Tom Clancy Dead at 66
Tom Clancy, author of dozens of bestselling military thriller novels, has died aged 66.
Tom Clancy, author of dozens of bestselling military thriller novels, has died aged 66.
NYT (“Tom Clancy, Best-Selling Novelist of Military Thrillers, Dies at 66“):
Tom Clancy, whose complex, adrenaline-fueled military novels made him one of the world’s best-selling and best-known authors, died on Tuesday in a hospital in Baltimore. He was 66.
Ivan Held, the president of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, his publisher, did not provide a cause of death.
Mr. Clancy’s books were successfully transformed into blockbuster Hollywood films, including “Patriot Games,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Clear and Present Danger.”
His next book, “Command Authority,” is planned for publication on Dec. 3.
Seventeen of his novels were No. 1 New York Times best sellers, including his most recent, “Threat Vector,” which was released in December 2012.
Sales of his books made him a millionaire. His family moved into a five-bedroom house in Calvert County, Md., and acquired an 80-acre farm on the Chesapeake Bay. He became a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles. He even bought a tank.
Mr. Clancy was an insurance salesman when he sold his first novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” to the Naval Institute Press for only $5,000.
That publisher had never released a novel before, but the editors were taken with Mr. Clancy’s manuscript. They were concerned, however, that there were too many technical descriptions, so they asked him to make cuts. Mr. Clancy made revisions and cut at least 100 pages.
The book took off when President Ronald Reagan, who had received a copy, called it was “my kind of yarn” and said that he couldn’t put it down.
After the book’s publication in 1985, Mr. Clancy was praised for his mastery of technical details about Soviet submarines and weaponry. Even high-ranking members of the military took notice of the book’s apparent inside knowledge.
In an interview in 1986, Mr. Clancy said, “When I met Navy Secretary John Lehman last year, the first thing he asked me about the book was, ‘Who the hell cleared it?’ ”
David Shanks, a Penguin executive who worked with Mr. Clancy for decades, called him “a consummate author, creating the modern-day thriller, and one of the most visionary storytellers of our time.”Born to a middle-class family in Baltimore on April 12, 1947, Mr. Clancy skipped over the usual children’s literature and became obsessed by naval history from a young age, reading journals and books whose intended audience was career military officers and engineering experts.
He absorbed details of submarine warfare, espionage, missile systems and covert plots between superpowers.
He attended Loyola College in Baltimore, where he majored in English, and graduated in 1969. While Mr. Clancy harbored ambitions to join the military, even joining the Army R.O.T.C., he was told that he was too nearsighted to qualify.
After “The Hunt for Red October” was published, Mr. Clancy’s fame was fairly instant. Frequently posing for photographs in darkened aviator sunglasses, jeans and holding a cigarette, Mr. Clancy spoke of the laserlike focus required to succeed.
“I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,” he said. “You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.”
USA Today (“Author Tom Clancy dies at 66“) adds:
Clancy had seven No. 1 USA TODAY best sellers, either solo or with a co-author, and 53 books total in the top 150, solo or with a co-author.
“Tom’s novels have always been prescient, whether they were about technology or military tactics or geo-political maneuvering,” his editor, Tom Colgan, told USA TODAY in 2011 after the release of Against All Enemies.
In 1994, Clancy published Debt of Honor, a novel that ends with a rogue pilot crashing a 747 into the Capitol as the president addresses a joint session of Congress.
But in a 2002 interview with USA TODAY, Clancy said that he never could have imagined the events of 9/11: “I never saw it coming. . . . I couldn’t stretch my brain that far.”
He added that he could imagine one suicidal pilot, but “not suicide as a team effort.”
He said he was no expert on terrorism: “I’m just an observer,” he said. “The real experts are the guys in green suits carrying a gun.”
In that 2002 interview, Clancy, who was often critical of the news media, said the Pentagon erred by not allowing “knowledgeable and reputable reporters — if there are any” — to accompany U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan.
