A Tom Clancy novel is an odd choice for my blog given none of them can be considered science fiction, fantasy, noir, or contain zombies. You could make an argument that Tom Clancy has had a tremendous effect on the video game genre since Ubisoft first decided that his name should adorn the cover of their works. In fact, this may be hyperbole or internet rumor, but Ubisoft actually bought the rights to his name.
Whatever the case, I've been reading his work lately and thought I'd take a moment to share what I think of his novels whenever I get done with them. Tom Clancy isn't as influential an author as Tolkien but you might argue he's about a third. He created the "techno-thriller" genre and we're now surrounded by the fruits of his creation.
What is a techno-thriller? To be honest, they're spy and/or war novels and the decision to call them a separate genre is just a conceit in my opinion. Still, Tom Clancy revitalized the spy and war novel. Whenever you see super-technological spies running the line between James Bond action and real world political intrigue, you're probably seeing the influence of Tom Clancy in action. He's the guy who said you could be realistic and engage in wish-fulfillment without sacrificing either.
I chose Rainbow Six as my first novel of Tom Clancy to review because it's the only major Tom Clancy work to be adapted into a popular video game. It's a story that was a video game first before the developers got in touch with Tom Clancy and started working side-by-side. The video game's plot doesn't match completely with the novel but their influences are tremendous.
The premise of Rainbow Six is that the United States and other NATO nations have formed an international anti-terrorist team for rescuing hostages. This was before terrorists mostly just started killing people globally. The title of the book doesn't refer to the team, actually, but its chief member and frequent Clancy protagonist, John Clark. The team is named Rainbow and John Clark has 'Six' as his call sign. Joining John Clark is Domingo Chavez, his associate and now son-in-law from Clear and Present Danger.
Not to the spoil the plot, because the basics are revealed fairly early on, but a environmentally friendly corporation called Horizon Incorporated is plotting to kill the entirety of the human race with a genetically engineered strain of Ebola. Why are they doing this? They're radical environmentalists. With this sort of premise, you know Tom Clancy has taken a long step away from realism. Still, I enjoy Bond movies so why not enjoy a premise straight from Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me?
The plot more or less follows the bad guys hiring a bunch of real-life terrorist groups to do evil across Europe. Their reasons for this are not revealed until later and quite ingenius. Fans of video games will note that the various terrorist groups all do their evil in distinctive settings and get progressively more dangerous as the heroes go through them one-by-one. In other words, the adventures of our heroes play out exactly like they would in a tactical simulator or FPS.
The politics in the book are more than a little heavy-handed as Tom Clancy's conservative bias shows in virtually every scene. Some of these prejudices come off as blackly humorous given later developments in politics and the economy. For example, one chapter goes to great lengths in explaining how something like the Exxon Valdez spill could never happen again because the oil companies had learned their lesson.
The straw caricature environmentalists don't offend me, however, because they're so clearly insane they become entertaining. Numerous chapters in the book go into their POV, which establishes them as all sociopaths who care more about the lives of animals than people. They're also deliberately hypocritical, driving around Humvees and talking about all the animals they'll kill once they're no longer endangered.
The book's science is likewise funny for anyone who knows a thing about evolution and biology such as reinforcing Ebola with cancer cells or talking about how nature needs to be restored to its original state. Nature, of course, is something that is constantly changing as animals immigrate, take over local ecosystems, and warp them to their needs.
Indeed, it is one of the villains who provides much of the book's enjoyment. Dmitry Popov is an ex-KGB agent turned mercenary who is only interested in the Horizon Corporation's money. Popov is used by Clancy to poke fun at the numerous terrorist organizations he encounters, often with a sly observation or two that is never droll. By the end of the book, I wanted Popov to ride off into the sunset with everyone's money.
Unfortunately, in addition to the books occasionally insane politics, it does have one weakness. I don't mean it's length, 900 or so pages is a typical work for Tom Clancy. No, I mean it's the fact the protagonists actually aren't all that proactive. Due to their ignorance of the villain's plot, they spend the vast majority of their time chilling back at their base in-between missions. There's only a few real scenes where the heroes show any real emotion and their character growth is almost nil.
There's also the fact that, for an international organization, Rainbow is pretty much just composed of Americans and Brits. There's a couple of standout characters but they have no real effect on the plot or play any major role. In a way, the countries so excluded should be grateful since the Brits are incredibly stereotyped. Tom is clearly trying to play the SAS-trained soldiers as highly competent professionals but they talk like an amalgamation of Brits from war movies and 1960s episodes of Doctor Who. At least one, I'm sure, is a fairly transparent homage to the Brigadier.
This doesn't mean the book is bad. It's a fairly easy read with the interspersed action sequences being exceptionally well-written and always fun. Some of the settings for terrorist attacks, like a Spanish version of Disneyworld, are inspired. There's also something to be said about villains who are genuinely despicable and you love watching get their comeuppance. I recommend people looking for a good lengthy thriller to check this one out.