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Sunday, November 14th 2004

6:56 PM

I've just finished reading... Executive Orders, by Tom Clancy

This is my first Tom Clancy book, and I was drawn to it by the concept behind the plot. A runaway Jumbo Jet leaves the President, Congress, Cabinet, and the Supreme Court dead beneath the smouldering ruins of the Capitol Building and John "Jack" Patrick Ryan, who only moment before had been confirmed as the new Vice President, is told that he is now the President of the United States of America. He must put the country's government back together again while at the same time facing threats at home and from abroad.

The main character, Jack Ryan, appeared in Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Hunt for Red October, and more recently in The Sum of All Fears. In Executive Orders we are also introduced to other characters who are treated with such familiarity that I can only asume they have appeared in previous Ryan novels. Indeed, Clancy never shys away from mentioning situations and people from other periods in Ryan's other stories.

One of the things that seemed out of place for me was that even though the story is fictional there are still references to real life places and people. The Prince of Wales appears (seeming very much like Prince Charles, although not mentioned by name), the first Persian Gulf War is referred to, and Sadam Hussein makes an appearance just long enough to be assasinated. It's strange that, in a fictional world such as that inhabited by Jack Ryan, George Bush can get a mention too...

Having mentioned Bush (the first) I have to say that Clancy hides neither his personal political leanings (the book's dedicated to Ronald Regan) nor his feelings on other issues such as political corruption, corruption in journalism, corrupt lobbyists, and waste (and corruption!) in all manner of government departments in Washington DC. With President Ryan at the helm, Clancy places himself in the position where he can (via his fictional character) right all the wrongs mentioned above.

Clancy also takes great delight in expressing his love for all things military. In fact about 100 pages are used to describe the war between the United States and the United Islamic Republic. Maybe I was reading it too fast but most of the battles and military engagements went over my head - as did much of the jargon used. Clancy has written non-fiction books about nuclear warships, armoured cavalry regiments, air force combat wings, and marine expeditionary units. At times it felt like I was reading one of these works rather than a work of fiction. Here's an example:-

The Blackhorse was fully on the ground now. Most of them were in their vehicles or attending their aircraft. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment comprised 123 M1A2 Abrams main-battle tanks, 127 M3A4 Bradley scout vehicles, 16 M109A6 Paladin 155mm guns, and 8 M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System tracks, plus a total of 83 helicopters, 26 of which were AH-54D Apache attack choppers. Those were the shooting platforms.

And try this for size...

The targets were Russian-made T-80s, old tanks with old design histories. They were much smaller than their American adversaries, mainly due to their inadequate engine power,and their diminished size had made for a number of design compromises. There was a fuel tank in the front, the line for which went along the turret ring. Gun rounds were fitted in slots that nested in the rear fuel tank, so that their ammunition was surrounded by diesel fuel. Finally, to save on turret space, the loader had been replace by an automated loading system, which in addition to being slower than a man, also required that a live round be in the open in the turret at all times. It might not have made all that much of a difference in any case, but it did makd for spectacular kills.

In many ways the book was immensely enjoyable, although at 1,273 pages it was a lot longer than it needed to be. Any book that causes hand cramp when reading it on the train is too voluminous in my view! Also, given how long the book was and how many sub-plots there were, there were a surprisingly large number of loose ends not tied up. (Whatever happened to Ed Kealty, former Vice President? What was the outcome of the law case against Ryan? What happened to Moudi? How many people died in the USA?)

Some people have criticised Tom Clancy for his writing style, such as this site:-

He is actually not a very good writer.
His plotting is creaky, the characters cardboard, the dialogue straight out of Hollywood, circa 1938 (especially where foreigners are concerned: did any Englishman ever talk that way, since C. Aubrey Smith died?).

But whatever you may think of the way he writes, you can't knock his success (he earns $19 million per book and has a personal fortune in excess of US $100 million), nor his popularity (the first US printing of Executive Orders sold 2,211,101 copies). Neither can one knock the likeability of Jack Ryan, President of The United States of America!

Now where did I see that second-hand copy of The Hunt For Red October?

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