Saturday, November 21, 2015

Clancy Chronologically: Dead or Alive

In this series of posts, we're reading Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series (including the Jack Ryan Jr. and John Clark books) in its own chronological order rather than the publication order.  Your comments are more than welcome, but tread lightly: SPOILERS AHEAD!


Barack Obama Ed Kealty is running the country into the ground. He's scrapped Jack Ryan's tax reforms which helped rejuvenate the economy, politicized the military, and politically correct-ed the nation's intelligence services, gutting their HUMINT capabilities. Not really an effective foil to our good guys, his main job here is to perform so badly as president to compel Jack to get back in the fray.

Among the victims of the intelligence community's purge of operators are our old stalwarts John Clark and Domingo Chavez. With their terms at Rainbow coming to a close (but not before one. last. job.), they're RIFed by the bumbling politicians running the CIA now. Hardesty joins them up with Hendley Associates where they're lavished with generous salaries and wondrous benefits to be assassins (Clark having been deemed "too old" for the Campus's work in the last book, but whatever. Clark's back!)

First Sergeant Sam Driscoll becomes the target of a Kealty administration witch hunt. He leads a team that kills enemy combatants while asleep in their cave in Afghanistan. Team Kealty seizes this as an opportunity to show they're against military excesses and moves to try Driscoll for murder. An intervention from our old friend General Diggs asks former president Ryan to intervene on behalf of a good soldier. Ryan's public comments help scuttle the trial and Jack helps him get a new job after he's expelled from the military. We'll let the reader surmise where. Sam gets a dramatic entrance and then isn't used much thereafter.

Jack Ryan Sr is bored. He's writing his memoirs, one version for publication soon and the other for decades in the future, and hasn't found a way to be useful to others. The scenario echoes Debt of Honor where he's golfing and fattening his bank account, yet feels empty. Arnie van Damm, apparently bored in the university life, drops by to convince Jack to run for president. It's a fairly simple seduction, and that is pretty much it for Jack Sr in the book, other than the conversation with his son about doing dangerous intelligence work.

Having gotten a taste of field work in Rome, Jack Ryan Jr is lobbying the senior Hendley folks to let him train as an operator. He stresses his bona fides of having learned shooting with the secret service and now that old family friend John Clark is on board, he has a natural trainer. Jack Jr helps save the day in the final terrorism attempt, but not before having to tell his father that he works at the secret murder shop his dad set up. Senior offers to tell Cathy, advising his son to continue to lie to his mother who will know he's lying, but that helps them all cope.

Ryan cousins Dominic and Brian Caruso fly around the world beating and shooting people up until an intelligence op in Libya goes bad. We have a sad first in the Ryanverse: Brian is our first major good guy to be killed in action. Minor or one-book characters have been killed and major characters have passed away (and Robby is killed off-page, much to the chagrin of the series), though Brian is the first to actually die in combat. We'll cover this more in the review section.

People from the Emir's organization pay off sketchy Russians to transport them to abandoned sites to steal nuclear materials for sort of a giant dirty bomb. We spend a lot of pages on these boats, like a long and boring ferry tour of Russia's north coast. The terrorists waste the sketchy Russians because they leave no trace and no witnesses.

The Emir is a bin Laden-esque terror mastermind, engineering attacks across the world to distract the intelligence services from his main target: creating a nuclear seismic event which will poison the water for most of the western United States for decades to come. His other hobbies include hookers and having hookers offed who seem too talkative. After having plastic surgery and very cleverly sneaking into the U.S., he runs his terror operations from Las Vegas, as if that city needed any more violent scum living there in addition to Floyd Mayweather.

Coauthor Effect

Tom Clancy had used coauthors and slapped his name on books other people wrote in dozens of side series, but never had writing help in the Jack Ryan stories. The shift here is clear, with both positives and negatives. Remaining are research-heavy technical details - weaponry, tactics, organizational structures, etc. - but seem to lack the series' previous intellectual curiosity. In previous entries, details about submarines or bombs or aircraft felt like your friend excitedly droning on about his favorite subject nobody else in the group really cared about, but here feel like reminders that the authors know what they're talking about. From here on out, the action is centered less on larger military units and big equipment (the Navy's previously prominent role diminishes almost entirely) in exchange for action by smaller teams and gritty, hand-to-hand/in-close combat.

We wonder what changed for Clancy in the seven year gap between Teeth and Dead. It's not like he was hurting for money in the meantime. During that period, 15 or so Clancy-brand books were published, numerous hit video games were released, and residuals from 3 hit movies, royalties from a dozen #1 bestsellers, dividends from his stake in the Orioles, and many other investments kept him in fine wine and cigars. We suppose he realized he can get back in the Jack Ryan game by sucking it up and having a coauthor do most of the work, so he called upon his buddy Clive Cussler's right hand writer, Grant Blackwood. Maybe we'll do a series of blogs on the books Blackwood wrote as solo author if we ever get around to reading them.


If The Teeth of the Tiger felt like a thinly veiled Tom Clancy personal travelogue (nice hotels in European cities, fancy meals, expensive cars, hanging around the Baltimore/D.C. corridor), Dead or Alive expands the series' geographic horizons. The story takes us to rural Sweden, the Russian coast of the Barents sea, Brazil (a petroleum plant and the city), southeast Washington state, Libya, rural Nevada, and probably a few more I'm forgetting about. Teeth mostly took the series out of the White House and other government agency headquarters, and Dead almost takes us out of capitals altogether, a major transition for this series.


Aside from having the title of a supremely cheesy Bon Jovi song, Dead or Alive is a refreshing reversal of the downward trend of the previous 3 or 4 books. The writing is reinvigorated: dialogue is more natural, the repetition eliminated, and the pacing keeps the reader engaged. Dead has a lot of interesting tidbits about intelligence gathering and operation execution, like a brief historical account of the usual futility of torture/enhanced interrogation. Our major lament with this book, and with any of Clancy's work, is the paucity of emotional exploration of the events, especially setbacks. Brian's death and aftermath are handled in a macho way, without much in the way of sorrow but respectful in a soldierly way. Characters don't change much, except Dom is temporarily shell-shocked when Brian is killed. It would be un-Clancy-like to explore the emotional ramifications of these events, maybe mix things up with some conflict between the protagonists, so the story just keeps plugging along. Campus leaders make an unbelievably dumb decision to put him back out in the field immediately, a stupidity which is barely addressed. We would have been interested to see what would happen when somebody had to tell the Carusos' parents or inform the Marines that Brian had died. Would they lie or give a thinly veiled version of the truth? What would happen if outsiders had questions about what went down? In real life, like in the case of Pat Tillman, families and friends have questions regarding how their loved one died, but this series is not interested in those stories.

As if speaking for the reader, John Clark points out some serious deficits in the Campus's structure. The Campus relies on the existing intelligence community, creating unfillable deficits in information they need. Their workflow is too bureaucratic. We don't see any of these problems actually being solved, but as the Campus books go on, we see an unexplained mushrooming in the Campus's resources and abilities - foreign and domestic contacts, weapons, vehicles and transportation specialists, training capabilities, or whatever else the story calls for.

We had a chuckle and a chill at Clark and Chavez's One. Last. Job. at Rainbow; a chuckle because of the silliness of the inclusion of the trope (it's not as though the book lacks for action) and a chill because of the attack on a diplomatic facility in Libya. Sure, it's the Swedish embassy in Tripoli and not an American consulate in Benghazi, but the perpetrators are from Benghazi and there are echoes of the attack that took place in real life a year later. We'll cover the Clancy books' prophecies in our post on Command Authority.

Coverage of Dead or Alive frequently refers to it as a convergence of Clancy all-stars, which isn't truer than many of his other books. Ryanverse characters end up working together all the time. Jack Sr, the Foleys, Clark/Chavez, the submarine folks Mancuso and Jones, Russian frenemies Golovko and Bondarenko, Diggs and Hamm, FBIers Dan Murray and Gus Werner, and more are constantly present. Teeth of the TigerWithout Remorse, and Rainbow Six are the only real divergences in favored heroes being absent or less prominent. Almost all of them got to take the previous book off, so one could say this is a return of the all-stars.

It's nice that this series create a real reason for an analyst to be in the midst of the action. Jack Jr actually seeks out and receives training in this and the next book, and actually is given a field work job. The Hendley elders give brief consideration to the fact that sending the son of a former U.S. president might not be the best way to run covert operations, but it's quickly glossed over. Jack Jr's visibility is addressed again in Locked On and Command Authority, so at least it's on the writers' minds.

