When I read of Tom Clancy’s death yesterday I paused for a moment, went upstairs to the loft and searched my bookshelves for his novels. I was surprised to find out that I am apparently a huge Tom Clancy fan. It’s strange because if you asked me who my favorite authors are, his name would not instantly come to mind. Instead, I would rattle off names like Clarke, Zelazny, Asimov, Bradbury, Card, Martin, and Wingrove. I am science fiction and fantasy fan at heart, but I read lots of other stuff too. I guess I had never stopped to think about how profound an impact Tom Clancy has had on me as reader and lover of fiction, but also as a writer.
If you were to ask me who my favorite fictional characters are, Clancy’s legacy and impact would be immediately apparent. I would answer: Prince Corwin of Amber, from The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny; Lord Tyrion Lannister, from the A Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin; and, John Clark, introduced in the Hunt for Red October, but featured in ten subsequent Clancy novels.
Clancy’s brilliance in character development and depth was one of his greatest strengths, and the key aspect of his writing that influenced me. If you are familiar with any of the Jack Ryan/John Clark novels, you know that John Clark is a former Navy SeAL who leads a covert team of counter-terror operatives for the CIA. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, Clark’s character might have been a one-dimensional killing machine with no conscience, and very little depth. Instead, Clancy has given us one of the most complex, interesting, and starkly human characters in modern fiction. John Clark is intensely loyal, pragmatic, fierce in battle, highly intelligent, and surprisingly compassionate for a man whose life has been dedicated to the art of war.
We encounter the full range of emotion and genuine humanity of Clark’s character in Without Remorse. This sometimes disturbingly brutal story reveals a man who has been dealt blow after blow, but somehow manages to keep going, spending the last ounce of his strength to avenge the death of the one woman he dared to love. It may seem clichéd, but it works. And you end up with a character that is so compelling and richly nuanced that you can’t wait to see what he does next.
So today, I am remembering one of the great writers of our time. A man who paved the way for an entire genre of military and spy fiction. A gifted storyteller and patriot. Tom Clancy…rest in peace.