Friday, October 4, 2013

Tom Clancy: The Man Who Invented a Genre

 Tom Clancy signing books at the Burns Library, Boston College

I was planning to write this week’s blog post about my holiday here in Switzerland, but fate intervened. Just two days ago, those of us who write in the action/adventure genre lost a luminary who blazed the trail for those of us who are fascinated by military technology and love to share it with our readers. Tom Clancy was a pioneer who literally invented a new genre.

 In 1984, the venerable Naval Institute Press (NIP) published its first work of fiction, the product of a Maryland insurance salesman who liked to pal around with naval officers. Before being accepted by NIP, Tom Clancy had received rejections on The Hunt For Red October from a number of subsequently sorry publishing houses. Then something magic happened. Someone gave a copy of The Hunt For Red October to then-President Ronald Reagan. On his way to a helicopter to Camp David, the President was asked by a reporter what book he was carrying. The President told him the title and added, “It’s a really great thriller!” Sales of the book skyrocketed.

Tom Clancy’s debut novel was unique in that it included detailed descriptions of revolutionary Soviet submarine technology and the technical wonders employed by the U.S. Navy to locate the rogue Russian craft. It was the birth of a new genre, the “techno-thriller.” The book took the bestseller lists by storm. NIP continued the trend the following year with Stephen Coonts’s first novel, The Flight of the Intruder, a work crowded with cutting-edge aviation and weapons technology. Clancy soon returned with Red Storm Rising and Patriot Games. The Hunt For Red October and Patriot Games became blockbuster motion pictures. Tom Clancy was now a giant in the publishing industry.

Clancy was a pioneer who opened up many additional markets to the writing community. He branched out from his highly successful series of Jack Ryan thrillers to write non-fiction books on weapons systems and military units. Taking advantage of the technology explosion, he successfully entered the field of electronic war games. But the anchor of his empire remained the military-political-thriller arena. Jack Ryan rose through the CIA to eventually become Vice President and then President. Not happy with the policies of his successor, he returned to politics. Those of us who loved the series expected to be reading much more of Ryan’s story.

Tom Clancy was only sixty-six years old when he abruptly left us. This was much too young for the world to lose such an influential author. There had to be so many more adventure tales cooking in his fertile brain. But he leaves behind a whole school of adventure writers who employ the techniques he pioneered. He will be long remembered. Rest in peace, Father of Our Genre!

 Photo courtesy of: By Gary Wayne Gilbert (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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