The WYNE Media Production

As addressed in the previous post, we'd do the Ryanverse books up until Teeth of the Tiger as an anthology series, approximately a book per season (episode numbers could vary) and do the campus books as their own series (title pending). We'd keep the basics of the stories, probably tossing out the hooker subplot, and let the characters ask themselves why they keep doing this thing. Soldiers and cops understand that they're putting their life on the line, but what happens to a soul and mind when their friend (or brother in the book) bleeds out next to them in the back seat? Which are the ethical ramifications to paying people lavishly to illegally kill people, even if it is to defend their country? Shouldn't there be conflict after they capture the Emir as to what to do with him? The Campus is a story factory that we really like that we want to love.


Another coauthor effect: the famous babes getting name-checked are updated; Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Alba get shout-outs.

Around this time, Putnam decided to start publishing all of the Jack Ryan books with these generic clip-art-looking covers. And the title, Dead or Alive? Not inspired.

Totally inspired: for the first time in the series, we get maps and diagrams of regions and facilities, tapping into our love of cartography.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Clancy Chronologically: The Teeth of the Tiger

In this series of posts, we're reading Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series (including the Jack Ryan Jr. and John Clark books) in its own chronological order rather than the publication order.  Your comments are more than welcome, but tread lightly: SPOILERS AHEAD!


Our hero of two decades, Jack Ryan, Sr., has resigned the presidency (which he won by the biggest margins since George Washington) and is writing his memoirs. He isn't actually in this book and he spends most of the next book writing his memoirs, too.

Ed Kealty, legendary scumbag former vice president, who publicly humiliated himself into obscurity, is now the useless president. We'll gripe more about this development shortly.

Before leaving office, President Ryan and ex-senator Gerry Hendley set up the Campus, an ingeniously-named off-books counter-terror shop.  Under the pretense of operating as Hendley Associates, a privately-owned trading firm, The Campus funds its own operations, which are driven by intelligence taken from the NSA and CIA. Only a few select government elites (i.e. Dan Murray, Gus Werner, and other notable Ryanverse national security characters) are aware of its existence and it has no oversight by any outside person or structure.

We first meet him being born on the night of the climax of Patriot Games, learn of him playing Little League shortstop, and watch him move on to Georgetown, but now Jack Ryan, Junior is a grown man at 23 years old. In a move that doesn't really raise any red flags to the Campus for more than half a second, recent college graduate Jack Jr. susses out that the Campus is not just an arbitrarily-located financial firm, but is in fact a national security apparatus. Intrigued, he arranges a job interview where he offends and impresses Hendley, who has reservations about hiring the former president's son. But Hendley's reservations aren't strong enough to squelch this contrived plot, so on Jack Jr. goes to be an analyst tracking the money movements of potential terrorists, and then later as a substitute in the field.

Brian Caruso is a decorated Marine captain who has just come back from Afghanistan. He loves his job in the Corps and is in line for a promotion when he's offered a place at the Campus without much in the way of explanation. Brian is the first Ryanverse character since Jack Sr. on the boat with Sean Miller to have serious reservations about killing people. His reservations are erased when he witnesses the consequences of terror firsthand. Oh, and he's Jack Jr.'s cousin!

Dominic Caruso is a rookie FBI agent fresh out of law school, assigned to an Alabama district. His unflinching (and pre-planned) killing of a child murderer draws the attention of the FBI leadership attached to The Campus. He joins the family reunion with Jack Jr. and his fraternal twin Brian at the First Bank of Assassinations. Dominic and Brian have dumb nicknames for each other.

Gerry Hendley is a former senator (and, previously unknown, pal of Jack Ryan Sr.) who is the head of The Campus. A personal tragedy and financial mistake precipitate the beginning of the end of his political career, which spirals out of control in the reelection campaign for what would have been his fourth term. Interestingly, it's suggested that some of the spiraling and bridge burning was intentional to protect the secret project he and the president were working on.

Tony Wills is once again the name of a character in a Tom Clancy book. Here, he's Jack Jr.'s fussy trainer and office mate.

There are a bunch of other people at The Campus, but they're not that interesting and we'd rather spend our word energy complaining about a tremendously terrible series of stories and hyping our non-existent TV show.

Teeth's main bad guy is Mohammed Hassan al-Din, a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed proxy who orchestrates terror attacks in locations across America's heartland. His looks from his Saudi father and English mother allow him to be visually indistinct across the world. In the opening scene, he personally eliminates a Mossad agent and creates a lot problems for our heroes.

Other bad guys pop up, get popped, aren't exciting.

The Unforgivable Sin

Killing Robby Jackson "off-screen" (off-page?) is the single-worst choice Tom Clancy made in anything he's ever written. Robby was not only interesting in himself - funny, competent, committed, an engaging communicator - but was an important complement to Jack. Most of Jack's friendships are expressed through having the occasional drink together or narration saying that they're friends; we actually see Robby and Jack hanging out, supporting each other, getting in fights like friends do, busting each other's balls, going to each other's homes, etc. Robby helped make Jack three-dimensional and even saved the Ryan family's lives. Robby deserved much better than a lousy off-hand mention of his assassination.

Our emotional attachment to Robby and character construction aside, Robby's murder was the result of terrible plotting and caused even more horrible character moments. The root of this awful turn of events is Clancy's inability to address the vice president situation once he'd decided to have Jack ascend to the throne. Events of Executive Orders take place over the course of several months and not once is a potential vice president mentioned, though the end of the book suggests Jack will run for reelection. No vice president exists in the world of Rainbow Six. Inserting Robby into the job was a lazy way to fill the void and re-include Robby. Frankly, it would have been funny and not weird (for this series) to have a nameless vice president like we had unidentified presidents until The Sum of All Fears. Why not have Al Trent be the first openly gay vice president? There were dozens of better choices for VP and ways to include Robby.

And we get that Jack doesn't like being the president. It's against his nature to seek power (though we constantly see him flex those muscles as president and break countless rules beforehand), have attention on himself, or navigate politics. But when would Jack ever run from his duties? He wanted to quit in Fears but had to be forced out, only to immediately return when his country came calling. The story of Jack quitting so Robby could be president then Robby getting killed off-page so Kealty could be elected to ruin all of Jack's work is garbage on several levels. First, Robby didn't even want to be VP; his introduction in The Bear and the Dragon is him joking/not joking about his new job as "$#!+ duty." Second, Kealty's astounding political comeback is addressed offhand in one sentence. This is a person whose career was ruined by rape allegations followed by him making a galactic fool of himself trying to claim he didn't actually resign as VP and was indeed the true president. The comeback isn't earned or explained in a satisfactory way. Third, why have Jack quit, have his best friend murdered, and have Kealty ruin everything only just to have Jack decide to run for office again in Dead or Alive? Has being the president become more palatable for him? Fourth, if Clancy really felt the need to have Robby out of the way so Ed Kealty could ruin everything and motivate Jack to come back to public life, why not just have him get cancer or put in a coma during a terrorist attack?

If Tom Clancy just had to murder Robby Jackson, why not let the readers mourn with Jack? We mourned with Jack in the first fifth of Executive Orders as Jack ponders the fate of the Durling children and the families of all those who lost loved ones. Hell, we spend moments over several books mourning Buck Zimmer; Jack knows him for a couple of hours in Clear and Present Danger and Jack swears to take care of his family forever after he's killed in Colombia. The Zimmer family has their own plots in the next three books thereafter. If Buck Zimmer gets four books of mourning, Jack's best friend deserves better than "yeah, that really sucked for Dad." The murder of Robby Jackson is itself a stupid, pointless, and offensive idea, rooted in terrible story choices, and the way it is handled makes it infinitely worse.

Time Warp

The Jack Ryan series is pretty solid within its own chronology in terms of sequence, but not at all with timing. We could, and probably will, spend an entire post on chronological inconsistencies. Errors occur in retrofitting books, like Jack saying in Sum of All Fears he's never been to Rome, but Red Rabbit renders that untrue when he tries to stop the papal assassination attempt (Red Rabbit is loaded with time problems). Where the series encounters major chronology issues is when it tries to re-incorporate actual history. The series acknowledges the existence of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who are presumably the awe-inspiring unnamed president of the first several books and the underwhelming one-term president of Clear and Present Danger, respectively. The timing of the aborted Fowler and Durling presidencies seem to overlap with Bush 41's presidency (dissolution of the Soviet Union, before the Iraq War). Dead or Alive says the year is 2010 and we're two years into the terrible first term of Ed Kealty. Even if we have Bush from 1989-1993, Fowler/Durling from 1993-1995/6, Ryan from 1995/6-2001, and Kealty from 2001-2005, we run out of presidents before we get to a sufficient amount of years. Either Jack Ryan sneaks in an extra unconstitutional term (or two, depending on your interpretation) or we have major time fudges to include things like the terror attacks of 9/11/2001 and the Bush/Obama Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

Series Shift 

It feels like The Teeth of the Tiger marks some major changes in the Ryanverse series. Like virtually all of Stephen King's monsters symbolizing alcoholism, Ryan quitting as president is probably a subconscious metaphor for Clancy's own lack of inspiration where to take the character. We move from Executive Orders (1996) where Jack is front and center, fighting multiple battles and effecting substantial domestic policy change, to Rainbow Six (1998) where Jack has almost no role, to The Bear and the Dragon (2000) as President Ryan mainly complains about his job and rages at the Chinese, to a bit of Jack Ryan resurgence to activity in Red Rabbit (2002) but it's in his past, to The Teeth of the Tiger (2003) where he has quit and is not a participant in the action.

