by Geoff Cain
A dissertation of Clancy's style and his second novel, Red Storm Rising.
|As an avid enthusiast of the technothriller genre, international arms proliferation, national security affairs, war, terrorism, the military, space, and international drug cartels, author Tom Clancy employs his extensive knowledge of international affairs through a plethora of action-packed novels that convey his personal beliefs amid gripping entertainment. His second novel, Red Storm Rising, is a 725-page World War III scenario that not only gives the reader an intense adrenaline rush, but also reassures its predominantly American audience in the midst of the Cold War and nuclear anxieties of the time, according to English professor Helen Garson, whose in-depth critique will be examined.
The novel revolves around three main characters essential to developing and encompassing the plot: Naval Intelligence Officer Robert Toland, Air Force Officer Lt. Michael Edwards, and Soviet military leader General Alekseyev. The novel follows the characters on a parallel structure rather than developing any significant interaction between them; therefore, it is best to dissect the novel in terms of large-scale political events, then by branching into each character’s personal and big-picture exploits.
In the midst of the Cold War, an Afghani terrorist organization launches a massive attack on a Soviet oil rig in Siberia, destroying it without any resistance. Unfortunately, that derrick holds a large portion of Russia’s oil supply, and officials predict that if action is not taken immediately, the Soviet economy will crumble at its infrastructure. The Politburo decides that the Soviet Union’s only practical option is to invade the Middle East for its vast oil supply, but knowing that NATO will probably respond on a strategic nuclear level, the government decides it must destroy NATO. They choose to politically divide it, hopefully causing it to crumble, by taking West Germany and Iceland (a major naval and air base) before America has a chance to reinforce Western Europe.
Shortly before the invasion commences, West German police apprehend a KGB agent. The military gives him a “truth-telling” pill and gains much valuable information about the upcoming invasion; also notable is that they learn of many covert raids to take place soon. The military dispatches a number of units who thwart the forays and launches a bombing of Soviet tanks massing in East Germany, and Soviet commanders immediately order the invasion to begin once they hear of the NATO successes.
The novel turns to Naval Intelligence Officer Rick Toland who is transferred to the USS Pharris as a high-ranking commander. As he undergoes signals intelligence operations, the ship destroys a submarine and amazingly captures 10 prisoners who barely escape before it sinks, including the captain. Shortly thereafter, USS Pharris comes under attack by Soviet aircraft and is virtually destroyed; while Toland is defending against the bombing, he witnesses his subordinate’s decapitation as shrapnel flies into his neck.
Toland is transferred to Britain as an intelligence analyst because the ship was horribly damaged. He has recurring nightmares about his terrifying experience with his assistant and even dreams that he was decapitated himself; later, he bears the burden of going to his assistant’s family’s house and miserably grieving with them for the rest of the novel.
Parallel to Toland’s development, Air Force Officer Michael Edwards is stationed on an Icelandic air base along with many marines and ground forces. The island comes under massive missile and air attack as Edwards’s entire crew is killed grasping for safety in an air-traffic control tower. Soviet ground forces amphibiously invade Iceland and Edwards, along with a squad of marines, must escape to safety where he can call in reinforcements. They dress up in civilian clothes and make their way across the Icelandic countryside, perch on top of a hill, radio in to NATO HQ, and receive orders to go to Hvammsfjordur and survey Russian forces on the island.
Along the five-week journey, the squad observes Soviet soldiers break into a home and murder two people. Edwards quickly follows them and kills them, rescuing a young, pregnant woman (Vigdis) who they were trying to rape. She is deeply saddened by the loss of her parents, so Edwards takes her with them on their journey. In order to make it look like an accident and prevent Russian forces from suspecting the presence of American soldiers, the team burns the house, throws the Soviet bodies in a truck with many bottles of vodka, and drives it over a cliff.
Edwards finally reaches the town after five weeks, and NATO sends a squad of British paratroopers as reinforcements. Upon arrival, they say that NATO is planning a massive invasion to retake Iceland, which is why the military was telling them to undergo reconnaissance in the meantime. However, Russian forces have been scouring the countryside for Americans who retreated from the battle and they spot the team on top of a hill. They initiate a gunfight that lasts for hours; Edwards’s entire squad is killed with the exception of him and Vigdis, but Edwards in shot in the leg. Amazingly, NATO air support shows up and destroys the Russian forces at that moment and the counter-invasion commences. American troops land on the shores of Iceland, destroy any Soviet resistance, evacuate Edwards and Vigdis to a hospital, and retake the island. Later, Edwards wakes up face-to-face with Vigdis in the hospital where they fall in love and kiss.
