Tom Clancy has passed away at age 66. The guy was never a great writer, but he was a terrific yarn-spinner, and he knew exactly how to make his ridiculous American power fantasies feel absolutely real and believable. Few other fictioneers have been able to weave ludicrous tales that sound like they came right out of advanced Pentagon war game scenarios.
Clancy has been adapted a number of times in Hollywood, with a new film - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - in the wings for later this year (or early next. Paramount is shaking shit up). But the Jack Ryan films have never made it into the truly wacky territory into which Clancy brought the character, although they came close. 2002's Sum of All Fears is an adaptation of the first novel in the Jack Ryan series where Clancy dared to truly upset the geopolitical order of the globe; in the story terrorists nuke the Super Bowl, an event that reshaped the pre-9/11 world. It was Ryan's actions in that book that led him to being named the National Security Advisor in the next novel, Debt of Honor, where shit got reeeeallly crazy.
Ryan is advising the president of the United States during a time of incredible global upheaval as Japan has remilitarized and attacks US holdings in the Pacific (it all stems from tariff issues, making Debt of Honor the precursor to The Phantom Menace). It's actually pretty cool, with the Japanese invading Guam and Saipan through commercial jets, sneaking onto the soil. At the same time Japan launches an economic attack on the US, cratering the stock market.
There's a lot of back and forth - the attacks are engineered by extremist Japanese corporate tycoons - and eventually the crisis is resolved with minimal bloodshed. Along the way Jack Ryan finds himself going from National Security Advisor to being nominated to replace the current Vice President. As that's all happening the President calls a special joint session of Congress and a Japanese airline pilot - driven mad by the deaths of his family in the conflict - crashes his plane directly into the Capitol killing EVERYBODY IN THE FUCKING GOVERNMENT.
And that's how Jack Ryan became President.
It's pretty amazing. Ryan was always Clancy's Mary Sue - a largely featureless character through whom Clancy could espouse his philosophy - and at the end of Debt of Honor he raises that Mary Sue to the presidency. And it only gets weirder from there, as the next book in the series, Executive Orders, follows the adventures of President Jack Ryan as he thrillingly takes on the US tax code. Meanwhile the rest of the world is going to shit, as major war breaks out in the MIddle East and there's an Ebola attack on the US. President Ryan - who is already pretty much a dictator because everybody else in government is dead and he's acting on his own - ends up declaring martial law. Because of that he has to fend off attacks from political opponents, who go to the Supreme Court to get him kicked out of office. But everything works out and, at the end of the novel, Ryan announces he'll actually run for office in the next election.
And he wins! And then he helps Russia in a war against China in The Bear and the Dragon. And it's a pretty big war, with massive casualties and a huge naval component. And it ends with China launching ICBMs at the White House, but everybody gets saved in time. What truly ends the war, though, is President Ryan sending CNN coverage of the war over the internet to Chinese dissidents, who rise up against their government and create a new Chinese democracy.
The first few Jack Ryan books left the world pretty much in its real state at the end, but by the end of Sum of All Fears Clancy had moved into, what was for all intents and purposes, science fiction. They were all crazy what-if scenarios that shook up everything we knew about geopolitics and showed how Clancy's economically conservative, semi-hawkish philosophies would make the world a better place. And I do mean semi-hawkish, by the way - President Ryan would probably be looked at as pussy by the warmongering moron Tea Baggers who have now shut down the US government over a properly passed and Supreme Court-vetted law they don't like.
Those later Clancy books - like his wonderful Red Storm Rising, an alternate history book about a full-scale war between the US and the USSR - would make for mind-boggling movies. The books are enormous, but they're packed with wonky bullshit that can be quickly excised. Clancy does a good job of keeping characters like John Clark operating on the ground while Ryan is in the Oval Office making speeches about the flat tax. Maybe the scope is too big for a movie - maybe these wacky conservative wish-fulfillment books could be a great TV series, like a twisted version of The West Wing with more wetwork. I'd watch the shit out of it, that's for sure.