In one firefight, “the A-Team took out 1,800 bad guys,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be interesting to see on the NBC Nightly News? . . . The average citizen should see how good a job our forces are doing.”
US Naval Institute (“Tom Clancy Dies at 66“) adds:
The father of the techno-thriller and the author of the U.S. Naval Institute’s first novel died on Tuesday, several sources told USNI News.
Tom Clancy, 66, died at a Baltimore hosptial, former Clancy researcher and co-author John Gresham told USNI News on Wednesday.
“Five or six years ago Tom suffered a heart attack and he went through bypass surgery,” Gresham said.
“It wasn’t that he had another heart attack, [his heart] just wore out.”
A former insurance agent in Calvert County, Md., Clancy was also an aficionado of military history and its technical side. Many of his insurance clients were former nuclear submariners employed at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant not far from his home. As he was selling them insurance, he was also picking their brains on how nuclear reactors worked on naval vessels and what the potential was for the ballistic missiles being carried on the U.S. Navy’s nuclear missile “boomer” submarines. He also learned about the Soviet Union military complex in the heart of the Cold War.
Clancy first came to the U.S. Naval Institute while he was still selling insurance with a letter to the editor for Proceedings magazine, Fred Rainbow, then editor of Proceedings USNI News on Wednesday.
“The first time we met him, he made a phone call to Proceedings that he had a letter to the editor he wanted to deliver in person,” Rainbow said.
Editors resisted seeing Clancy but after several persistent phone calls eventually brought him in, published the letter and paid the nominal fee for the work.
“That check has never been cashed because it was framed in his office. It was the first time he was ever paid for writing anything,” Rainbow said.
He published a second piece in Proceedings on using Navy hovercraft as platforms from which to fire nuclear missiles.
“The third time he called he had, The Hunt for Red October,” Rainbow said.
I was a fan of Clancy’s novels from nearly the beginning, getting introduced to them as an undergraduate shortly after his second book, Red Storm Rising, was published in 1986. Interestingly, that book was not part of the Jack Ryan series that made Clancy famous. I bought every solo-authored Clancy novel thereafter, in hardback, through 2003’s Teeth of the Tiger. I never got into the Op-Center, Net Force, and various other serials which were run under Clancy’s brand but outsourced to other authors and, for whatever reason, never got back into the Ryan series after it spun off into Jack Ryan Jr. and a post-presidential Jack Ryan Sr. as the protagonists.
He died quite young by modern standards—almost exactly the same age as my father at his passing. While it’s sheer speculation, it’s not unreasonable to suspect Clancy’s ever-present cigarette hastened this day.
I’m frequently given occasion to recall a comment made by Clancy in an interview more than a decade ago, to the effect that part of the reason Congress is so ineffective is that the average Member simply isn’t all that bright or accomplished. He observed that it was almost a certainty that a given citizen’s family physician was smarter than his Representative. Prescient, indeed.
The guy invented a whole new approach to thrillers. A big deal. Not exactly a wordsmith, not a character guy, but a hell of a plotter and a genuine original.
I’m sorry to hear that; 66 is far too young.
Most of his early works (“Hunt for Red October”, “Red Storm Rising”, “Patriot Games” were great summer reads – the man was an excellent story teller. I fondly remember sitting at the beach, beer and chips on the side, losing many a happy hour in them.
The Hunt was a fabulous read. Clancy was untainted by funky advice. He actually left sex out of the work! I enjoy rogering as much as anyone else at my advanced age but I never thought it had a place in the mil-tech page turner, and Clancy didn’t waste time with it in The Hunt.
Clancy gets other credit for opening the door to wider distrib for some other excellent writers of the genre like Larry Bond, Harold Coyle, Steven Coonts, and Dale Brown.
Holy crap. I’m currently re-reading his stuff, and I’m almost done with “The Bear And The Dragon.”
I’d heard a rumor that he shut down production for a while during his divorce, to cut back on how much he’d have to pay the wife. The dates seem to match up.