Certainly Clancy still loved his character and wanted to continue on in the same universe, but it's clear he didn't know how to keep writing compelling novels with Jack Ryan Sr. at the center of them. Story-wise he'd painted himself into a corner. Looking at Clancy's own chronology, it's easy to understand why he was likely emotionally and physically spent and/or just content with being a rich dude who dabbled in storytelling here and there. In the latter half of the 90s, he divorced his wife of 29 years, the mother of four of his children. From 1996 to 2004, he wrote five Ryanverse novels (about 4,000 pages worth of material) and co-authored eight non-fiction military books, the whole time presumably holding up a middle finger to George R.R. Martin. In that same period, his name was on (and whatever effort he had in the production of) nine Op-Center novels, eight Power Play books, eight Net Force books, sixteen Net Force Explorers novels, and a Splinter Cell book. Ubisoft paid him $45 million in 2000 to acquire his video game company. So in an eight-year period he's working on and/or earning from five New York Times #1 bestsellers, 60 other books, the sale of Red Storm Entertainment, residuals from his previous eight bestsellers (we almost left out Red Storm Rising, not addressed in our blog series) and a half dozen other books, proceeds from video games, speaking fees, dividends from his part ownership of the Orioles, and earnings from investments and miscellaneous sources. Even if Wanda took half of all that, he's still really rich at this point and likely exhausted. Having already worked with co-authors on countless other books and with buddy Clive Cussler, James Patterson, and many other super-famous writers also doing it, a coauthor on the Jack Ryan series felt inevitable.


Let's address what the book does well first. The Teeth of the Tiger starts off fast, quickly setting up our bad guys in an interesting business exchange; organizations' services are bartered rather than just the usual money for good/services. Brian's introduction is exciting, if too brief. Dom's introduction is compelling and truly informative about his character, where he mercilessly stages a scenario to get away with justified homicide. The ideas for Jack Jr.'s introduction are really good, showing he's the chip off of the ol' analytical block of his dad, sullied somewhat by Clancy's insistence on Jack Jr. and his cousins sounding almost identically blunt and a little puerile.  They're young guys, but they're also very educated and raised in cultured homes, so the jock talk rings hollow. The shootout at the mall has its intended effect of being scary and scaling the combat to where the Campus books will fight. Dr. Pasternak's method of killing the terrorists is interesting and creates chaos. And we are intrigued with, on an entertainment level, the Campus's operational theory of reconnaissance by fire, i.e. generating more intelligence and targets by virtue of their operations disrupting the enemy networks (we think of it as terrorist Whack-a-Mole). Teeth isn't quite a techno-thriller, certainly not to the extent of Clancy's usual writing, relieving the readers whose eyes glaze over while Clancy lengthily describes things like what happens on the molecular level as a bomb explodes.

The questions raised by, but only very partially answered in, Teeth are the most interesting part: How many employees of the Campus are not in the know about what they really do? How would they feel and what would happen if they found out (The Campus is attacked a couple of books after this one). In combat, when do you kill and when do you refrain? Who deserves to be killed and why? Does the fact that bureaucracy prohibits the proper prosecution of some justify their actions? Who can decide that another's person life should end? What compels an individual to kill? What happens to that person when he does? The Ryanverse general view is that if you put on a uniform that isn't the same as the other guy's, you're all fair game. Brian isn't comfortable killing outside these constraints and Dom and the Campus guys expose him to some of the gray areas in that reasoning. After the mall attack, Brian's doubts are personally erased about taking someone out who doesn't comply to the same structures he does but "has it coming." It's an extended Hammurabi concept of justice, though it would be interesting to see what happened as these questions are asked again and as characters and circumstances change. Maybe we could address that in our WYNE Media section of this post?

Onto the less impressive aspects of the book. The Teeth of the Tiger requires acceptance of things highly improbable and often silly. Gerry Hendley, Dominic Caruso, Brian Caruso, and Jack Ryan have no friends/family/employers/coworkers curious whence they have gone and are spending their time. Somebody finally allows construction to take place on the sight line between Fort Meade and Langley yet nobody is curious about it - not the builders, not those who had been denied construction permits previously, not intelligence analysts working for NSA, CIA, or FBI counterintelligence. None of the people setting up and financing the startup of the Campus, several people and their staffs, and there is no leak of what this place is. We also have to assume that teenage/young adult Jack Ryan Jr. spent his time with the elites of national security and the Secret Service, who would in turn spend their valuable time with him. We must also accept that Jack Jr. had for some reason discovered the building in the first place, became curious about it, and figured out how to contact its occupants. Brian and Dom just happen to be shopping at one of the malls the terrorists attack, beginning their John McClane-like journey.

In a book that is fairly slowly paced, isn't larded up with techno-jargon, and has a smaller scope, Clancy's usual undercharacterization becomes a more pronounced problem. Brian and Jack Jr. are the only characters who have any personal story arc. Being overwhelmingly males who try to live by some variation of a soldierly code, Clancy characters are like John Clark's solo book, without remorse, and without most feelings other than anger or amusement. Jack Jr. is angry about Robby's murder, but not for long and he doesn't express any other emotions about it. Dom and Brian are angered by the mall attack, but it doesn't haunt them in any discernible way, not even after a little boy dies in Brian's arms. Jack Jr. contemplates his motivations in doing his job and gives brief consideration to the guy he killed in the hotel bathroom, yet it doesn't result in any real repercussions. All of our protagonists are more or less identically motivated, responding in the same ways; it's unrealistic and boring.

Teeth feels like a rough draft of a book (a great book at that), or like the setup to a closely-tied sequel. The closing paragraph of the book seems to suggest that: " America had struck back on their turf and by their rules. The good part was that the enemy could not know what kind of cat was in the jungle. They'd hardly met the teeth. Next, they'd meet the brain." The last sentence barely makes sense (emblematic of the book) and isn't really addressed in the subsequent books. The book leaves us wanting more, both because many of the ideas are contemplation-provoking and because it feels underdone plot-wise, character-wise, and writing-wise.

A Bold Plan for the WYNE Media Production

This is our most radical production concept yet. We'd make this book its own series. We love the idea of the Campus. The Teeth of the Tiger is barely a Ryanverse story anyway, so why not remove all of the Jack Ryan elements altogether? Removing the story from the larger universe sheds a lot of baggage. We wouldn't have to address the whos, whats, and wheres of the characters from the series. It is a fundamentally dumb idea, and was even back in 2003, to have the president's son join any organization that wishes to remain clandestine. The books make a lame attempt to explain away this weakness, so it's better not to have it. We live in an era where most everybody has a camera on their person at all times, where we knew how much NBC was paying Chelsea Clinton to work for them, all the details of Jenna Bush's wedding, and where and with whom the Obama girls hang out. This will not be part of our story, nor having two brothers who are related to the famous scion all magically end up together. We can't sufficiently express how fundamentally this conflicts with the Campus's need to be ultra secret nor how dumb and narratively not-serving it is to have this family reunion.

We'd keep these characters' introductory stories and give them room to breathe. A narrative device we'd employ is flashback scenes a la Lost, telling character-informing stories not always directly related to present-day action. Whereas Tom Clancy's work is plot-driven, the questions addressed by the book lend themselves to character-driven story answers. We were once listening to the Breaking Benjamin song "Diary of Jane" (the last 30 seconds or so of which would be a dynamite theme song for our show) and heard the bellowed lyric "What have I become?"; it beautifully encapsulated where we'd take the show. How does somebody come to a point where they think it's not only okay but needful to end other human loves? What - upbringing, religiosity, family circumstances, political views, etc. - factors into such decisions? And what happens to the souls, hearts, minds, relationships, families, and lives of people who pursue this course? The Godfather showed how an American hero could become the most ruthless mobster. Breaking Bad's creator Vince Gilligan describes the show's direction as "How does Mr. Chips become Scarface?" Our show would tell the story of an organization that has decided to take Justice into its own hands, which has rejected the American government as a sufficient protector of the people. How do people get to that point and what happens to them as they go on this journey? Those questions are at the core of this show.

