Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy

Clear and Present Danger by Tom ClancyTom Clancy is a highly respected author. Just putting his name on a book sells about a million copies. For the life of me I can’t see why. In fact, I’m beginning to question all the super popular books. Dan Brown turned out to be basically terrible. Clive Cussler leans so heavily on the worst sexist tropes that its a wonder his books don’t collapse under the weight of how terrible they are.

To say this book is overhyped is probably the most severe understatement of the century. This is probably the worst case of self-congratulatory, poorly written, purple prose I have ever encountered. To top it all off, it’s also really boring.

The story goes something like this:

Character, back story, back story, flashback, boring back story, breakfast.

New Character, boring back story, flashback, boring back story, dramatic statement.

Mix. Repeat. When you get to character number twenty or so. Then start over at the beginning.

Now the fun part. Give all the characters kind of similar sounding names so when the reader finally gets back to character number one they don’t really know who that is. Is this a new guy? Is this somebody I’ve read about before? Oh, he must be new because we just launched into a backstory. Wait. This is the same background as the first guy. Why are we doing this again?

To mix it up we’ll have character (a) be a widow, her husband died. Of cancer. Her boss, character (b), is a congressman whose wife died. Of cancer. Character (c) is some kind of super genius married to a rich surgeon. His best friend is dying. Of cancer.

Did Tom Clancy have a message buried somewhere in the all the nauseum or did he just not realize that here are other ways for people to die?

Or maybe this book is about cancer and how evil it is and how it changes people and makes them different. Cancer is a Clear and Present Danger and we’re gong to fight it. With helicopters and guns.

Only its actually drugs. The war on drugs is getting real. We’re going to invade foreign countries, perform espionage and train an elite group of soldiers to stop drug trafficking. It’s the ‘90s and we don’t have Russia to be scared of any more so we have to have something to shoot at. Lets go kill some South Americans because they are responsible for drugs. Which probably caused all the cancer.

I think I could have handled all of those things if the book hadn’t been so boring. I’ve read books that are riddled with cliches. I’ve enjoyed movies that are nothing but stupid piled on stupid (one of my favorite movies is Sahara — which just doesn’t get any stupider — though part of the reason I like it is because I don’t think the movie is taking itself seriously) but this is aggressively boring.

It takes nearly one third of this dangerously long novel to even see the name of the main character, who turns out to be capable at everything he does and his best friend is dying of cancer.

Clancy had a middle schoolers view of politics and how they work. He also has almost no understanding of law, international relations or even critical thinking skills. There are senators and vice presidents and attaches and spies and drug dealers and consuls and not one of them seems able to scrape a couple brain cells together long enough to make an intelligent decision.

But they have backgrounds. And loved ones who have died. Of cancer.

I will give him two things. When the action starts the reader is there. You are in the cockpit, you are firing the gun, crouching in the jungle. You are in the fight. It only lasts for about a paragraph but that paragraph is pure gold.

Hopefully you’ll live long enough to find the next action scene.

The other thing is closely related. Clancy gets military culture and equipment. His use of those things is obviously meticulously researched and deployed to deadly effect. He understands how intelligence gathering works, and how training works. He knows all the different weapons, how they work, what they do, their weaknesses, their strengths. He knows how it feels to pull a six gee turn in the cockpit of a fighter. He knows how it sounds to fire a sniper rifle with a silencer firmly attached to the barrel.

I have no idea if he really knows those things but I know he convinced me. For what that’s worth.

If you distill this book down to its discussions of military equipment and materiel and the action scenes. It would probably be only about ten pages but it would sure be a lot more fun to read.

Maybe I expected too much.

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