The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Summer Reading V: The Hunt for Red October

I am continuing on my quest to read the entirety of the Jack Ryan/John Clark canon as written by Tom Clancy, following the chronological order of the story. The most recently completed book is The Hunt for Red October, which is actually the first book Clancy wrote. I love the description of Clancy that appears at the end of the book:

He has had a private chat with the President of the United States who proclaimed himself to be an avid fan of The Hunt for Red October. He has lunched with the White House staff. His novel has been a top seller at the Pentagon. Yet the author in question is neither a former intelligence nor naval officer. Rather, Tom Clancy is an insurance broker from a small town in Maryland whose only previously published writing was a letter to the editor and a three-page article about the MX missile. Clancy always wanted to write a suspense  novel, and a newspaper article about a mutiny on a Soviet frigate gave him the initial idea for Red October. He did extensive research about Soviet-American naval strategies and submarine technology. Then, in the time he could spare from his insurance business, Clancy sat down at his typewriter and wrote. The rest is history…

Red October was the first Clancy novel I read, after I attempted to read Clear and Present Danger and found it a bit too complicated. (This was when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I believe). After reading this one, though, I was hooked, and quickly sought out the other books. Today I own 9 of the 13 novels in the series and after reading Without Remorse (given to me by a friend who didn’t want to keep it), I decided to read the rest of the series. I love this book. It is everything a first-time suspense novel should be. Clancy doesn’t give away the end early in the story, even though he has ample opportunities to do so. The plot moves quickly but jumps around to keep the reader engaged and trying to keep track of everything that is happening. It isn’t Clancy’s best novel, to be sure, but it is still a great story.

It takes place in the midst of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. A Soviet submarine commander, Marko Ramius, has decided to go rogue and is attempting to steal a brand-new submarine and deliver it and himself to the United States. The Soviets learn about it and send its entire fleet after him in a search-and-destroy mission. At the same time, the US has learned about the attempted defection, and are sending their fleet out to bring him (and the sub) safely in.

The thing I find most interesting in the story is the description of the American response to the Soviet Union in general. As I mentioned in the comments of my previous summer reading post, Tom Clancy is clearly an American Exceptionalist who grew up in the turmoil of American-Soviet tensions. Everything he writes is pro-America, pro-American intelligence services, and pro-American military. I’m okay with this; I think it is impossible for an author to not write with a bias, and those who attempt to do so tend to write boring stories. At least, that has been my experience with the many thousands of books I have read. The author has to have a purpose in writing, and that purpose is his or her bias. Clancy’s purpose is to write a suspense story that shows why America is superior. Of course, he also throws in shout-outs to our allies, but it is still the Americans who win the day.

It would be interesting to read pro-Soviet fiction as a counterbalance to Clancy’s stories, but I don’t know if any such books exist. My only exposure to Russian literature has been a few attempts at Tolstoy, but I’ve never actually completed any of his books. I’ve also read most of Ayn Rand’s works, but hers are certainly not Russian lit. Maybe I’ll explore this train of thought later; for now, I am going to continue through my Clancy reading and then find something else.

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2 responses

  1. Two points:

    First. Ramius (if memory serves) was Lithuanian. His action must be seen in light of that people’s ancient hostility to their Russian masters. I believe his motive involved his wife, too, but if we want to see the conflict of the story as West beats East, then we must recognize that many Soviet peoples considered themselves more in the West’s camp than the Russians’. I think that makes his actions less about America and more about the deeper struggle between Russia and the West. Do you think, having read the book, that Clancy is aware of that nuance? I’d like your opinion.

    Second. Bias and purpose can’t be synonymous because “bias” connotes prejudice or skewed preference or perspective, whereas purpose suggests intention or objective, result or goal. A writer might be biased and his purpose might be to explore or reinforce or tout his biases, as does Clancy, but his bias and his purpose even then will not be the same thing.

    [Oh, and if you’re looking for Soviet-perspective cold war fiction try Yulian Semyonov, a spy novelist. Or Ivan Efremov, who wrote science fiction. Or Viktor Bogomilov, who wrote about the Chekhists (pre-KGB). I don’t know if any of these writers are available in English, but if you like I can help you track something down. Let me know.]

    July 31, 2011 at 2:08 am

  2. Yes, Marko Ramius being Lithuanian is a major element of his story and his treatment by the “Great Russians” despite his stellar record and the subsequent death of his wife at the hands of a drunken doctor who, by being the son of a Party member, was not punished became the catalyst for his disaffection with the Soviet Union. Clancy uses America to symbolize “the West,” even while recognizing the value of all Western nations in combating the Soviet Union. He especially points out the role of the British is this, but, by the end of each story, it is always the Americans who actually win or lead the victory. The conflict between the US and the Soviets in Red October is represented through Ramius switching sides. He was undoubtedly a Party man throughout his life until the death of his wife. Remember, Red October is about Ramius stealing a ship and wanting to defect, so the Soviets try to stop him and the Americans try to help. He is the mobile country being fought over by the two enemies and, actually, is somehow more of a neutral player until the end of the story.

    I should have said that an author’s bias informs his or her purpose. In this case, Clancy’s purpose was to tell a suspense story. His bias toward American Exceptionalism provided the framework for meeting that purpose. Ayn Rand’s purpose was to provide a fictional framework for sharing her Objectivist philosophy. Her bias toward capitalism and against socialism/communism/collectivism (they weave back and forth across each other’s camps too much in their modern practice to really be separated, I think), is the reason why she chose to write about Objectivism in light of pro-capitalist/anti-collectivist narratives.

    July 31, 2011 at 9:01 am

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