We love and would keep many of the stories of Teeth. Gerry Hendley's backstory is heartrending, and given the proper room to breathe and continue to influence his leadership of the Campus, it would be an amazing character backdrop. The Campus trainers discuss how in the book they're not looking for sociopaths yet want recruits who won't lose sleep over their missions. It's more interesting to us to ask questions like what if those recruiters were wrong about who they selected, or what happens when somebody changes and evolves as a person (finds or loses religion, falls in love, grows up, devolves, etc.) What if the goals of the target selectors grow broader? Given the impossibility of total secrecy, what would happen if somebody leaked, or just threatened to leak, or some shrewd investigators start inferring the Campus's existence based on evidence like Jack did? We like the Campus elements from Dead or Alive, Locked On, and Threat Vector and would gladly include those in the series. What problems would the Campus cause for the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, and how would terrorists respond to their activities? Would things escalate and how would their methods change? We don't know what a good name for our show would be, but The Teeth of the Tiger would need to go.

Ideally, we'd pair this with a show based on the Rainbow concept (not necessarily the Rainbow stories of the books). The two shows would exist in the same world - share a president, a history, occur in roughly the same time frame. The Campus series would be very character-focused, a zoomed-in look at how bigger decisions affect individuals. The Rainbow series would take a broader perspective, borrowing elements from 24 and Law and Order, discussing issues and the impact individuals have on those larger matters. There'd be spillover between to the two series and, inevitably, crossover episodes. Our initial thought is for them to share a mega-pilot, where a major terrorist attack (we've penciled in blowing up Staples Center during a Lakers game) spurs a national security response. The president activates the Rainbow idea semi-privately, but very quietly also greenlights the Campus. From there the shows diverge in tone and scope, one more personal and the other more political. For budget and story reasons, we'd probably do around 10 to 13 episodes per season for 4 to 5 seasons. We really don't care how you feel about the ideas for these two TV shows. We've had a ton of fun thinking about it.


We can't find a precedent for the phrase, "If you a kick a tiger in the ass, you better have a plan for his teeth," but Clancy uses it a couple of times like it's a thing. We suspect that the book is not based on the 1919 silent comedy film of a similar name.

What's with the cover of this book? Whose boots are those? This isn't a book about the military or anybody else who wears boots.

Jack Jr. surmises that John Clark is "too old" to have been recruited to the Campus (certainly not that he was still heading Rainbow or anything). His analysis proves feeble in Dead or Alive when Clark and Ding cycle out of their Rainbow duties and are "invited" to retire from the new paramilitary-unfriendly CIA.

Clancy famous babe reference update: the Ryan/Caruso cousins shout out Maureen O'Hara and Grace Kelly as hot women, comparing them to the Ferraris they're checking out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Clancy Chronologically: The Bear and The Dragon

In this series of posts, we're reading Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series (including the Jack Ryan Jr. and John Clark books) in its own chronological order rather than the publication order.  Your comments are more than welcome, but tread lightly: SPOILERS AHEAD!

So Many Plots/Subplots

Sergey Golovko, Chairman of the SVR and principal sounding board for the Russian president, is cruising to work when a car, identical to his and very nearby, is blown to bits by an RPG. After he is rushed to safety, he (and the intelligence communities of the US and Russia) have to consider: was this just a botched assassination attempt or did somebody really want to kill the pimp who was taken out? Since you've read Tom Clancy before and therefore don't believe in coincidences, you'll come to the correct conclusion. Who is trying to kill Golovko and why?

Jack Ryan has been re-elected and is running the country in a way left-wingers like to imagine George W. Bush did. Having subdued so many enemies foreign and domestic and having achieved so many policy goals (beefing up HUMINT in the CIA, rewriting the tax code, readying the military for massive conflicts), he can now turn his attention to helping out the poor Russians take advantage of some newly discovered mineral assets and fend off the Chinese who wish to seize them.

Did you spend the last two books wondering who the hell was vice president? Why, it's Robby Jackson! We're glad to have Robby back to bust Jack's balls - he humanizes Clancy's work, bringing elements of friendship, casual conversation and normal relationships - but it's in part a setup for some really poorly conceived and executed stories in The Teeth of the Tiger and the books thereafter. We will complain about that at length in the following post.

Bear has a ton of clergymen at the forefront. Hosiah Jackson, the vice president's father, visits D.C. to check in on his son and provide some mild tension later. His Baptist colleague, white preacher Gerry Patterson, also leads a congregation in Alabama, and his is full of wealthy white people. Both of these congregations partially support the one led by Reverend Yu Fa An, an American-education minister in China. One of Yu's congregants is a woman pregnant with an unauthorized pregnancy (her access to China's one child policy was used up in a little girl who died in an accident) and she's trying to cover it up. Monsignor Schepke is a local Catholic priest who is hosting Renato Cardinal di Milo, a diplomatic representative for the Vatican, who befriends Reverend Yu. Together Cardinal di Milo and Reverend Yu try to save the life of the unborn baby, with dire consequences.   

Barry Wise is a decorated and venerated reporter for CNN, assigned to the Beijing Bureau. Bored by the prospect of covering Sino-American trade talks, he becomes interested in Reverend Yu and the idea of what Christian life is like in an officially atheist culture. He and his crew happen to be present when matters escalate between the local Christian alliance and the police, both at the hospital and outside Yu's home, broadcasting the effects of official Chinese policy to the whole world.

Cathy returns to worry about Jack, perform amazing surgeries, keep her husband from being a totally bumbling/poorly-dressed oaf, and despise the media.

Andrea Price-O'Day is now married and pregnant, struggling to keep up her invincible badass demeanor while trying to mask issues like morning sickness. She seeks out Cathy for pregnancy advice, pondering possibly not carrying the baby to term if there are significant health issues. As if she doesn't have enough to deal with in this book, when Jack foolishly hurls himself into danger at the climax, he has her restrained so she can't stop his stupidity.

Bretano, Winston, Adler, and the other non-Carol Brightling cabinet members return to spend a lot of time making racial slurs and insinuations while doing Ryan's bidding and speaking for Tom Clancy. President Ryan decides his gaffe about "two Chinas" is now official policy, so Secretary of State Adler is sent over to get repetitively yelled at by the PRC representatives.

Mark Gant, George Winston's right hand man, discovers that China is likely experiencing major financial problems as a result of having spent so much on a massive military buildup. Despite his being blunt and crude, he is sent along with Cliff Rutledge to head a trade delegation to Beijing. The main purpose of this story is to remind you that the Chinese government is super arrogant and in denial about their own situation.

Alan Gregory, the laser engineer genius from The Cardinal of the Kremlin, is now an employee of TRW, Secretary Bretano's former company, and is called in to upgrade America's defenses against ICBMs. His upgrades come in handy.

China's behated shadow premier Zhang Han San has set his sights on Russia's vast oil reserves and newly discovered enormous gold field. Rather than engage international co-conspirators, he orchestrates his plan to ensure Chinese dominance for the foreseeable future using his nation's army. He's "arrested" at the end of this book but you know he's not going down like that.

The success of Zhang's plan to invade Russia depends heavily on Marshal Luo Cong, the leader of China's armed forces. At least Luo isn't a jingoistic delusional nutjob, right? Wrong, and when his invasion falls apart, he launches an ICBM at Washington, D.C.

When he's not enjoying the bedroom company of his female underlings, Fang Gan is a moderating influence among the Beijing government zealots and the cowards too weak to oppose them. It is not at all disturbing to hear the secretaries describe him in ways like "grandfatherly" then describe what acts they did with him. [Please excuse us while we barf]

Lian Ming is one of Fang's underlings, serving as his primary assistant. She seems pretty cool with being used for her body by her boss and instantly hooks up with the guy selling her department computers. Her likes include working hard, eating out, receiving semi-expensive gifts, and terrible haircuts. She doesn't have any discernible dislikes because she never expresses negative emotions or sentiments at all.

Chet Nomuri is an American of Japanese descent undercover CIA agent who poses as a guy selling computers. Having been instrumental in taking down Raizo Yamata and the Japanese bad guys in Debt of Honor, his Agency work now takes him to Beijing. He coaxes Ming into installing software into her work computer which will transmit to the CIA all of the notes she takes of Minister Fang's recollections from Politburo meetings. He is also a distributor of Japanese sausage.

This book is over 1,000 pages long and it takes place in Russia. Is it War and Peace?

Ivan Yurievich Koniev is also known as Klementi Ivanovich Suvorov, an underworld interdisciplinarian, engaging in activities from smuggling to pimping to attempting assassinations on behalf of foreign governments. He is being tracked down by the Russian police agencies and American FBI attache Mike Reilly, who is there to help out the revamped organizations and demonstrate American superiority at all times. 

