I was shocked this morning to see in my news feed that Tom Clancy, the best-selling novelist has died at age 66.
I've not been a big consumer of his brand of fiction for a long time, some of it due to my discomfort with some of his right-wing stances on things like the Iraq war, but mostly because I'm sorry to say his books had become derivative and pedantic--a sad fate for any writer I'm sure.
More thoughts under the Kos Vampire Cloud...
Its funny how things change as you grow older. When Hunt for Red October came out I was just about to graduate high school and join the Canadian Forces. Growing up, while my parents were vocally anti-military, my father was a huge fan of the spy-genre thrillers of John LeCarre and others. Needless to say, when I found Hunt for Red October I immediately found it engaging, not only because I knew the genre from readying Dad's books, but also because it was a very realistic and insightful portrayal of the military in my mind.
By the time I finished Red Storm Rising I was hooked. Red Storm Rising is still to this day my favorite Clancy novel and one of my top 10 desert island books.
After I discharged I continued reading Clancy, but the further into Jack Ryan's career and the more political the novels got, the less they interested me. I moved onto his non-fiction inside look at the US Military in books like Submarine and Armored Cav. This marked a shift in general from fiction to non-fiction in my life.
I packed it in when I finished reading Debt of Honor--after all, who could believe someone flying a jet into the Capitol Building?
As the saying goes, 9/11 changed everything.
I was profoundly disturbed by Clancy's vocal move right-ward; perhaps he'd always been vocal about his politics and I'd just never paid attention. 9/11 drew me into the political arena where my fascination with strategy and tactics was engaged by the battles being fought in the halls of government bot in my home and native land, and in the US. The war in Iraq, and Clancy's support for it solidified my concern that jingoism was alive and well in the US, and my distaste for the calls for blood forever limited my appetite for the genre of fiction Clancy had defined.
And yet, if you read Red Storm Rising, it tells the story of soldiers, sent to war on a lie who fight and bleed and die at the whim of corrupt politicians, and who eventually see the futility of it all. Sadly, what was written as a failing of Soviet leadership turned out to be just as applicable to American Presidents and Congress-people. I was saddened that from all I heard and saw, Clancy seemed myopic regarding that fact.
Yet for it all, Tom Clancy supported the troops. Jingoist or not, myopic or not, he was a very real conduit for the story of men and women in uniform to reach the average reader. While I couldn't always agree with his politics, I always appreciated his view on the value of the job those of us in the military past and present undertook and the scarifies we would be asked to make.
Clancy and his fiction marked various turning points in my life--they may not have been the cause, but looking back they serve as way-points in my political and social journey.
Tom Clancy died in a Baltimore hospital on 1 October 2013. He was 66.