Yeah, I’m with you on ignoring the franchises, and the Jack Ryan Jr. books aren’t all that great. He tried to work 9/11 into them, but it’s hard to take 9/11 as a major world-changer when, in his world, he’d already nuked Denver.
9/11 put a major hurting on the technothriller genre.
RIP, Mr. Clancy. You were a hell of a storyteller.
The Bear and the Dragon has a CIA agent seducing a woman who worked in the office of a Chinese politburo member.
In The Sum of All Fears, President Fowler and his female National Security Advisor were getting it on but Clancy gave little detail unlike TBATD though this particular subplot had greater impact plot wise.
I certainly enjoyed his work. When someone dies who is younger than you it makes one think about their own mortality. I’m 67!
@Jenos Idanian #13:
Who of Clancy’s readers can forget Debt of Honor where a pilot deliberately few a 747 into the US capital? DOH was written 5 years before the events of 9-11.
I hated The Bear and the Dragon. That book was Clancy jumping the shark for me. The sex scenes he wrote were embarrassing. I’ve spent my adult life working on missile systems and in intelligence, and that book was so wildly off the mark it wasn’t funny. And his poorly developed Chinese caricatures were insulting.
@BIll: He left sex out of The Hunt for Red October. It was a long time ago but I don’t think there was sex in Red Storm Rising. There was sex in the later works and it felt phoney and poured-on, thus my comment on how refreshing it was in the early work.
“Red Storm Rising” remains my favorite Clancy book and I usually reread it once a year or so.
While I enjoy the early Jack Ryan books (up to and including “Debt of Honor” or so), it’s a real shame the decline after that between Clancy’s obsession for returning everything to the status quo and his desire to throw in as many political points as possible.
From what I gather from reading a plot synopsis of one of his more recent book, apparently it had a George Soros composite who was a KGB mole or something?
I liked a bunch of his earlier books, particularly The Hunt for Red October. The last one I read was the Bear and the Dragon, at which point he was getting pretty ridiculous.
66 is young. Too bad.
A scene I found embarrassing in TBATD was the female secret service agent and her husband going to a OB/GYN. The Sec Service is told she is pregnant and the OB/GYN orders an amniocenteis. At 6 or 7 weeks pregnant! About two months too early for that procedure not to mention the genetic counseling a mother would have before the test which includes the part about the amnio’s danger to the baby. Unnecessary and incorrect detail for characterization purposes.
@rudderpedals: There was a rape scene in Red Storm Rising.
@rudderpedals: There was also a scene between Jack Ryan and Cathy Ryan in Buckingham Palace in Patriot Games, but I think it’s actually more foreplay than anything else IIRC.
@Timothy Watson: As dog is my witness I do not remember those bits.
/Hangs monkey head in shame 🙁
@michael reynolds: It’s pretty remarkable to invent a genre, especially one that has spun off not only a ton of books and movies but greatly influenced television as well. One can’t imagine “Alias,” “24” or “Burn Notice” without Clancy paving the way. W.E.B. Griffin (aka William Butterworth) did much better character driven military serials but the plotting is not nearly as good.
Indeed; I just finished Patriot Games a few weeks ago. Good stuff, it had me looking around my parents’ house for more Clancy novels.
@Jenos Idanian #13: Cutting back on your writing production so you can cut back on payments to your divorced wife?!
If that’s true, that’s a pretty stinky course of action. How much of what Clancy was able to do was because she took care of the house, cooked food for him, etc. and freed up the time so that he could write?
I seem to remember reading Hunt for Red October and getting annoyed how everyone in the military was the equivalent of a genius who had been offered a full scholarship to MIT but had declined and had gone to the military instead due to “patriotism.”
(The only people I’ve ever run into who have turned down scholarships to MIT is because they went to Caltech instead.)
Oh, and if you know Russian, Sean Connery’s pronunciation in the film version of Hunt for Red October is hilarious.
