Clancy, Tom: (02) Patriot Games

In my Tom Clancy bedtime re-reads, I had hopes that Patriot Games would have remained readable, being the second Jack Ryan book and therefore early in Clancy’s career. Alas, it is not; evidently, Jack has already become perfect in his author’s eyes, and on this read comes off as a gratingly arrogant and insufferable know-it-all. The sex scenes and the sections from his wife’s point-of-view are also cringe-inducing, or possibly are meant to depict aliens. I’d read another four in the continuity back in the day (The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears, and Executive Orders) but didn’t bother with them now.

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  1. I wouldn’t skip The Cardinal of the Kremlin on the basis of how badly-written Patriot Games is. I’ve already mentioned that I think PG was Clancy’s first-written novel, but that he couldn’t sell it until THfRO had already sold big. The writing in PG isn’t nearly as polished, either in plotting or in prose, in addition to all of the failings you mention.
    On the other hand, I think Cardinal may not be his best plot, but (if memory serves) it might well be the high point of his writing craft, such as it was before he became Too Big To Edit. I remember liking it best of the series up to that point, at any rate, and I liked October quite a bit.

  2. David, I don’t read Clancy for prose, so I didn’t notice the polishing or lack thereof in Patriot Games, and better prose is not really an inducement to re-read Cardinal, based on what I recall of it–which is that it compounds Clancy’s inability to write sex, romance, or emotion by introducing a really badly-handled lesbian character. That’s it (except the really strong memory flash I just got of reading it while babysitting in a particular house, but that’s not relevant).

  3. I’ll certainly grant you the “really badly-handled lesbian character”, in among all the really badly-handled nerds, wives, FBI agents, and assorted other Americans. The place I thought it actually transcended Ordinary Clancy was in the portrayal of Cardinal himself, and those around him. YMMV. I’ll certainly never do more than skim it again someday, myself.
    BTW, when I say ‘prose’ I apparently mean more than other people do, to the point where “I don’t read X for the prose” almost sounds incoherent to me, since ‘prose’ includes storytelling craft. I know that (e.g.) Sea Wasp on rec.arts.sf.written claims to be blind to anything but raw plot, but I’d always thought that (a) he was exaggerating, and (b) he’s an extreme outlier.

  4. I do remember the Cardinal as a character somewhat fondly, so I suppose someday if I’m trapped in an airport with nothing else to read, I might skim those sections.
    “Prose” is a sentence-level thing for me.

  5. Cardinal has many good points; I agree that the lesbian doesn’t work.
    Clear and Present Danger generally strikes me as one of Clancy’s best, just short of Red October itself, and actually has a lot of thought behind it about the use of force, and when it’s a good idea, and when it’s not.
    Sum of All Fears is a good techno-thriller, but not a lot more.

  6. I’d second (or third, or whatever) the thought that Cardinal could deal with a re-read. Its flaws (Although the particular flaw with the lesbians is kinda interesting: its terribly handled, but not in the way that I would now expect[1]. Clancy is genuinely grossed out by the icky lesbians; you’d expect it to be played more for badly handled sex appeal,like a 60 minutes exlusive on the abusive world of hardcore porn).
    Anyway, the American side of it is at best workman like (with the added lesbian problem) but the Soviet sections are really, really good. The Cardinal is an interesting charater, but so to are the KGB agents closing in on him.
    [1] 13 year old me didn’t understand the way in which it was flawed. This is thus the first time nearly 30 me has though about it,

  7. I’ve tried to read Red October but so far the only Clancy novel I’ve found worthwhile to read is Red Storm Rising. In fact, I have a secret liking to that whole 1970ties to mid eighties genre of World War III technothriller, all desperately trying to avoid featuring the nuclear side of things too much because it’s such a downer.
    There’s something vaguely comforting about reading about a future war that cannot happen anymore.
    Besides, massed tank battles will always be cool.

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