The Tom Clancy Universe

What do you think of Tom Clancy? Assuming you like the kind of stuff he writes, would you rate him among the best?

Clancy is a bestselling author and the first book I read from him certainly did not disappoint. Which is why I went on to read some more… Did I come to regret it?

The Hunt for Red October

Unusually for me, I came to Tom Clancy via the cinema: a long time ago I saw The Hunt for Red October, with Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. It was many years later that I read the book itself  and I didn’t regret it. Mentally I classed Tom Clancy alongside Alistair MacLean, a favourite author of mine. Until this summer, that is…

…when in search of some light reading, I chanced upon two books by Tom Clancy – in Spanish. I grabbed the opportunity: good books and language practice in one? A no brainer.

The books were Estado de sitio (State of Siege) and Vivo o muerto (Dead or Alive).

Well, there was no problem with the language practice part of the project – reading a few hundred pages guarantees to improve your language skills. But as far as the novels themselves went… Ay, Dios mío, no, no, ¡no!

State of Siege

State of Siege tells the story of half a dozen of ex-military desperadoes who take hostages in the UN building in New York to exhort a tremendous ransom from the  United Nations. Add in a few children (young girls performing as violinists on the day in the building) and an ex-CIA director whose daughter just happens to be one of them… well. It’s hardly a plot line from high literature but could make a perfect decent holiday reading. When well written, which this was not.

Dead or Alive

Well, the best writer can write a s**t book. Tom Clancy has a reputation and I did enjoy The Hunt for Red October all those years ago, so I persisted. I moved on to Dead or Alive – for a while, that is. I abandoned it after about 200 pages, roughly a third into the book.

Dead or Alive features Jack Ryan Jr., son of Jack Ryan of The Hunt of the Red October, a shadowy organisation called the Campus, never adequately explained, and the Emir – clearly based on Osama bin-Laden – whom the Campus lot is hunting for. Again, within its genre it could have been good but it wasn’t: the plot was falling apart, or rather, never actually came together in the first place, the characters were wooden, the conversations inane. I only lasted 200 pages for the sake of improving my Spanish.

The Tom Clancy Universe

To be entirely honest, I was baffled. It seemed impossible that the author of State of Siege and Dead or Alive, so manifestly lacking in ability, was the same man who wrote The Hunt for Red October. So I went and did a little research on Tom Clancy – all right, I read the Wikipedia entry – and I realised an interesting fact: these books were not actually written by Clancy. They belong to what is termed the ‘Tom Clancy Universe’. The characters originally might have been his; he might even have suggested the idea for the books. But he did not write them; he merely leant his name. The practice is not unheard of; unfortunately it invariably results in rubbish.

In effect, State of Siege and Dead or Alive are nothing more than glorified fan fiction – would you want to read them if you knew that?

You might object here that it’s not Clancy’s fault if the books lack in quality. I counter that they are published under his name, so yes it is.

Personally, if I ever read another Tom Clancy book, I’ll first make sure that it was actually written by him rather than just bearing his name on the front cover.


You might also like:
Tom Clancy's websiteNobody Writes Like Matthew ReillyThe New York Times list of best-sellers (in case you haven't been put off best-selling authors yet)

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