Tom Clancy 1947–
American novelist and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Clancy's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 45.
Clancy is the best-selling author of popular thrillers featuring detailed military weaponry, high-tech espionage, and enthralling geopolitical crises. With the publication of his debut novel, The Hunt for Red October (1984), Clancy became a literary phenomenon, attracting a large and devoted audience that includes statesmen and high-ranking military officials. Several of his novels—The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games (1987), and Clear and Present Danger (1989)—have been adapted into blockbuster Hollywood films. Considered an originator of the techno-thriller, a genre of contemporary fiction embodying combined characteristics of the thriller, spy fiction, and science fiction, Clancy's patriotic, strongly anti-Communist novels appeal to the atmosphere of national pride, military supremacy, and political conservatism at the end of the cold war.
Born Thomas Lanier Clancy Jr. in Baltimore, Maryland, Clancy was raised in a middle-class home by his father, a mail carrier, and mother, a department store employee. An avid reader as a child, he soon developed a fascination with military machines and space technology. He attended local Roman Catholic schools, then enrolled at Loyola College in Baltimore, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1969. While at Loyola, Clancy joined the U.S. Army Officers' Training Corp, but poor eyesight prevented him from serving during the Vietnam War. Clancy married Wanda Thomas the summer after his college graduation and immediately began work as an insurance agent in Baltimore; Hartford, Connecticut; and then Owings, Maryland, at a small insurance firm owned by his wife's grandfather. After purchasing the family company in 1980, Clancy found spare time to study military journals and revive his desire to write. Four years later he published The Hunt for Red October through the Naval Institute Press, a publisher of scholarly titles that had never printed an original work of fiction. Through enthusiastic word-of-mouth endorsements, including a fortuitous comment by President Ronald Reagan who praised the book as "a perfect yarn," The Hunt for Red October shot up best-seller lists to become an unexpected hit.
The incredible popularity of Clancy's first novel was duplicated by Red Storm Rising (1986), produced with the help of war game expert and friend Larry Bond, Patriot Games, The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988), Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears (1991), Without Remorse (1994), Debt of Honor (1994), and Executive Orders (1996). With the enormous international sales of his novels, Clancy became one of the most popular and financially successful authors of the 1980s. Three of his novels have been adapted into films—The Hunt for Red October in 1990, starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, Patriot Games in 1992, and Clear and Present Danger in 1994, both starring Harrison Ford. Clancy has also produced several nonfiction studies of military organizations and tactics, including Submarine (1993), Marine (1996), Airborne (1997), Armored Cav (1997), Fighter Wing (1991), and Into the Storm (1998). He currently resides at his estate overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in Huntingtown, Maryland.
Clancy's techno-thriller novels revolve around description of advanced military technology and intelligence operations employed by American government agents to subvert the nefarious machinations of international antagonists—mainly Soviets, Middle Eastern extremists, and terrorists. While the instruments of war and espionage figure prominently in his Fiction, Clancy's novels also feature heroic male protagonists whose devotion to country and family underscore their superior moral authority and the triumphant destiny of the United States and its allies. In most of his books this central character is represented by Jack Ryan, a brilliant, though modest and happily married ex-Marine, CIA consultant, stockbroker, and scholar with a doctorate in economics and history. Ryan first appeared in The Hunt for Red October, a suspenseful thriller about the defection of a Soviet nuclear submarine under the command of Marko Ramius, a discontented Russian officer who seeks asylum in the United States. Pursued by both Soviet and American navies, Ramius survives a harrowing underwater chase, torpedo assaults, and a mutinous plot, and is guided to safety by Ryan and Bart Mancuso, captain of the American submarine Dallas. Clancy's second novel, Red Storm Rising, describes a future world war waged between the United States and Soviet Union with conventional weapons. The plot is set in motion when a key Siberian oil refinery is destroyed by Muslim fundamentalists, causing an energy shortage in the Soviet Union. The Russians respond by orchestrating a terrorist attack on their own people, used in turn as a pretext for invading Central Europe and Iceland while seizing Middle Eastern oil fields. Unlike