Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Classics Project: The Hunt for Red October

Life has been kind of crazy lately. I'm getting ready to move into a new place and I've started a new job. I actually finished reading this book a while ago, but never got around to writing the review, so please forgive its lateness.

The Classics Project presents The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy.

I selected this book to read next because I was so affected by The Color Purple that I needed something completely different. In a way, I had quite high expectations for Mr. Clancy because all through my childhood, I can remember my dad in his recliner, a thick Tom Clancy book in his hands. And, still through childhood's lens, I expected that anything my father loved, I would love.

Needless to say, the reality was completely different.

It's not that I disliked The Hunt for Red October, the famously exciting Cold War submarine exploit, it's just that it came nowhere near my expectations.

First off, Clancy's obsession with military minutiae was at best uninteresting and often tedious. For people who have an especial fascination with all things military, this book would be rich and satisfying, but for me, it fell flat. I really don't feel the need to narratively trace every step involved in satellite communication or the exact measurements of each switch and dial in a submarine.

This compulsion of Clancy's was made doubly dull by the fact that all of the technology in his book that is presented as so high tech is nearly thirty years old. I have a thorough understanding of modern technology that surpasses anything presented in this book. I understand that the book is limited by its time. It was published in 1984, and at the time things like wireless communication were exciting and new. Sadly, that excitement doesn't hold up through the years.

Which brings me to another point. The anachronistic Cold War attitude of the book was jarring for someone who was born in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. I did not grow up with the shadow of an imminent nuclear war or the fanatical patriotism that was so prevalent in the 1980s. Clancy takes every chance to declare how wonderful America and Freedom and "God and Country" are. He even takes especial pains to point out that Captain Ramius, the captain of the Soviet submarine, is not truly Russian because his mother was Lithuanian. You know ... so we can still cheer for him, because if he was Russian, how could any reader empathize? This narrow, black and white view of a very complex time comes off as pure propaganda and leaves a false, treacly impression in my mind.

From a purely analytical perspective, as a fellow author, I found Clancy's structure of the book weak. Jack Ryan is supposedly the protagonist of The Hunt for Red October, but I only know that because I've been told. I would've guessed that it was the more interesting character, Soviet captain Marko Ramius. The lack of depth in his protagonist is probably intrinsically connected to the book's format. Clancy jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint, giving the reader scenes from the POVs of all kinds of characters all over the Atlantic. While this does afford the reader a unique, big-picture view of the plot, it severely limits any character development.

Ultimately, there were several very thrilling scenes. Clancy can certainly amp up the excitement when he wants to, but thanks to the lack of interesting characters, the preponderance of military trivialities, and the anachronistic world view, I was left unsatisfied with The Hunt for Red October.

I think next time I'll just stick with the movie.

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