these things for the likes of you.”
Tom Clancy’s novels took us through the latter part of the Cold War, and on into the War on Terror. He died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore (where Jack Ryan’s wife, Kathy was a surgeon) following a brief illness. According to the Daily News, “his surprising death comes two months before the scheduled publication of his next novel, ‘Command Authority’ – likely the latest in Clancy’s run of blockbuster books.”
Rest in Peace, Tom Clancy.