We meet Pavel Petrovich Gogol, a World War veteran who personally disposed of countless Nazi invaders with his rifle. He and his rifle, along with the gilded wolf pets he's acquired over the years, live out in the remote forested area where Russia has found massive gold deposits. Gogol doesn't want to leave when the Russian army asks him to retreat to safety, so he and his rifle join the troops where he's promised that he won't be made to leave until he gets some shots off at the Chinese. 

Gennady Bondarenko has assumed an important promotion in the Russian army as the leader of the forces in the Far East, tasked with rebuilding their shoddy defenses in that part of the country. All of his fears come true as word of the forthcoming Chinese invasion reaches him, but he is helped out by American cavalry demigod Marion Diggs. They plan a trap for the invaders which will demolish their supply lines and wreck their communications, aided by an aging Russian recluse sniper icing one of the commanding generals.

John Clark and Domingo Chavez are bored at Rainbow headquarters, having deterred all terrorism in Europe. They are called upon to help train Russian special forces units and drink voluminous quantities of vodka in Russia. When China's war plans unravel and they consider using their long-range missiles, Rainbow and Spetsnaz troops team up to take the missiles out. They mostly succeed. 

Tom Clancy, Romance Author *Shudders*

Remember the vile sight as a child of your parents kissing, even if it was a peck? Now imagine it was your grandparents tonguing each other and getting handsy and you have a feel for the love scenes in this book.  The fact that they're not "explicit" almost makes them grosser.  It could be interesting that Chet feels conflicted that he feels his job requires him to seduce Ming to gain access to the intelligence she can offer and he develops genuine feelings for her, but the bedroom scenes just befoul the whole story line.  Clancy felt the need to even end the book with Ming going home from the restaurant with her lover for "a dessert of Japanese sausage."

Though we're sorry we even typed that, now you know our pain. Most of the relationship that's not about getting information off of Ming's computer is about Chet considering how he should spend money on her because everything Chinese is crap - the food, the clothes, the booze, the housing, and especially the culture. That and we get to read how much Chet enjoys getting laid. Chet/Ming has all of the sensitivity and romance of YouTube comments on a 50 Shades of Grey fan video.

Yo, Is This Racist?

We've addressed Ryanverse xenophobia and racism in our post for Without Remorse, explaining that Clancy's respect for cultures pivots on the quality of their work, their perceived dedication to universally accepted human principles, and possession of other civic virtues.  Traditional intra-American racism is deplored and many Clancy heroes are black, Latin, immigrants, etc.  The British and Germans are revered, even with their silly European quirks.  Numerous Ryanverse villains are Arabic, Middle Eastern, or Central Asian, but Islamic culture is treated well and Saudi Prince Ali is a colleague and friend of Jack's.  By the time we get to The Bear and the Dragon, the Russians are no longer the main enemy (but really frenemies thanks to Sergey Golovko and company) and are now allies, even joining NATO.  With their excellent mathematicians, sub-par engineers, amazing ballet performers, lousy clothiers, overweight babes, unparalleled intelligence services, and brave but poorly-trained and -equipped soldiers, Russians are pretty great too.

This sentiment is in no way extended to the Chinese.  While the Jack Ryan series worships at the altar of civic virtues, the Chinese culture of deep respect for authority is the result of mindlessness and oppression, stifling what the country could be. Everything they make is either stolen or garbage; Chet Nomuri spends most of his time lamenting the shoddy restaurants and retail goods while the Jack Ryan cabinet drones on about the numerous copyright violations permitted by the Chinese government.  In past books of the series, bad guys are the racist ones - anti-Semitic, anti-black, etc.  In The Bear and the Dragon, casual (and not-so-casual) racism against the Chinese flows abundantly from the good guys: on the gentler side there are a dozen or so references to "Joe Chinaman" or "John Chinaman" or "Chinaman" or just "Joe", but 21 uses of "chink" and plenty of derogatory uses of "little", "yellow", and a term for a performer of certain intimate acts. About a half dozen times they are referred to as Klingons, too alien to understand in a series that has visited numerous countries, cited a dozen languages, and explored countless subcultures. We feel secure in saying Mr. Clancy does not care for China.

Missed Opportunity

The symbolism of the title of the book is spelled out on the cover, which looks mostly the same in its various printings.  Having Googled "the bear and the dragon" and found this image, we feel as if there was a substantial opportunity missed by the cover design team.
Image courtesy of The Voice of Idaho

Writing this post has been nearly as agonizing as reading this book. There are enough positive elements and characters (like Gogol) that keep us wanted to like the book yet we can't get over the many, many terrible things in this book. We've addressed the weaknesses of the story of Chet Nomuri's penetration (innuendo intended) of the Politburo's information systems; it's an interesting and useful story structurally and absolutely abominable in execution. Jack Ryan spends the entire book either lamenting having to be president or being furious with the Chinese; he's only really a dynamic figure for after we're 1,000 pages in. So many of the good guys come off as racist, dumb, or at best apathetic about trying to understand the culture and motivations of their opponents. Clancy's fascination with technical details here feel less like his usual intellectual curiosity and more like droning on about his hobbies.

The Bear and the Dragon is bloated as Homer Simpson on Thanksgiving. It's difficult to tell if the trade discussions were intentionally repetitive and annoying to convey the characters' ennui or if Clancy had just forgotten he had already written that part. Hundreds of pages are devoted to the anti-abortion plot line; a pregnant Christian factory worker in atheist/one-child China who calls on her pastor to help her when hospital authorities are trying to kill the baby. When her pastor and his Cardinal guest are slain protecting her and the baby, CNN happens to be there to broadcast it to the world, which triggers anger in American and European consumers against Chinese products, which causes international companies to cancel their orders with Chinese manufacturers (and place them with Taiwan, etc.) The story of the Christian Chinese couple is potentially interesting and covers a vital issue, but it is written with little empathy or heart and eventually just serves to convey that China is evil and we shouldn't take it anymore. Many pages are filled with actual sermons offered by Hosiah Jackson and Gerry Patterson in each other's churches, which CNN decides to broadcast to the whole world. The pro-life story feels like it's from another, more heart-felt book, and stands in stark contrast to endless cabinet discussions, trade delegation banter, fascination with military technology, and a CIA agent's physically-focused affair with a Chinese bureaucrat.

The central idea of the book is that war is just armed robbery writ large, so here's the progression of events: 1) China discovers that already mineral-rich Siberia is about to get a lot richer. 2) China decides to build up the military to invade Russia, exacerbating China'ss currency reserve issues. 3) A cop kills two Christian clergymen, China does not apologize in any way, and American and European consumers are enraged. 4) Vast swaths of enraged consumers plan to boycott Chinese products, which compels companies to switch their business from China. 5) These gigantic industrial losses motivate the hotheaded Chinese government to accelerate their war plans. 6) The Chinese invade Siberia, but the clever Russian strategy and American technical superiority quickly decapitates the PLA plans. 7) Jack Ryan decides to broadcast the drones' feed of the PLA getting dismantled, which then incites anti-government riots all over the country. 8) Rioters storm the government headquarters and seize their oppressive rulers. If the sequence of events seems flimsy to the readers of this blog, then they agree with the post's author. Clancy has shown the ability previously to make the implausible seem plausible, but The Bear and the Dragon mostly consists of shoddily strung-together narrations whose purpose is to vent about China's awfulness.

Some Other Guy's Review

We tend not to read other reviews of the Jack Ryan novels while writing our posts, but when we were almost finished with this one we came across a well-written Amazon review (two stars) by a user named Martin Asiner, who writes, 
"If Clancy were a novice author, it is not likely an editor would publish such a bloated and going-nowhere novel. The problem is not that Clancy has lost the ability to write. Rather, as he has churned out one bestseller after another, he has increasingly become the worst of all literary plagiarists; he has copied from himself. What is clear from merely holding such a massive novel (1,100 pages plus)is that if one comes to THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON from say, EXECUTIVE ORDERS, there is the sneaking suspicion that Clancy will place the titular hero Jack Ryan in a secondary capacity, have him mouth platitutes about his feelings about his new and unwanted job, and have Ryan react to rather than interact with the novel's complicating elements. In addition, Clancy here continues to fill out his novels with excessive details about bombs, missiles, and technical wizardry that do not materially add to the thrust of the action. As I was following the numerous and ill-connected subplots, I grew to realize that by page 900, Clancy had committed the worst sin a novelist could commit: the sinking feeling that Nothing Much Is Happening."
The whole review is well worth reading, but we'll include just one more passage:
"An egregious example occurs when a male CIA operative subverts a female Chinese stenographer in Beijing into betraying her country solely on his amatory capacity to seduce. She is the flat character that occasionally pops up in any novel, and in her cringing and servile attitude toward her seducer, I myself felt like turning her in to her Communist party bosses."
The Sure-to-be-Pretty-Good WYNE Media Production

"Room for improvement" is our motto in making the TV season of this book. We're tempted to skip this book altogether, but that wouldn't be any fun for this section of the blog. We'll spend the following few sentences with the changes we'd make.

