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:
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.