Saturday, September 22, 2007
Book Report: The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy (1991)
Wow, this book is 16 years old now and its subject matter is as relevant as it was then. The plot, as you know, deals with a set of terrorists who get their hands on a lost nuclear weapon and smuggle it into the United States. That's the first half. And if you didn't know the rest of it, stop reading now.

Then they blow it up at the Superbowl in Denver, and the United States president thinks it's the Russians, so the thing escalates into the brink of a nuclear war. Meanwhile, Jack Ryan struggles with the bureaucracy in the CIA and at the top levels of the government. Those struggles, and the inside baseball that goes with it, comprise much of the weight of this book.

The book compares with some of the classical literature I've read this year (The Three Musketeers particularly and somewhat with Anna Karenina) in that its cut scenes deal with a war and with a large cast working within and without of the government using intrigue and whatnot. However, this book is frightening in its possibility. Brother, after September 11, 2001, I had trouble watching the movie True Lies because it dealt with nuclear weapons smuggled into the US, and it's not entertainment if it plays to my deepest fears.

But the book moves along well, and Clancy is a master at torquing up the tension, although the ultimate climax really goes on too long with the heated exchanges between the US and Russian presidents. Also, the book refers quite a bit to A Clear and Present Danger, which I have yet to read, so many of these allusions were lost on me. But a good thriller if you're into that, and if you want to have nightmares about it.

I italicised Denver above, because the movie version set the Superbowl and the detonation in Baltimore, which holds with my thesis that terrorists could take liberty with pretty much anything between the Rockies and the Appalachians and nobody would care; obviously, Hollywood thought Denver was bucolic and backward enough that audiences wouldn't feel the tension and the shocking sense of loss that Baltimore, on the east coast, inspires. Also, apparently, the movie changed the terrorists to Nazis or something. Although there's an element of freelance non-Middle Easterners in the plot, make no mistake, it's Palestinians who blow up the Superbowl. But I've only seen Patriot Games and The Hunt for Red October as movies and I'm not in a hurry to rectify that "oversight."

I do have more Clancy on my shelves, comprising many shelf inches, so I'll get to them sooner or later, and I don't dread the prospect.

Books mentioned in this review:

Well, I think the reason that Hollywood refused to blow up Denver is that the thought of all of that nasty fallout contaminating their palatial estates in Aspen was a bit too much for them to handle - even if only on a fictional basis.

In reality, a nuke strike on my fair city would prove disastrous, what with the chaos caused by our three thousand residents trying to escape via conestoga wagon along our single wagon trail - especially if complicated by the regular bear and/or indian attacks that constantly disrupt our simple lives here on the plains. Hollywood knew the world wasn't ready to see such carnage.

In all seriousness (or as much as I can muster at any given time), The Sum of All Fears is, to me, the best of the Clancy books - save for possibly Red Storm Rising, which had at least as much to do with Larry Bond as it did Clancy.

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