Term Paper: Tom Clancy

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Tom Clancy is considered the inventor of the popular fiction genre called the "technothriller." Essentially, the technothriller follows the thriller formula, with an emphasis on technology, which can be either real or futuristic. As Helen Garson observes in her Critical Companion to Tom Clancy, the author's style of writing actually combines many elements from all the popular fiction genres, such as the science fiction novel, the thriller, the political and espionage novel. Following the already established formula for the thriller, Clancy's novels develop the plot, which is usually a political one, while the characters remain mostly stereotypical. One of the prototypical heroes in Clancy's books is Jack Ryan, who, in the Hunt for Red October is a professor and a former marine, and somewhat of a laid-back character who doesn't attract any attention at first. Initially, we see him at his computer and we find out that he is afraid of flying because of an accident. However, when he is forced to fly and to do his duty Ryan doesn't hesitate and plays his part properly. Most of Clancy's heroes follow thus the same pattern: they are not outstanding either in their looks or in their character, but are all righteous and completely patriotic. As Clancy himself highlighted, this is actually the image of the "good guy," the perfect American citizen while the others, especially the terrorists and so on, are the "bad guys." The plot is usually centered on fictive political issues and intricate military operations, which caused Garson to argue that his work has plenty science-fiction elements:

Because other worlds do not enter into Clancy's novels, he sees no fantasy in his work. What he creates is 'real' to him, and he insists on his obligation to readers to write about reality, possibility, and probability. [...]Yet, examples abound. Clancy writes of some submarine equipment and experimental aircraft as if they were real; yet they do not exist. Further, he suggests that the Russians have developed a system to eliminate U.S. reconnaissance satellites (SDI in Cardinal). He treats these as operational actualities, though most experts would quarrel with his interpretation."(Garson, 27)

However, what is actually impressive about Tom Clancy's novels are the technical details that he gives, both of the actual technology and of the machinery and techniques that do not exists as yet, which is what actually made him the 'king of the technothriller':

When his first published book, the Hunt for Red October, appeared, reviewers found the technical aspects of the novel so impressive and unusual that it seemed that a word had to be coined to describe the type. Although nobody seems to be able to pinpoint the origin of the term 'technothriller,' Patrick Anderson of the New York Times gave that label to Clancy's work in 1988."(Garson, 25)

Cerasini described Clancy's work as a blend of science fiction and military fiction, which, nevertheless is still realistic:

In writing about 'the birth of a genre,' Cerasini describes Clancy's fusion of 'military fiction with near-future apocalyptic science fiction, touches of espionage fiction, and a large dose of social realism.'"(Garson, 32)

Unlike the other science fiction novels, those of Tom Clancy aim thus at transmitting clear messages about the actual state of facts on the international political scene. His sense of patriotism is thus a very important part of his work, making him an advocate of freedom as he himself states in an interview:

Individual freedom is also the writer's yardstick for evaluating the rest of the world, which he would like to see become 'more like us.' His prescription for other countries' success is that they adopt the American way of life and governance. 'Freedom works,' the novelist declares. "The sooner the rest of the world figures that out, the sooner they're going… [END OF PREVIEW]

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