Like most people who read a Tom Clancy book, my first exposure to the author’s brilliance was The Hunt for Red October, a masterpiece which subverted the endless possibilities of a novel to tell of life in the claustrophobic confines of a a nuclear submarine.
But it was my first reading of Red Storm Rising which left the deepest impression.
I read Clancy’s tale of a thankfully fictional World War III just as I was coming down with a seriously and lengthy bout of flu.
Not a cold, not man flu, the real thing – proper inability to stand up, constant sweats, off work for a month, flu.
The book – for the uninitiated – switches between a cast of characters taking part in the global conflict, tank operators, fighter pilots, sub crews and a small band of US/NATO troops on Iceland.
As I drifted in and out of series of almost hallucinogenic sleeps, it was this last group who I repeatedly imagined I was part of. I would wake, sweat covered, with the clear impression of being chased by a HIND helicopter, or evading Soviet patrols and of being seriously bloody terrified.
Years later I and a work colleague held each other to a no-spoilers pact after discovering we were both at around the same chapter point of Debt of Honor.
Clancy’s novels are often, and rightly, praised for their technically brilliance but he also infused them with rich characters – such as sub commander Bart Mancuso – who he returned to time and again.
And of course it wasn’t just Clancy’s brilliant novels which entertained, he also inspired films and video games, including Microprose’s adaption of Red Storm Rising and the Splinter Cell series.
How much have we lost with his passing? Probably more than words can accurately convey – Clancy was to the techno-military thriller what John le Carré is to the spy thriller, the true master of a genre against whom all others were measured.