Sunday, December 13, 2009
Book Review: The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
I've long been interested in the works of Clancy, and this is officially my first foray into his fictional world (save the film of the same name). Now, after reading his first published book, part of the lengthy Jack Ryan series, I am quite sure that I am going to continue to experiment with his novels.
Book premise: During the Cold War (remember, the book was published in 1984), the captain of a Russian nuclear submarine, Marko Ramius, carries out his plans to defect to the United States of America. CIA analyst Jack Ryan is put on the case to...well, analyze it! This seemingly simple plot offers the reader one big ride.
Perhaps I shouldn't tell you this beforehand, but I'm going to anyways. The book was excellent. For this review, I'm going to do it backwards, as opposed to how I do it normally. I'm going to give you the cons first. They are very few.
We had a fair amount of language, bit it wasn't too excessive. We also had some sexual references (on pages 5, 19, 56, 141, 144, 173, 176, 260, 314, 377, 420, and 424) but most are mild comments made by rough sailors (the worst one is when an American sailor is disappointed with Soviet pornography--not at all too bad). Very mild, for the most part (thankfully they were only references, and nothing more). I didn't have any enormous issues here; there was very little to upset me. Indeed, quite the opposite.
There are a few references to God, but not in a bad way (although I did notice a man called a "Bible-thumper from Kansas" on page 82). Our protagonist, Jack Ryan, doesn't appear to be overtly religious, but he does believe in God (he affirms his belief to another man, and during one very perilous event, considers prayer).
We also had some strong yet appropriately subtle pro-American content, what with Soviet men learning and realizing that they can buy their own food, or perhaps drive their own car. It is said more than once that perhaps we do not appreciate the freedoms we have, instead taking them for granted. "I have never lived in a country that was not free," Ryan tells us on page 343, "and maybe I don't appreciate my home as much as I should." And while it only appears in some of the back-story segments, Clancy tells us about the monstrously oppressive regime of Communist Russia that Ramius is now leaving behind. If you know a devoted Communist by any chance, perhaps this might be a good present for them?
Speaking of the story, I admit that some readers who prefer character-driven tales may have some getting used to here. Clancy writes in a format that could be described as instead military-driven. Even if it has nothing to do with Ramius, Ryan, or any of the other lesser characters, we still see plenty of scenes (say, other ships, aircraft, etc.) that serve to bolster the overall story. I found this to be a positive trait. Indeed, this book was very military (and also, even very manly). October felt quite like a mini naval education, and I felt that I learned quite a bit of stuff here. While I certainly can't verify all or perhaps even most of the "facts" Clancy tells of (Can I really attest to the position of a dial or button inside of a Cold War vessel?) I'm not going to argue anytime soon, either. This all made the book very exciting (the end was particularly nail-biting). In hindsight, I might suggest that a potential reader first find himself a dictionary of naval terms (If such a thing exists?).
As I began the book I found myself able to identify with Ryan. He's a good, likable guy who just does his job and does it well (and is a little disturbed by some of the older, harder tactics of one or two if his superiors--a fact that gives us some moral depth). On the other hand, I admit that I began to identify with him less after a ride in a plane where he acted somewhat like a baby (he hates flying, and to be fair we all have our weak points), and this small little rift stayed there for the rest of the novel. It wasn't too major, I still liked Ryan and everything, however I just found him less identifiable to my own personality, is all.
Ramius is a man's man, and to read about his development from boy to man, begrudging servant of the Soviets to defector to the Americans, was quite a story. I liked him quite a bit. (Did I mention that he was an exceedingly clever old man?)
All in all, with Cold War intrigue, opposing navies and governments, manly men, a publication date that almost qualifies it to be alternative historical fiction, and "the perfect yarn" as the late former President Ronald Reagan put it, Clancy's debut novel is one good book, good enough for me to drop into my Amazon store. Recommended for any manly reading list.
"A wise man knows his limitations." --Marko Ramius, p. 12