Months later, it would become obvious to us that Putin had had the KGB assassinate Clancy as the first move in a complicated plot to restore the Soviet Union. But by the time we realized that it was already to late to stop it. Will it be up to one agent to save a planet teetering on the brink of world war?
Sean Connery has pretty much made a career of hilariously bad accents.
@Stormy Dragon: What’s really ironic is that we are in fact teetering on the edge of global…..well, let’s say UNCERTAINTY due to Global Climate Change and I suspect that the majority of the people who love Tom Clancy are GCC denialists and love the military.
The president of the Maldives is already worried about the future existence of his country. I guess the wingnuts will suggest shooting missiles at rising sea levels to protect his country. .
(It’s not that life will vanish from the Earth. The environment may, however, be one not all that nice for human civilization.)
Count on it. This not breaking news.
@grumpy realist: Not all of us are blind! Climate change is undeniable and AGW is close to unassailable, but still I adored the early Clancy and continue to recommend anything by Coyle, Bond and Coonts to those who like this stuff.
Mil-SF is another genre Clancy sort of encouraged I suppose and Gordon R. Dickson’s Childe cycle series is a ton of fun too, if a bit moldy.
@rudderpedals: I’d think I’d place the beginning of Mil-SF with E.E. “Doc” Smith. Especially considering that quite a number of military devices were originally conceptualized by him. (NOT invented. If anyone wants some fun reading, look up whatever court case it was where Samsung decided to try to invalidate an Apple patent by citing as prior art the film “2001.” The judge wasn’t very impressed.)
@grumpy realist: I’d think I’d place the beginning of Mil-SF with E.E. “Doc” Smith
I stand corrected
Might as well contemplate your navel now since after you are dead you won’t be able to…Unless…
Browsing Smith’s wiki page reminds me of all the other authors omitted but please note I tried to put a bunch of qualifiers in there (sort of encouraged etc)
@Jenos Idanian #13: Don’t forget that the United States still invaded Iraq despite Saddam being assassinated in “Executive Orders” and the whole United Islamic Republic crap (I tried half a dozen times and never could finish reading “Executive Orders”).
And Clancy was amazingly wrong about some his military/technology predictions too. It seems that every new piece of military equipment that he gave a day in the limelight ended up being unceremoniously cancelled (e.g., the RAH-66 Comanche, the RQ-3 DarkStar, etc.).
Or there was Ryan in one book, expressing Clancy’s view, that the CIA needed more analysts to deal with the amount of SIGINT and satellite reconnaissance they had coming into them in to the next book saying that half of them needed to be fried because they’re a bunch of moochers.
@rudderpedals: I really wish I had had a chance to meet Smith. What a wonderful human being. It’s amazing how far back he started writing this stuff–which also resulted in his enchanting descriptions of technology where all the engineering was done via mechanical/electric stuff and not a transistor in sight!.
There was also one line (I think out of Galactic Patrol) which caused me to guffaw: “All the equipment, without exception, worked perfectly.”
Transitors and the microchips that followed use electricity. Just a whole lot less than the vacuum tubes they replaced.
I guess it is nostalgic for some to romanticize old, inefficient, energy wasting technology.
You can get the same effect by taking your laundry down to the creek and beating it on rocks to get it clean!
Not so. I think GCC is pretty much as accepted a theory as you’ll find in earth sciences (and in science theory is as good as it gets – for instance gravity is a theory). And while I think the military is necessary, I’m pretty consistent on OTB saying we shouldn’t be involved in overseas adventures.
And yet I think his early books are great reads. Because that’s the cool thing about fiction – you don’t have to believe its true to enjoy it.
Full disclaimer: I also love “The Lord of the Rings” but don’t believe Middle Earth ever existed, think Terry Pratchet is great but suspect he just made Disc World up, and think “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is a great book but doubt that the people in it every really existed. Moreover, from what I read Sir Isaac Newton had more than a few character flaws, but I still use Newtonian mechanics almost every day at work, and love Mozart even though a quick read of his biography suggests he was often less than admirable.
