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Book Note: Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon

I read this book about 9-Aug-2001. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 2000. This note was last modified Saturday, 03-May-2014 08:20:53 PDT.

This is book 8 of the "Jack Ryan" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


The Hunt for Red October [order from Amazon.com] Order from Amazon.co.uk
The Sum of all Fears [order from Amazon.com] Order from Amazon.co.uk

I thought The Hunt For Red October was quite a good book. I also enjoyed The Sum of all Fears quite a lot; perhaps more than the book deserved. But how could I dislike a book that allowed the terrorists to blow up the superbowl? (I've always hated American team sports). (Um, sorry for the spoiler, if you haven't already read that one).

I guess that's intended as damning with faint praise. I don't think Tom Clancy is all that good, and I think he's gotten lazy over the years. On the other hand, as you can see, I do buy and read his books sometimes still.

He's already annoying me with universe skew in this one; Jack Ryan and company are making snide Clinton references. Can't be by name, since there was no President Clinton in that timeline, but references to inappropriate activities with interns. I don't have any quarrel with his saying it's inappropriate; it's a legitemate opinion, at least. But it didn't happen in the universe where the characters are discussing it. There's no referent for what they're saying. If it was a big deal, it would have been mentioned in previous books, and it wasn't. So it's just more knee-jerk Clinton bashing. Bah, humbug.

Then there's the reference to China being the last really Marxist country left. Of course in the time-line of these books that might be true by fiat; but nothing has been said of the collapse of Cuba there, for example.

I differ with his position on abortion, and find his heavy-handed propagandizing insulting and narrow. But that's pretty much to be expected, eh? And I won't absolutely swear I think Clancy shares Ryan's position. Ryan's wife is specifically said to not entirely agree with her husband here. The presentation, overall, feels heavy-handed with True Belief, but that one detail casts doubt on my interpretation.

Now, on to something I really understand—the clever scheme by which the internal notes from the Chinese Politburo get back to the CIA. At least one thing is stupidly wrong. The program is set up to transmit via dial-up modem only when the system has been idle for a while and while the system is in power-save shutdown. This is blatant idiocy; it means unexplainable outbound calls from one of the computers in a highly-sensitive installation. In fact there's an event when a janitor pointedly doesn't notice that the modem is on and the computer is doing stuff late at night.

What they should have done is had the computer package up the information during down-time, surely, but transmit it only when the normal user of the computer has it dialed in. This will prevent unexplained phone calls; it will take a more sophisticated level of monitoring to detect (they'd have to be monitoring individual packet destinations, instead of just phone calls). Since the modem is internal, there's no real chance that somebody will notice that the outbound traffic is excessive. And normal web browsing is nearly all inbound traffic, so it won't interfere with that even without special attempts to take second place.

Of course, having the secratary to a Politburo member using the same computer she keeps highly secret documents on to do dial-up web browsing is insane in the first place.

Seems like his writing is slipping, too. I'm getting really tired of "honey-bunny" and various other unbelievable cutesy pseudo-intimate slang.

As usual, Clancy brings his books to a satisfactory conclusion for his main characters. Jack Ryan has survived a second nuclear war, and prevented it from spreading beyond a single launch (and no detonation). Clark and Chavez have saved the US for a th time, and survived themselves.

This book actually used up 5 days of my reading time. At 1137 pages, I guess that's not too slow a reading rate. I think it got to that size by not being polished or edited at all, though. Clancy has for a long time been too big a fish for his editors to help him against his will, and in fact they're probably afraid to try (unless he's made it very clear he really wants it). After all, an author at Clancy's level is far more important to any publisher than any of their editors are, and the editors all know it.

I don't know why I reread this book. It wasn't worth it.

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David Dyer-Bennet