We'd immediately ax Robby Jackson as vice president. The move reeks of cronyism, which is anathema to Ryan's character, and is lazy writing. Scott Adler would be a better vice president. What happened to our friends in Congress, Trent and Fellows, the gay New Englander and the Mormon Arizonan? We know they survived the Debt of Honor attack only to never show their faces again, so why not one of them? (Probably Fellows, given Ryan's politics.) Worst of all, Robby as VP sets up atrocious, unrealistic, stupid, and character-illogical writing later. We really like having Robby around, so we need to find a more logical role: Robby can be a special adviser, like Valerie Jarrett is to President Obama.

Abortion is an important issue to discuss and China's one child policy is worthy of examination, but those topics aren't really germane to our main story. That story - CNN, the clerics, the cops, the couple - is gone. The trade war will be instigated gradually and based on trade-related problems, like patent violations and intellectually property theft, which will trigger Congress's use of the Trade Reform Act, hastening the conflict.

We'd definitely keep the Ming and Chet story, but we'd let them have souls. Ming would express doubt at Chet's intentions, disgust at being used in the office for her body, and maybe resentment for China's lack of freedom's. Chet could be more conflicted about the gross but apparently necessary seduction (we could ask on the show: was it necessary to instigate a sexual relationship?) or express boredom and loneliness in his current lifestyle. Or we could mix it up and give him some local friends. We could also mine some obvious potential drama about the operation itself: conflict arises between Chet and Ming because she confirms her suspicions about the software and feels like she's been used to betray her country. Or the IT department at Politburo detects the activity of the transmissions and Ming is dragged into danger.  The scenario could go in many different directions.

Maybe most importantly, we'd activate Jack.  The constant griping about being stuck being president would have to go. Maybe he could make a complaint and then Cathy makes fun of him for it, then chastises him. In Executive Orders Jack hires an inexperienced Ben Goodley to be the National Security Adviser mostly because he's very talented, but Jack can excuse the inexperience because of his own abilities and experience. Jack's unparalleled analytical ability and his judgment are his defining characteristics, so why neglect them in The Bear and the Dragon? On the show, Jack is in the driver seat. If say the Nomuri operation in Beijing were going south, Jack could make a controversial call about how to handle it that would anger the Foleys at CIA, though he'd be proven right later. Jack would badger and entice members of congress into activating the TRA. Like he did with Daryaei, he'd try to blow up Xu and Zhang.

All of the battle passages from the book would remain, minus all the racism. We are decidedly Team Bondarenko and it would be compelling to see him think through and work out the obstacles he has in defending his country. He, not Sergey Golovko, is the closest analog to Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy's Russia.

The Golovko assassination attempt and investigation story is worth keeping too, though we'd need to do a better job of connecting it to the China conflict. We'd also eliminate the pointless prostitution allusions.


Does anybody besides Tom Clancy call a computer a 'puter?

Bear ponders major religious themes and prominently features five Christian clergymen. Keeping (Bearing?) in mind that his next published book, Red Rabbit, centers around the assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II, we wonder if the early 2000s were some sort of religious awakening for the author.

We get the impression that Mr. Clancy was not exactly dialed in with pop culture. The military names their drones after some hot babes: Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly. Clancy was about 9 years old when Ms. Kelly had her last credited role and 15 when Ms. Monroe last graced the screen.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Clancy Chronologically: Rainbow Six

In this series of posts, we're reading Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series (including the Jack Ryan Jr. and John Clark books) in its own chronological order rather than the publication order.  Your comments are more than welcome, but tread lightly: SPOILERS AHEAD!


Giving the readers what they want, Tom Clancy delivers another John Clark book, this time with Ding Chavez as the second lead.  At the suggestion of Clark, President Jack Ryan recruits other NATO countries to form an international terrorism response team.  In a shocking twist, Clark is tapped to lead the team. Largely comprised of American and British special forces veterans, Rainbow also includes troops from Germany, Israel, France, and Italy, all specializing in the utter destruction of their enemies.  Rainbow is headquartered in Hereford, UK to be closer to the likely terror targets, take advantage of the UK's less restrictive laws regarding some of their proposed methods of operations, and proximity to the Spice Girls.

Nurse Sandy O'Toole Clark and Dr. Patricia Clark Chavez take positions at the local hospital.  Their main job is to scold their husbands, (in the case of Patricia) be pregnant, and be taken hostage in a pivotal conflict.

Former KGB puppeteer Dmitriy Popov is back, this time in a featured role, working for a mysterious (okay not mysterious - it's poorly set up) employer.  The mysterious employer is happy to fork over huge amounts of money for Popov to set up operations using loosely Marxist/out-of-work terrorists and doesn't seem to care about results; this suits Popov until he realizes his employer is a genocidal maniac.

Dr. Carol Brightling is an attractive, accomplished scholar, is divorced and is an ideological opponent of Jack Ryan, and is therefore a shrew.  She also happens to be the president's chief science adviser, a political move Arnie van Damm talked him into, which gives her access to sensitive government information, allowing her to nudge The Big Evil Project in the right direction and gain intel on possible opposition (spoiler alert: i.e. Rainbow). She cannot get the president to understand the need to abandon fossil fuels so she can keep her promises to the Sierra Club and misses her bed-hopping ex while pining alone with her cat Jiggs.

Dr. John Brightling is a handsome, rich CEO scientist/celebrity, whose Horizon Corporation promises incredible scientific advances.  He enjoys mysteriously employing people and divorcing Carol to further their Project (somehow, we guess). He is the financier and chief of the Project.

Bill Henriksen is a former FBI counter-terrorism big shot who now runs a company which is trying to obtain a contract to run security for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  To ensure they win the contract, he and Brightling have Popov orchestrate terror attacks to emphasize the need for Henriksen's particular specialties.

Foster Hunnicutt is a former petroleum engineer who is literally sitting on a gold mine, but doesn't care.  Having seen the damage the pollution he help bring about has caused, he retreats to a rustic lifestyle.  His main role is to spill the beans to Popov about the scope of the Project when they're at Horizon's semi-secret villainous base in Kansas, a facility intended to shelter Project members while the rest of the world burns.

Kirk McClean is a handsome young employee of Horizon Corporation who works overtime as a kidnapper for the Project.  The kidnappees are subjected to experiments with a genetically engineered version of Ebola, designed to be hardier and more communicable.  John Killgore and Barbara Archer are the lead evil scientists who plan to initially disperse the virus through the water vapor cooling system at the Olympics, then offer a deadly fake vaccine to kill even more people as the pandemic spreads.  The Project views humanity as a virus, hoping to wipe out almost all of mankind and enjoy the bucolic splendor of Nature reclaiming the Earth for Her own.

Interesting Tidbit From Wikipedia

As explained in the book, the denomination "Rainbow" reflects the international character of the team and "Six" is a military designation for a commander.  Our friends at Wikipedia elaborate on the historical terminology: "The idea for the title comes from the United States Color-coded War Plans, specifically the Rainbow Plans of the 1930s, where Rainbow Five is the last known plan. In these plans, various countries were given a color code, and the Rainbow Plans outlined strategies for dealing with potential conflicts between coalitions of countries. Rainbow Five, for instance, which is discussed extensively in the Plan Dog memo, details several U.S. strategies for America's involvement in World War II. For Rainbow Six, the aggressor is international terrorists."


As much as one can say an 897 page book is compact, Rainbow Six is Tom Clancy's last tightly-written solo effort (we'll get into that in the review of The Bear and the Dragon).  Where it drags - e.g. when Project members fantasize about their post-apocalyptic future, most everything involving Carol Brightling - it doesn't linger too long.  Even the training scenes are compelling.  The action sequences are as good as he's ever written; the terrorist attack at World Park (Tom Clancy's mocking version of Euro Disneyland) is incredibly gripping and cinematic.  The inevitable comeuppance for the main bad guys at the conclusion of the book is simultaneously classic and ridiculous: the Rainbow guys don't kill the Brightlings, Henriksen, etc.; they let nature do it for them.