The final main character, Soviet General Alekseyev, is a rather young commander who is the son of a Politburo member. He is sent to the German front to be an advisor to the Russian commander-in-chief; however, he is killed in an airstrike and Alekseyev takes over. He finds that there is much bureaucracy and corruption involving politico-military affairs as he asks for reinforcements, but never receives them in a dire war effort. Therefore, he loses battle after battle and, because of his inadequacy, one of his subsidiaries is arrested and executed by the KGB. He is then invited for a “debriefing” with the Director of the KGB, but fearing that it is only a trick to do the same and knowing that the war effort is corrupted, he organizes a coup on the Politburo, kills the KGB Director and Defense Minister, and instills himself as a head of the government. Wanting peace and stability for his country, he personally meets with an American commander where they agree to a cease-fire and NATO gives economic aid to Russia. The Cold War and World War III officially end there.
In general, the novel appears to be going heavy on the themes that politicians can easily become corrupted for personal gain and that it is good to know about warfare in order to prevent it rather than labeling it as a societal taboo; after all, Alekseyev says, “It is easier for men who understand war to stop one (Clancy 722).” Clancy also emphasizes the fact that nations will go to enormous distances to protect their economy as it related to the scant world oil supply (Greenberg 54). He delves into many complex strategic and tactical issues facing the Cold War mentality—how modern conventional wars would have been fought, what kind of strategies would be used, etc., ultimately painting a paradoxically grim but peaceful picture for mankind’s future currently outdated by our post-Cold War, counter-terrorist mentality.
Tom Clancy was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1947 and grew up in a middle-class family. As a child, he was fascinated with military and space technology and read avidly (Tom Clancy: A Reader’s Checklist and Reference Guide 4). He received a B.A. in English from Loyola College in Baltimore and served in the Reserve Officer Training Corps., but was disqualified from fighting in Vietnam due to poor eyesight. Upon graduation, he married Wanda Thomas and became an insurance agent under the company that her grandfather owned. In 1980, he bought the agency and began reading military journals in his spare time, reviving his love for writing (Biographical Information 1).
Clancy published The Hunt for Red October in 1984 via the Naval Institute Press, which never published fictional works before. It was an instant success, causing him to write Red Storm Rising in 1986 under the advice of esteemed wargame developer Larry Bond. Since then, he has written novels such as Patriot Games, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears, Without Remorse, Debt of Honor, and Executive Orders, and has written nonfiction such as Submarine, Marine, and Armored Cav (Major Works 1).
Dr. Helen S. Garson, professor of English at George Mason University, claims that Clancy filled Red Storm Rising with “a vast number of people (Garson 63),” making the plot spread too thin over a number of events and developments, rather than concentrating on central measures taken by both sides in the War. “While the reader may struggle to scan the huge stage filled with characters performing very different tasks,” she claims, “Clancy captures the authenticity of war as he constantly shifts from one battle scene to another (Garson 63).” She goes on to say that “too many of the military figures are male” and “Americans and friendly colleagues outnumber Soviet characters, so that the reader remembers the Russians more easily than the majority of the Allies. (Garson 63).” She feels that, although this technique succeeds in maintaining swift pacing and suspense, it fails to allow the reader to develop emotional involvement with the numerous characters.
Garson also finds that American characters tend to be more independent and intelligent than their Soviet counterparts, matching her earlier statements of Clancy consistently portraying Americans as the “good guys” and the rest of the world as “bad guys (Garson 1).”
She believes that Iceland is a frontier for Edwards that must be controlled, “with scenes of captivity, savagery, and violent regeneration through the heroism of the solitary hunter (Garson 67).” She states that the rape scene and its aftermath represent an American vision of all enemies as bestial savages.
Furthermore, she feels that Clancy uses too much military technical jargon in the novel that only hardcore enthusiasts and former servicemen would understand, but not the average reader (Garson 68). She cites an overabundance of subplots and an overwhelming number of events—battles, characters, and locations—that bog down the story in its quintessential form. There is not enough emphasis is put on the Icelandic sections, the most readable and intriguing of the subplots that include strong character and romantic development. “Clancy is lousy at writing scenes between a man and a woman. But he’s the greatest at writing sex scenes between a man and a weapons system [sic] (Garson 69),” she says.
Garson believes that the major success of Red Storm Rising can be accredited to psychoanalytic factors, especially as it relates to Freudian criticism. During the time the novel was published, there was much public anxiety among Americans as to the future of the nation during the Cold War. Red Storm Rising serves as a backdrop to satisfying a need for comfort by showing that America will remain triumphant in a full-scale war with the Soviet Union, and that such a Russian effort is very impractical. Clancy paints the Russians as amoral men who have no feeling for their citizens, only possessing a lust for oil, then showing their government’s utter failure due to such a flawed mentality.