@Ernieyeball: I think it’s a mixed bag. I admit beatifying some of the old stuff, even drawing inspiration from certain things, while implementing them in modern ways. The only example I can come up with right now would contrast analog phased locked loop with the DPLL sort-of-work-alike and that’s got to be about the most obscure thing in the world to drag into a Clancy thread.
@Timothy Watson: It gets even worse. In some of the Jack Ryan Jr. novels, he showed an incredible lack of grasp of technology. I don’t recall the details, but he — in the space of one book — talked about the astonishing capacity of a 4GB flash drive and how long it took to copy that much data, quickly copied a DVD, and copied a laptop’s hard drive on to a portable hard drive in a couple of minutes.
Or something like that.
And while we’re discussing Clancy sex scenes… let’s not forget the bit in Sum Of All Fears where Mrs. Ryan does a Cowgirl on top of our hero.
Clancy had a phenomenal winning streak starting with Red Storm, running up to Debt of Honor. All serious page turners. A very impressive body of work.
And despite the overwhelming popularity of Clancy’s books in DC (and pretty much everywhere else), Condi Rice still went on TV after 9.11 and said “no one could have predicted” that someone “would try to use an airplane as a missile.”
@Ernieyeball: But that’s why Smith is so fascinating to read. It’s his attempts to create futuristic technology (and describe it) before the invention of the transistor happened.
@Jenos Idanian #13: Might that have been written by a ghost-writer?
I haven’t read enough Clancy novels (or know enough about military technology) to know whether his supposed expertise with military technology dwindled with the years, or what. Anyone more knowledgeable willing to chime in?
(Even at his worst, Clancy is miles better than Danielle Steel. Gaaaaah…..and I’m female!)
I guess that means he could not predict the future any more than anyone else.
Clancy Sex Scenes:
Have NONE of you EVER read Without Remorse??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
That book is basically *built* on its sex scenes – up to and including rape!
I started out with Clancy as far as my adult reading goes – in later ES/ early MS. The first adult book I ever owned? Debt of Honor, given to me by my grandmother that died less than 6 months ago back when I was still in the hospital for one of the surgeries I had in the 8-11yo range. I read most of his works up to that one either shortly before or after, I don’t remember which.
Eventually grew tired with him (Rainbow Six or Bear and Dragon, whichever came last) and graduated to Dale Brown. FAR more action, just as elaborate plots, better characters.
Though Without Remorse easily stands as Clancy’s singularly best books, and one of the best I’ve ever read, period. (Fairly high praise from a guy who has averaged at least 40 books or so a year for the last 2 decades or so….)
Pretty much all sex scenes suck. They may please the reader, but it’s basically impossible to write a good one in a genre novel. Literary stuff, sure, but genre? Nope.
Griffin was the favorite author of my father-in-law (himself a WW2 combat vet). My FiL felt that Griffin was (is?) one of the few guys who managed to consistently “get it right.”
BTW, random Clancy fact I learned today — “The Hunt for Red October” is believed to be one of the earliest mass market best-sellers that wasn’t typed but word-processed (using an Apple IIe, WordStar).
I loved most of his first 10 or so books. Last one I read, forget the title, it was about setting up an international terrorist response team, sucked. Some (farfetched) action in the beginning then it dragged on for about 200 pages. What I found really annoying were the advertisements for conservatism, the modern form, thrown in. Paraphrasing, one character, a black man, is reminiscing about how much better life is for his race now that they’ve stopped listening to people like Jesse Jackson and started voting for Republicans. Another is thinking about how everyone feels so much better now that abortion is outlawed, and what an awful chapter that was in American history, thank God that’s over. Then there’s someone thinking about how religion makes life so much better, even if you don’t really believe there’s a big guy up in the sky. At the time I had already come to the conclusion that the GOP was nuts so I found this stuff very annoying. Later it occurred to me that Mr. Clancy has created his dream version of America in his novels. All he had to do to turn the country into what he wanted was kill off the president and all of congress.