Pretend we inserted a paragraph here that sounds different and better than our usual criticism of lack of character development.  Ding starts looking at the world differently as he's about to become a father, but the portrayal is blunt, inartful, and cliched.  The additional Rainbow team characters are either interchangeable or stereotypes.  The French guy has a way with the ladies! The German guy is a machine-like badass!  The British commander uses understated language!  You get the idea. Bad guy Bill Henriksen is the most interesting character in the book; he seems genuinely devoted to the men he's worked with and to the security forces of the United States, yet his hardcore environmental views allow him to excuse global genocide.  He's a gifted expert and a skilled political operator (when the Project unravels, he's quick to say you can't save the planet inside a jail cell). Popov is a fun character too, seemingly a fairly soulless money-grubber with little regard for the consequences of the operations he devises, then he turns out to be a person of conscience.  His cleverness and curiosity provide both entertainment and depth to the story.

Rainbow Six is yet another riveting Clancy page-turner that takes time to criticize his political opposition, this time the environmental movement.  Novel writers can articulate whatever viewpoint they want, but our feeling is that antagonists tend to be more interesting and well-developed when the author respects the opposition.  Clancy respects the Russians and they are multi-dimensional and his most compelling opponents; Clancy has little regard for the Chinese or environmentalists, so their motivations and characterizations are less developed.  Maybe that's too nit-picky a criticism for a book that is overall really well-written and a ton of fun to read.

The Project's plan for world annihilation is elaborately detailed and well-planned, yet we can't get over some major problems in their thinking.  They're counting on incredibly quick distribution of their fake vaccine and widespread willingness of unsuspicious people to use it so quickly after a major Ebola attack on the US.  Wide swaths of population would take a long time to get the vaccine to who would see through the ruse.  The Project's facility might be secure enough to repel a few gun-toting Kansans, but couldn't keep out the rest of the gun owners in the country nor a military airstrike which would be inevitable under President Ryan.

Our suggestion for reading Rainbow Six is this: sit back, relax, don't think too hard, and enjoy the ride.  And for more action taking down environmental extremists, read Michael Crichton's State of Fear next.

The Immensely Popular Series of Video Games

According to this article on the Xbox website, the eight Rainbow Six games and six expansions have sold 15 million copies, though that seems to not include other consoles or PC editions (the LA Times suggests another 10 million copies sold).  At the time of his death, the Tom Clancy brand video games, including the Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon series, had sold some 76 million copies. The Rainbow Six series is widely lauded by critics and gamers; the following trailer for the upcoming Siege edition suggests why:

The Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six YouTube channel has a ton of reaction videos for the new game.  We recommend the one featuring several z-list celebrities including Gus Fring from Breaking Bad, Hugh Hefner's ex-girlfriend, and the player who fumbled away Peyton Manning's chance of being a two-time Super Bowl champion.

The Sure-to-be-Great WYNE Media Production

This is where we diverge in our usual prescription that it should be a movie or a season of TV.  While it could be condensed into a cool movie or serve as the basis of a good season of TV, the Rainbow template would make an excellent spinoff series, even if it detached some of the core Jack Ryan characters.  The video game series suggests there is plenty of story to be told.  We envision it being a bit like 24 without the artificial time constraints: it would include the White House and prominent government officials, portrayals of the bad guys of the season, and allow for income and outgo of Rainbow team members. Unlike 24, we wouldn't have to come up with cockamamie reasons for the principals to be in the same geographic area or resolve huge problems in a single day.  It would be a really good companion series to the Teeth of the Tiger series we'll propose two posts from now.


We've always wondered how many of the Ryanverse characters are based on real people.  Is a Mormon friend or friends the reason for his many references?  Why so many Johns and Sams?  Why are three different characters named Tony Wills?  It isn't too big of a leap of imagination to think that psychologist/negotiator Paul Bellow is named after Nobel literature laureate Saul Bellow. Rainbow Six was published the same year he divorced his first wife, so we wonder if Carol Brightling, one of the three major villainesses of the series, was based on her in any way.

Carlos the Jackal makes a cameo appearance in the book; the terrorists at World Park demand his release while he rots in French prison.  We're reminded of the central role Carlos plays in the Bourne trilogy of books, a fun crossover of series in our mind.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Clancy Chronologically: Executive Orders

You've been on pins and needles for somebody to review the books your dad was reading when you were in middle school; we're here to help.  Last year, we read all of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books in order of Ryanverse chronology rather than order of publication (we include the John Clark and Jack Ryan Jr. books in this process).  This year, we're doing it again and posting about each of the books as we complete them/manage to be sufficiently unlazy to actually post a blog.  Your comments are more than welcome. NOTE: POSSIBLE DECADES-OLD SPOILERS!!!

The Megabook, Part II

Executive Orders picks up right where Debt of Honor leaves off, with Jack Ryan left to pick up the pieces of the government, which was largely incinerated by the kamikaze airliner. (Is that racist?) Yamata is sorted out and the Indian Prime Minister is put in her place, but Orders doesn't wrap up with Zhang Han San and China for another two books.  Mahmoud Daryaei comes upstage as our alpha villain, revealing his long-term and awfully expansive plan.

Nearly all of our Tom Clancy Heroes and their friends get a job promotion in this book (though by contrast, Cathy mentions having declined prestigious academic posts). While it is mentioned that several of them are not really ready for their new jobs, none of them mess up in significant ways.


Japanese Prime Minister Koga has been reinstated to power, faced with restoring his country from the destruction of the Yamata-led industrialists and their compliant military partners (we think President Eisenhower had a term for this kind of pairing, but we can't remember).  His first task is making sure the Americans are not going to Hiroshima/Nagasaki them again, but he quickly finds rapport with sensible man of peace, Jack Ryan.

American General Marion Diggs is hosting Russia's chief military planner, General Gennady Bondarenko, letting him witness how much America has improved on Soviet armored cavalry doctrine.  The training stuff pays off with Diggs and the Americans as they find themselves undermanned with the UIR later, but the alliance with Bondarenko doesn't really come back into play until The Bear and the Dragon.

Ding Chavez and John Clark, fresh off of rescuing PM Koga, run the investigation leading the Ebola terror attack back to Iran.  Hooking up with our friends in Russian Intelligence, they hammer in the final nail of the UIR's coffin.  

Cathy Ryan, having inadvertently saved the economy by reciting her aphorism "if it isn't written down, it didn't happen", soldiers on as the begrudging First Lady.  To the stress of the Secret Service and the befuddlement of "Official Washington" (we'll get to that), she continues to work as the world's best eye surgeon.  She and Jack try to make life as normal as possible as possible for their kids, which doesn't work out so well. Also she grumbles about not being able to cook dinner every night, having to settle for dining on the work of a gourmet chef who supplies her with tips and recipes.

Mahmoud Daryaei, leader of Iran, sets in motion his decades-long plan to unite all of Islam under one flag.  His successful coup in Iraq eliminates Saddam Hussein (referred to as "The Mustache") and exiles prominent military and government officials; Iran quickly fills the leadership vacuum.  He arranges an assassination of the premier of Turkmenistan, a Muslim state formerly of the Soviet Union.  He deploys attacks on the president, the president's family, and the country in the form of biological warfare.

Ed Kealty, recently resigned former vice president of the United States, figures he can cash in on the death of the President.  He sends a henchman to steal his letter of resignation from the deceased secretary of state's office, removing the evidence that he actually quit (never mind that he didn't object to the swearing in of Jack Ryan as the caretaker VP).  Beloved of the media and Official Washington, he casts aspersions on Ryan's fitness to serve as president and, with humility feigned, acknowledges his personal weakness yet asserts his alleged rightful place in the White House.

Official Washington is comprised of lobbyists, media, appointees, and other affiliated figures who have tremendous influence in How Washington Works.  They are swayed by Kealty and appalled by Ryan's non-politician-ness.  The author acknowledges the power these people wield by his opinion of their character is made abundantly clear.

Tom Clancy has his fun with the news media.  At first the media is primarily and antagonist for Jack Ryan, their political leaning and personal style being more aligned with Kealty and their preference for ratings-grabbing stories above all else.  Through previous and later books Clancy declares his undying love for CNN because of their competence in news coverage and intelligence gathering; everyone in the U.S. government watches CNN (keeping in mind these books are written just as the internet is becoming ubiquitous and before the current crop of CNN on-air talent).  In Executive Orders we focus on two NBC guys: John Plumber, an old school journalist who believes in doing things The Right Way but is worn out, and Tom Donner, a soulless ratings whore who screws over Jack.  Plumber falls on his sword and tries to make things right and Donner is given a special opportunity to cover war up close.  Returning is Bob Holtzman, the old school Washington Post reporter extraordinaire who does journalism The Right Way, who steers Plumber toward his repentance, showing him that remarkable as it may seem, the President is a truly decent and honest guy.

