January 15, 2012

I'm a cowboy, and on a steel horse I ride

A lightning review of Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy (New York: Putnam, 2010). Hardcover, 848 pp.

The Emir is the mastermind behind the Umayyad Revolutionary Council (the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11 in Clancy's fictional timeline). He is on the most-wanted list of the Campus, the clandestine intelligence organization founded by former president Jack Ryan. The Campus operates outside the law, its budget does not appear on any government books, and it holds a small stack of pre-signed, undated presidential pardons. Jack Ryan Jr. works for the Campus as an analyst and, unbeknownst to his father, as a field agent along with his cousins Brian and Dominic Caruso, and former Rainbow Six operatives John Clark and Domingo "Ding" Chavez.

As the Campus hunts the Emir down, he is in fact secretly living in the United States, planning a large-scale terrorist attack that involves obtaining scrap components from old Russian naval vessels.

Meanwhile, Jack Ryan Sr. contemplates another run for the presidency, dissatisfied with the way his successor has handled the economy and the War on Terror.

Dead or Alive has the elaborate criminal plots and familiar characters that are so characteristic of a Tom Clancy techno-thriller. In and of itself, it's a decent story. However, since the elder Ryan became President in Executive Orders, Clancy's novels have become virtual wish-fulfilment fantasies, with Ryan (or the Campus) standing in as Mary Sues. The didactic, how-I-would-run-things elements have, since then, weakened the stories as a whole (excepting the intense Rainbow Six. Dead or Alive sets itself up neatly for a sequel (which Clancy's latest, Against All Enemies is apparently not). This was an enjoyable enough read, but I yearn for Clancy's glory days of Clear and Present Danger or The Sum of All Fears. I also wonder why he has started working with co-authors (Grant Blackwood for this book and its predecessor, and Peter Telep for the latest), since I don't perceive that the style or substance of his novels has changed much. Is this perhaps how he manages to crank out one of these 2-inch-thick volumes twice a year?