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.