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.

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