Tuesday 20 March 2018

Hunt for a plausible plot lost in ocean of derring-do

Former insurance agent and amateur naval history buff Tom Clancy is a publishing phenomenon. Thirty years ago, in 1984, he wrote a book called The Hunt for Red October, loosely based on a real incident in the 1970s, a stirring and claustrophobic tale of the USSR's top submarine commander's attempt to defect to the United States with his state-of-the-art nuclear craft and crew.

It was an instant bestseller, selling multi-millions of copies, and the subsequent 1990 film, starring Sean Connery as Captain Ramios, broke Hollywood box office records.

Since then Clancy has created a literary machine, and with the help of a small army of co-authors has churned out well over 50 works of fiction and science fiction, not to mention created several computer game franchises and board games.

The Hunt for Red October introduced Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst being groomed for better things by his boss in the Agency.

Over a series of more than 10 novels Ryan inexorably moves up the intelligence ladder, eventually becoming National Security Adviser and, finally, President of the United States when, as a very recently appointed Vice President, he has to take over the reins of government when the President and most of Congress are killed by a kamikaze Japanese airline pilot who crashes his 747 into the Capitol in Washington.

There's a quite misleading red sticker on the cover of this latest Clancy adventure, Threat Vector. It claims the book is 'the new Jack Ryan thriller', the clear inference is that the central character is the recently re-elected former President of the USA.

In fact President Ryan, who is serving his first term as an elected president, is a thoroughly peripheral figure for most of the 710 action-packed pages. The central character is actually Ryan's first-born, Jack Jr, an intelligence analyst and covert operative in the Campus, the off-the-books and deniable anti-terrorist force created by his father at the end of his first term.

The United States is facing a real threat from China, where President Wei Zehn Lin, a puppet of the expansionist military leader General Su, has announced the annexation of the South China Sea and imminent invasion of Taiwan.

Worryingly, Chinese cyber-warfare experts have developed an astonishing ability to bypass even the most sophisticated US computer security programmes and hack into and take over America's business and military mainframe computers.

Jack Ryan Jr and his Campus colleagues are sent into China to take out the computer genius behind this.

It's all thrill-a-minute stuff, but, as has been the case in the Clancy Campus thrillers featuring Jack Ryan Jr, items such as plot plausibility, dialogue, character development and literary finesse are totally marginalised in favour of set-piece military encounters and the right stuff-style aerial engagements.

That said, this lack is unlikely to deter action fiction fans and conspiracy theory junkies who will enjoy the descriptions of mano-a-mano modern battle scenes and the minutiae of cyber warfare.

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