Probably the oddest thing about how the Jack Ryanverse developed was in US relations with other countries. England was always right at our side, the Saudis were noble allies, the Palestinians got smart and actually interested in peace, the Russians became our great allies, the Israelis were whiny pains in the ass, and the big enemies were Iran, India, and China.
Definitely one of those cases where truth was not stranger than fiction.
Okay, knowing you’re a writer, I have to ask why you think that is (ie why the difference between literary stuff and genre)? Not that I’m disagreeing, but since you brought it up, I’d be curious about why that might be.
It’s about the vocabulary available to the writer, meaning vocabulary in the broadest sense. If you’re writing a thriller, to take the obvious example, you’re making choices (words, sentence length, paragraph construction, etc..) designed for propulsion. You want things to move, move, move. Then, suddenly, hey: time for sex. You’ve been driving your narrative along on terse action, limited description, and character revealed through action and thus only sketchily shown, and now you have to go internal, emotional, descriptive. It’s like downshifting straight from fifth gear to first.
You have a better shot in mystery just because mysteries usually do a bit more character work and set a slower pace. But still you’re working with a palette designed to make the reader pay close attention to detail and to approach that detail with reason, with objectivity and skepticism. (So they can try to solve the mystery.) So in a sex scene you’re looking for a more intimate, more subjective, more accepting tone which is at odds with the rest of the book.
But if you’re writing something more literary you will have armed yourself with more description and usually much more character work, all of which sets you up better to carry through a sex scene.
I groan at some of my own reviews which sometimes simultaneously take me to task for using a lot of short, choppy sentences and then praise me for the sense of breathless propulsion. As if I could achieve the latter while using wordy, baroque language.
@grumpy realist: “Oh, and if you know Russian, Sean Connery’s pronunciation in the film version of Hunt for Red October is hilarious. ”
Yes, but nothing compared to Highlander, where Connery played a Spaniard and Christopher Lambert played a Scotsman.
@anjin-san: “And despite the overwhelming popularity of Clancy’s books in DC (and pretty much everywhere else), Condi Rice still went on TV after 9.11 and said “no one could have predicted” that someone “would try to use an airplane as a missile.” ”
That always pissed me off, because I wrote exactly that scene for the season 2 finale of “Martial Law” — did Condi really think anyone would believe she wasn’t a regular viewer?
@anjin-san: @wr: Ha. But, as noted above, Clancy himself said the same:
@James Joyner: Which is one thing that distinguishes Clancy from quite a few science fiction and futurist writers who are quite outspoken about “how this could really happen.” Heck, classical authors do this as well! (Sinclair Lewis.)
Clancy comes across as someone who liked to dabble around with cool plots and military technology in the ideal Republican utopia he created in his mind, but was utterly taken aback by the bleed-over of his books into real life.
(the other writer besides Danielle Steel I have an absolute detestation for is Dan Brown. His writing just STINKS.)
Thanks, that was interesting.
@michael reynolds: Thanks very much for posting this. Very interesting to get information from the horse’s mouth, as it were.
@george: @grumpy realist:
I’m actually surprised that I had a coherent answer. I don’t do a lot of thinking about writing theory.
So you are Divinely Inspired?
Nah, just a consummate bullsh!t artist. I’ve never taken a writing course. My wife may have way back in college in the 70’s, not sure. Which may be why she won the Newbery.
So it was you this guy was looking for…
@ James Joyner
No one saw 9.11 coming, I don’t think there is any fault there. But to say that flying jumbo jets into government buildings was not a concept that existed prior to 9.11 is simply untrue, and I think Rice knew that even as she was saying otherwise. A more honorable course of action would have been for her to have said “I have tendered my resignation.”
We may not always agree, but the fact you’ve written/produced for both Dick Van Dyke, Sammo Hung, and Arsenio Hall means you’re my new hero!