Clancy was 66. The politically conservative mega-bestselling author saw several of his novels, tales of espionage and military adventurism, adapted as big studio movies, among them: The Hunt for Red October, directed by John McTiernan; Patriot Games (Phillip Noyce); Clear and Present Danger (Noyce again); and The Sum of All Fears (Phil Alden Robinson).
“From the wealth of authentic detail in his best-selling novels about superpower brinkmanship, many people assume that Tom Clancy must have served in the armed forces,” wrote Robert Pear in the New York Times in 1987. “In fact, he has no military experience. But he has been reading naval history since the fifth grade, he is fascinated with technology and he reads many specialized journals and reference books intended for engineers and military officers. And the way he has brought it all together in print is an illustration of the kind of synthesis, using only unclassified materials, that Government officials are increasingly concerned about.”
Clancy’s as big a hit among gamers as he is among readers and movie-goers. As Variety‘s Daniel Goldblatt notes, Clancy’s “novels also inspired a series of widely popular video game series: Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and Splinter Cell.” Reviewing the latest version of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist for the NYT in August, Stephen Totilo noted that the series stars the fictional Sam Fisher as “an unsmiling, elite agent with the backing of the National Security Agency who typically dresses in black, drops from ceilings to snap necks and dispatches guards with a silenced pistol. In these games, torture tends to secure information that might stop a coming catastrophe.” And this one’s set in “a cell in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And that makes Blacklist the first big-budget game to go there, to show players a digital version of Gitmo’s cages and dogs.”
In 1997, Christopher Hitchens wrote for the New York Review of Books that “Clancy’s nine thrillers, as well as exemplifying an almost Reaganesque dream of American success, have catapulted him into that section of the cultural supermarket which is always designated by the hieroglyph #1. And this, too, is apt. Remember when America itself was #1?”
Updates, 10/3: “The easiest point to make about Tom Clancy,” writes Isaac Chotiner for the New Republic, “is that he was a mediocre writer who penned books with noxious political messages. But he was more interesting than that, even if only as a totemic cultural figure.” He’ll be “best remembered for the series of books he wrote about Jack Ryan, the C.I.A. agent from his creator’s hometown of Baltimore who eventually becomes president of the United States. (Don’t ask.) Four of the books were eventually turned into pretty effective Hollywood movies, which starred (in order) Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (twice), and Ben Affleck. A fifth, with Chris Pine as Ryan, comes out over Christmas…. What his books argue” is that the “military and intelligence services are as superb as one could wish for, but the rest of American society has let them down…. The popularity of Clancy and his books show that this sort of thinking is disturbingly widespread.”
At the Playlist, Drew Taylor ranks the Clancy movies, from worst to best.