Clancy structures Executive Orders much as he has his other novels. He uses an episodic narrative that leaps from place to place around the world to create a sense of vast intrigue and great international movements. Suspense is built by one moment showing the ebola virus being prepared to showing Ryan coping with political confusion to representatives of Iran, China, and India plotting America's downfall. Events from Africa to Asia seem to be conspiring to kill Americans and to humble the United States.
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Executive Orders portrays a world in which political relationships among nations are rapidly changing. One way to begin discussing the novel would be to ask which of the changes in relationships are credible and which are improbable. For instance, would India really be likely to want to drive the United States out of the Indian Ocean and to want to annex Australia? The invasion of Sri Lanka is taken from actual events: Does this mean Clancy's speculations about India's designs have validity?
For those who are interested in figuring out what makes a work of fiction tick, a discussion could begin with the question of the novel's genre. Is it a thriller the way The Hunt for Red October is a thriller, or has Clancy crossed the line between thriller and moved into science fiction?
1. Is Executive Orders a cautionary tale? Is its author trying to warn his readers about anything?
2. Is the novel about politics, about technology, or about war?
3. Why does Japanese Prime Minister Koga wonder "if America realized her good fortune"?
4. How does the war in Saudi Arabia fit into the narrative of Executive Orders? Does it contribute to any of the novel's themes?
5. Why is the subplot of two men trying to blow up President Ryan in the novel? Does it add suspense? Does it illustrate some of the problems Ryan needs to face?
6. Why do the enemies of the United States believe...
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The action in Executive Orders takes place in the near future, when the United States has eliminated most of its nuclear missiles and has trimmed back its military budget. In Debt of Honor (1994), the predecessor to Executive Orders, the budget trimming has perilously weakened America's ability to defend its people and its interests and an international conspiracy starts a war between the United States and Japan—a war the United States nearly loses. In Executive Orders, America's enemies still perceive the United States as too weakened to respond to military crises; they try to create enough crises that the United States cannot respond to them all. In this portrayal of America as too weak to respond to its enemies, Executive Orders is cautioning its readers— warning them that the post-Cold War enthusiasm for trimming the size of the military can go too far, leaving the United States with few options beyond using its remaining nuclear weapons to stop its enemies.
Another important social concern of the novel is that of America's Constitution as the document that defines the role of the federal government. At the end of Debt of Honor, an embittered Japanese airline pilot crashed his huge aircraft into the Capitol building while Congress was in joint session to honor Jack Ryan's appointment as Vice President of the United States. This act of terrorism killed the President and nearly all of the cabinet and...
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Clancy's Jack Ryan novels have as their foundation the subgenre of espionage novels, emphasizing sinister plots and heroic derring-do. Clancy's device for creating a sense of epic scope for a vast plot of worldwide proportions may be found in other works that try to convey a narrative of widely separated events progressing toward a dramatic confrontation. Perhaps the most notable of these is Seven Days in May (1962) by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. The novel uses an episodic structure to show geographically separated events occurring simultaneously, building suspense as America's political leaders move toward a dramatic showdown with traitorous American military leaders.
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The Jack Ryan novels begin with The Hunt for Red October (1984; see separate entry), the surprising best seller from an obscure academic publisher that portrayed life in modern submarines. In it, Ryan is a CIA operative who divines Captain Ramius' plan to defect with the submarine Red October to the United States. The novel features many dynamic characters, including Ryan, but Ryan is not the novel's main character: Ramius is.
In Patriot Games (1987; see separate entry), Clancy fleshes out Ryan's history as a former marine and a man of action; in it, Ryan battles Irish terrorists who intend to murder his family. The novel exemplifies one of the dominant concerns of Clancy's fiction, that of terrorism.
The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988; see separate entry) shows Ryan saving the life of an important spy and engineering the defection of the leader of the Soviet Union's KGB. Clear and Present Danger (1989; see separate entry) is somewhat more political than its predecessors, with bureaucratic fools and a president who wants "deniability," placing American soldiers in harm's way and then abandoning them when they become political liabilities. In Clear and Present Danger, Ryan again shows himself to be a man of action by manning a gun on a helicopter sent to pick up some of the soldiers. The events in Patriot Games, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and Clear and Present Danger come back to...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Anderson, Patrick. “King of the ’Techno-Thriller.’” The New York Times Magazine, May 1, 1988, 54.
Cowley, Jason. “He Is the Most Popular Novelist on Earth.” New Statesman 130 (September 24, 2001): 2.
Greenberg, Martin H., ed. The Tom Clancy Companion. New York: Berkley Books, 1992.
Grossman, Lev. “Ten Questions for Tom Clancy.” Time 160 (July 29, 2002): 8.
Phillips, Christopher. “Red October’s Tom Clancy: After the Hunt.” Saturday Evening Post 263, no. 6 (September/October, 1991): 16-19.
Ryan, William F. “The Genesis of the Techno-Thriller.” Virginia Quarterly Review 69, no. 1 (Winter, 1991): 24 41.
Struckel, Katie. “A Conversation with Tom Clancy.” Writer’s Digest 81 (January, 2001): 20.
Terdoslavich, William. The Jack Ryan Agenda: Policy and Politics in the Novels of Tom Clancy—An Unauthorized Analysis. New York: Forge, 2005.
“The Tom Clancy Effect?” The Atlantic Monthly 294 (November, 2004): 59.
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