A couple of racist rednecks and militia secessionists Ernie Brown and Pete Holbrooke decide that if they can both blow up the White House with Ryan in it and take out Kealty, they can create a Constitutional crisis and reboot America in The Way It Should Be.  The story of their road trip to Washington is not explosive.

Elderly nun Jean Baptiste contracts Ebola from Patient Zero in the jungles of Africa; Dr. Mohammed Moudi uses her as the incubator for his bioweapon factory.  He feels bad about using her like that, but not so bad that he doesn't also have her companion wasted.

General Diggs and Colonel Hamm are back to show off Tom Clancy's extensive knowledge of armored military units.  They do a lot of training, then lead the charge to demolish the UIR's sad attempt to seize Saudi Arabia.

Movie Star is the rare Clancy bad guy who does not get punished by the end of the book; he's the guy who organizes the attack on Katie Ryan's preschool.  The preschool attack is supposed to serve as a tool to make it easier for Daryaei's Secret Service plant to kill jack instead of increasing scrutiny of those defending the president rather than being page filler in a book that needs absolutely none.

Aref "Jeff" Raman is an Iranian immigrant who has risen up the ranks of the Secret Service, building his cover identity around being a guy who's all about work and college basketball.  He's been groomed since childhood to waste the American President and he tries very hard.  The investigation that finds him out is gripping and the way he's stopped is clever.

An unintelligent, unsophisticated, unremarkable looking teenager named Bella leaves her profligate mother in Arizona to go live with her negligent alcoholic father in western Washington.  Despite her total lack of aesthetic appeal or virtually any other quality, she becomes the most popular girl in school.  Bella strikes up a creepy and abusive romance with a sparkly Ronald McDonald-looking vampire named Edward, whose family of non-predatory vampires are much more interesting than him.  Bella draws the perpetual longing of a dumb and handsome werewolf who cannot take the hint gigantic billboard that the feeling is not mutual.  The werewolf falls in love with Bella and Edward's monster baby. This plot is not actually part of Executive Orders but might as well be with all of the other characters and stories.

Given that most of the cabinet has been blown up, Jack Ryan has to appoint new ones. None of the old cabinet members have any role in the book.  All of the new cabinet members are essentially the same person: self-made success, working class background, talk like a "real person", are outsiders, and like to drink.  In this book, their main function is to articulate Tom Clancy's personal politics in lengthy passages.  A partial exception to that is Ben Goodley, the very young and inexperienced analyst Jack appoints to be the National Security Adviser, which is written off as being okay since Jack is so good at national security himself.  Goodley's most important quality is that he hasn't been subsumed by the hivemind CIA bureaucracy and is therefore the best choice to advise the nation's president.

In Atlanta at CDC and in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins, medical researchers who are trying to find ways to combat Ebola are made aware of the outbreak in Africa, which infects one of the Iraqi officers fleeing the newly formed UIR. Cathy Ryan joins in the Ebola battle, the investigation thereof setting up our final conflict. 

Storm Track and Palm Bowl are two military surveillance stations in the Middle East. We spend many a page with them monitoring troop movements in Iraq, etc.

The government of India is working with China and Iran to stretch out the US military and decide they want to grab some territory.  They fail.

Bart Mancuso guides the Navy in deterring the Chinese and Indians, even while the Navy is hobbled and undersupplied.  They perform like Michael Jordan in the "flu" game.

We're probably leaving out 10 or 12 plot lines; this book is 1,358 pages in paperback. The bottom line: Jack's first few months as president really, really sucked.


These is a ton of good stuff in this book, lots of exciting stories and interesting insights. There is also a metric ton of fluff and stories that could have been in another book. Executive Orders had enough material for two books and much of it would have been  better served in a separate volume.  With a contemplative opening segment, wrapping up and dealing with the events of Debt of Honor, and rebuilding the government, we add lengthy detail of Ebola cultivation, lengthy detail of deploying Ebola in the terror attack, lengthy detail of combating Ebola, pages-long speeches by President Ryan, numerous press conferences and interviews, descriptions of how Cathy is going to get to and function at work, the inner workings of the White House, pages-long policy speeches and discussion by Ryan's aides, government meetings in a half dozen countries, reports on the activities of a number of Navy vessels, accounts of surveillance outposts, terror attacks on the country and First Family, assassinations and assassination get it.  There's little room for the characters and stories to breathe.  

The Clancy Manifesto

We imagine Tom Clancy had been watching The West Wing rack up a billion Emmys in the 90s, preaching Aaron Sorkin's thinly veiled personal politics, and figured he'd get in the game.  Clancy heroes have always articulated his policy views, usually in off-hand mentions and brief conversations; Executive Orders has them conversing at length and giving speeches.  Sum of All Fears and Debt of Honor are largely arguments against downsizing the military and eliminating nuclear weapons, Clear and Present Danger expresses Clancy's hatred of drug use but his reservations with the "War on Drugs", and Red Rabbit rails against the obesity of East Slavic females. Orders drones on about finance, defense buildup, international relations, diplomacy, taxes, war policy, terrible imitation Dr. Pepper brands, and the usual Clancy elaboration ad nauseam about every possible unit involved in martial conflict.          

Tom Clancy even coins his own political term: the Ryan Doctrine.  The Ryan Doctrine states that if nations are justified in fighting against the soldiers and underlings sent to fight them, they are justified in attacking the leaders, political or military, who give the orders.  We spent way too much time thinking about how this would work in the real world and what that would mean.


We can't find the words to succinctly describe Executive Orders; there is an incredible amount of story, characters, and tone dealt with to varying degrees of success.  The first segment of the book - the immediate aftermath of the disaster - is refreshingly meditative in pace and as character-driven as anything in the Jack Ryan series.  Jack feels through every decision, contemplates the consequences for Roger Durling's family and everyone else in the White House, and realizes the huge burden each of his predecessors has faced.  He measures his character and ability and finds himself wanting.  Jack has always been fairly self-flagellating, but the story circumstances make it feel totally appropriate.  His coming to grips with both his burdens and how well he's supported is profound and interesting.

Mahmoud Daryaei is a worthy villain for Jack Ryan, just as principled in his own way, a man who has shaped his life and worked himself sore to pursue his deeply-held beliefs.  He would have stood out even more, but the book spends so much time talking about the specifics of creating the Ebola crisis, fighting the Ebola crisis, and performing and fighting the terror attacks.  Daryaei's assassination is fun and cheesy in a very 90s movie sort of way, but not really in keeping with Jack Ryan's professionalism and not relishing violence.

The Ed Kealty storyline is pretty interesting but gets a little repetitive. That he ends up shooting himself in the foot by having legal technicalities work against him is a fun bit of irony.

The worst story in Executive Orders is that of the would-be assassins Brown and Holbrooke.  We don't really learn anything substantive about the Mountain Men, don't know their ideology other than they love the Constitution and hate bureaucrats.  The story is a very 90s domestic terror tale, recalling Timothy McVeigh, Branch Davidians, etc., and it's boring and completely unnecessary.  It doesn't generate any tension or connect to any other part of the story (how unClancyan!) 

Of course the combat is really good, the world-building details are expert, and the stories are mostly interesting.  As addressed previously, the primary problem with the totality of the book is that there is far too much content to try to keep track of.  Clancy books are pretty dense and have twisting, intertwined plots, but Executive Orders makes his usual entries seem like John Steinbeck.  There's a cool emotional component and yet so much Clancyness.  It's really entertaining yet could have been more.

The Sure-to-be-Amazing WYNE Media Production

A movie version would be a total disaster; we might even need two seasons to do the book justice. A good, Kyle Chandler-esque actor could take us through Jack's emotional and intellectual process, combining his uber-intelligence with his everyman character. The book takes time to mourn, considering those who had been slain and those affected by the tragedy; we'd keep that in and set the emotional underpinnings for the dual base story of Jack's unexpected rise to the presidency and a grieving, then angry nation.  For the sake of time, we'd have to gloss over the navy and surveillance stuff, trim back the Ebola specifics, lightly touch on the details of the UIR takeover of Iraq, and eliminate a lot of the content with the new cabinet members.  A few things worth adding: perhaps some flashback stories with Daryaei, maybe give him a family to go home to and deal with. We don't ever learn about the families of the Clancy villains and we feel it would give him a compelling new dimension.


Jack Ryan tells the reader that he knows that his dad worked the case of Clark's (Kelly's) murder spree in Baltimore; Clancy ties up every loose end.

With Jack becoming president here, later resigning, then running again, Jack is president for about half of the books in the series.  Actually, we wonder if Tom Clancy didn't know what to write about after Ryan becomes president after a few books.  We'll get into that when we cover The Bear and the Dragon and Teeth of the Tiger; it starts to feel like Clancy was still attached to this world but lost his will to put in the work.