other Clancy novels, Ryan is absent from the story and the protagonist role is shared by several American servicemen. Ryan reappears in Patriot Games to rescue members of the British royal family during a botched abduction scheme conducted by the Ulster Liberation Army, a fictional Maoist faction of the Irish Republican Army. Ryan is knighted by the British and befriended by the Prince of Wales, and returns to teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where members of the ULA track him down to take revenge on him and the visiting royal family. In The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Ryan is embroiled in a complicated espionage scheme involving a jeopardized American spy in the Kremlin and the high stakes race between the United States and Soviet Union to deploy a "Star Wars" anti-ballistic missile defense system. Clear and Present Danger turns to the subject of powerful South American drug cartels and the American war on drugs. In this book, a U.S. president tacitly approves aggressive covert military operations against Colombian cocaine farmers and drug traffickers. When Ryan, now acting deputy of the CIA, discovers the unconstitutional American involvement, he intervenes to rescue betrayed U.S. soldiers cut off deep in the Colombian jungle to perish with their secrets. The Sum of All Fears follows the drastic efforts of an anti-Zionist faction to undermine a recently forged Vatican treaty, proposed by Ryan, to end hostilities among Israelis and Arabs. The terrorists, an amalgam of Arab extremists, European mercenaries, and a Native American activist, detonate a pilfered nuclear weapon in Denver, Colorado, during an NFL Super Bowl game, bringing many casualties and nearly drawing the United States and Russia into war. Without Remorse features another major Clancy protagonist, John Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who returns to Vietnam with specially trained Marines to rescue American POWs. Set in the early 1970s, Kelly abducts a ruthless Soviet agent in Vietnam to force a diplomatic solution and, at home, secretly exterminates a Baltimore drug ring to avenge the brutal murder of his girlfriend. Due to his role in covert activities, John Kelly becomes John Clark with a new identity provided by the CIA. Jack Ryan reemerges in Debt of Honor as a national security advisor, then vice president of the United States, at the center of an international crisis stemming from strained economic relations between the United States and Japan. War breaks out when the Japanese government, newly installed with imperialist corporate tycoons, sabotages American financial markets, invades the Mariana Islands, sinks U.S. submarines, and threatens to use nuclear weapons. Ryan counterattacks with high-tech weapons and sophisticated espionage, involving the participation of John Clark from Without Remorse. In the end, however, a Japanese kamikaze pilot crashes into the U.S. Capitol, killing nearly everyone in government except Ryan, who thus becomes the next U.S. president. Executive Orders begins where Debt of Honor leaves off, placing Ryan at the helm of a crippled government while the newly formed United Islamic Republic, a merger of Iran and Iraq, conquers Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and plans to invade Afghanistan and Pakistan with the support of India and China. While struggling to reconstruct the leadership of the United States and the world, Ryan also contends with a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus and a scheming Montana militia group. Clark returns in Rainbow Six (1998), now resigned from the CIA and leading an elite group of international counterterrorists based in England. Immediately successful in quelling three terrorist attacks in quick succession, the group draws unwanted attention from Soviet, Australian, and American factions.
Clancy is a preeminent innovator of the techno-thriller genre. The huge commercial success and consistently intriguing plots of his action-packed novels distinguish his work from that of other contemporary mainstream authors. While most critics find little literary merit in his work, few deny his remarkable talent as a storyteller and impressive knowledge of state-of-the-art military and communications technology. His detractors are quick to cite many flaws in the quality of his writing, particularly uninspired prose, stereotypical characters, and verbosity. Many critics also object to pervasive examples of jingoism, racism, misogyny, and uncritical acceptance of authority and Judeo-Christian morality in his novels. A staunch conservative, Clancy is hailed by many Republicans and right-leaning readers as a proponent of nationalism and a powerful American military spokesperson. Others view his glorification of advanced weaponry and American ascendancy as a backlash against anti-military sentiment following the Vietnam War and as propaganda for the military-industrial establishment. Despite such criticism concerning his literary skill and political ideals, Clancy has captivated legions of readers with his highly entertaining brand of escapist literature.