Many of Garson’s criticisms were true to the story and Clancy’s writing style—he did spread the story too thin with his overabundance of characters, battles, locations, and events, making the book hard to read, especially 725 pages of it. It would have been much better if he picked two subplots at most and followed them closely, intricately developing the characters and storyline, while keeping the “big picture” war effort as more of a backdrop. Particularly interesting is the Iceland subplot with Edwards and Vigdis; it lacks technical argot, dropping the previous struggle the average reader typically goes through in the other parts of the book. Unfortunately, Clancy cuts off this storyline after the two kiss approximately 50 pages before the novel’s end; it would have been nice to have seen a glimpse of the future that fully resolved the developing romance between them, whether it be a snapshot of their future or wedding.
Other than that, Clancy does a superb job of portraying the weapons, tactics, strategies, and logistics that would be used in a hypothetical, modern, conventional war. However, it seems highly unlikely that such a war would be fought without nuclear weapons, as real-world NATO doctrine calls for the use of retaliatory weapons of mass destruction the instant the USSR invades West Germany or takes military aggression that directly threatens NATO (Red Storm Rising Analysis 1). Nevertheless, this scenario, as fiction and not a collection of simulated events, makes for a very intriguing plot.
Garson becomes very whiny about some insignificant details in the story that are merely political disagreements with Clancy, not true literary criticisms. Her remark about there being not enough female military figures is a poorly thought, absurd gesture of political correctness. The military is mostly comprised of men. Therefore, it makes sense that most characters are male.
With her statements about Clancy portraying Americans as downright good guys and Soviets as hard-line evil, Garson seems to be implying another political jab by attempting to portray him as ignorant of the rest of the world. She states, “[Clancy] has the same ideas of the military as [Oliver North], his fantasies and military illusions are those of North, and both are dangerous (Garson 6).” Later in her scrutiny, she states, “[Clancy] shows his irritation with people on welfare and the system that permits it—people living on food stamps driving up to stores in cars. He reveals his preference for cartels over Marxist groups—better to kill the latter than the former. Once again he makes known his aversion to gays—along with his prescription of prison sodomy as fit punishment for terrorists or those who commit treason. He emphasizes his view that the United States should have remained in Vietnam and the states that in its withdrawal before destroying the enemy, this country betrayed the Vietnamese people (Garson 143).” By her tone, syntax and diction, it is fairly evident that she disagrees with Clancy and is trying to point out his conservative beliefs in a negative connotation by possibly over-exaggerating them.
Furthermore, Garson and other literary critics tend to overanalyze Clancy’s writings. He does not write extremely thoughtful works that portray society’s fallacies through symbolism or allegory. He scorns at the word “literature,” claiming to be in the entertainment industry, whereas literature is something that high school students are forced to read and analyze 100 years after the author dies (Biographical Information 1). As an English major at Loyola College, Clancy was often sarcastic about required readings. Therefore, Clancy probably doesn’t portray great meaning in his novels, but sees himself as more of an entertainer rather than one who writes brilliant philosophical works with immense underlying significance (Garson 7).
As a prominent writer in mainstream prose, particularly that of military technology, espionage, and international terrorism, Tom Clancy has the ability to grip his audience with spine-tingling suspense and superb action sequencing despite the opposition of numerous critics. In Red Storm Rising, Clancy fulfills his extraordinary formula once again be means of excellent realistic battle scenes; although Garson feels the novel was overstretched in terms of characters and plots, this very aspect allows for simulated warfare on an epic scale.
Biographical Information. Literature Resource Center, Gale. 16 Apr. 2003 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC?c=2&ai=17988&ste=6&docNum=H11036000>.
Clancy, Tom. Red Storm Rising. 2nd ed. New York: Berkley Group, 1986.
Garson, Helen S. Tom Clancy: A Critical Companion. Westport: Greenwood Group, 1996.
Greenberg, Martin H. The Tom Clancy Companion. New York: Berkley Group, 1992.
Major Works. Literature Resource Center, Gale. 16 Apr. 2003 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC?c=2&ai=17988&ste=6&docNum=H110369000>.
Red Storm Rising Analysis. Literature Resource Center, Gale. 16 Apr. 2003 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC?c=3&ai=17988&ste=6&docNum=H120000945>.
Tom Clancy: A Reader's Checklist and Reference Guide. New York: Checker Bee, 1999.