I was just reading Vince Flynn’s latest (and, unfortunately, due to his demise earlier this year, last) novel when I got to thinking of Tom Clancy, who died either last night or this morning. Clancy was an inspiration to Flynn (and many others) just as Flynn, whom I’ve met twice, was an inspiration for me. Flynn’s attitude was “If he could make it, so can I”. And he did, going on to write over a dozen thrillers, all of which made the best-sellers list.
But what got me to thinking was what set them apart. Flynn pretty much stuck to a tried and true formula, but Clancy dared to be quite a bit more original. His first two novels were classic Cold War stories, but for his third he shifted gears entirely and wrote a story about a highly personal battle between his Jack Ryan hero and a group of terrorists. And not just your run-of-the-mill Arab terrorists but instead Irish terrorists. That completed, his fourth novel went back to the Cold War and each side’s respective spying schemes to figure out the other’s latest efforts in creating a missile defense system. For his fifth novel, he changed course again and this time it featured a covert war against the drug lords in South America. But what made this tale different is that, for the first time, Clancy featured corruption in the US government as the president, having ordered the (unofficial) raids in the first place, then tried to cut all ties to them before their existence is made public.
My point in all this is that Clancy had a lot more versatility than your average author in this genre. He didn’t just write great submarine novels or spy novels, though he certainly did both. The only problem was that, after the Cold War was over, he seemed to have run out of realistic plots for his stories. And thus he spent much of the 90’s coming up with ever more grandiose, yet implausible, story lines. One such example featured a war declared by Japan on the USA in his 8th novel, Debt of Honor. Oh, his stories continued to be highly entertaining page turners with many of the ingredients Clancy fans had come to love, such as detailed descriptions of the latest military technology.
But, when all is said and done, he left quite a legacy. He, largely on his own, created an entire new genre in fiction, the techno-thriller, and then went on to establish himself as the grandmaster of the very genre he had just created.