Monday, June 24, 2013

From Dirk to Jack ...

I recently finished Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector, and coming soon after reading Clive Cussler’s Atlantis Found, I found myself thinking about both authors and their books. Perhaps I’ve got a basket of mixed fruit here, but …since I enjoy both, for different reasons, I’ll follow this train of thought, and see if I can get a nice fruit salad out of it. Where the Dirk Pitt books are pure and wonderful thriller opera, having less to do with reality than the allure of nail biting adventure, Tom Clancy’s fiction, especially the Jack Ryan series, while containing a plentiful helping of nail biting adventure, are also, and perhaps primarily, texts on technology (I won’t even go there, since I’m emphatically unqualified to talk about such things) and global politics. Both authors know how to tell a good story, and have been telling good stories for a very long time …may they live long, prosper, and *write*! Both authors have created excellent leading and supporting characters, people you would recognize immediately if you met them, and people with whom I could easily imagine having very interesting conversations, though I expect they would find me very boring, indeed. Both series show these characters developing, maturing, succeeding, making mistakes, and fighting their battles, public and personal, as best they can. Both authors write wonderful fight scenes, whether on the ground, underneath the ocean or in the sky, and Tom Clancy includes all the technical information a reader needs to understand how everything is done, and exactly why what happens happens. I read both authors for some of the same reasons, and enjoy both for their ability to create rousing adventure tales, but if the Dirk Pitt books can be compared to excellent mind candy, then the Jack Ryan books are a mind banquet, with several courses and appropriate vintage wines. One of the things I love about the Jack Ryan series is the grasp and explication of politics and diplomacy on a global level. This is accomplished while we are watching Jack Sr. learn how to first become an intelligence operative, then an intelligence administrator, and, finally, President of the United States. We learn while he learns, and the “dance” performed by the leaders and Governments of the world is intricate, complicated, ever changing, and absolutely fascinating to this reader. Tom Clancy is as comfortable describing the machinations of Governments (or those within them who are trying to supplant the Governments for their own purposes) as he is in describing how a fighter jet or submarine works. He also has the ability to make such complex material understandable to the layman, and I always come away from reading one of his books with a broadened perspective and a greater understanding of how the world works and how those in power do what they do. I also feel as though I’ve “checked in” with friends I’ve known for years; after all, I remember when Jack, Jr. was a little boy, and his sister a babe in arms, and I’ve seen Jack and Kathy through marital crises, illnesses, and difficult career choices. More to the point, I have come to like and respect this family, and their friends, regardless of the fact that they exist only in the pages of fiction. While I thoroughly enjoy my time with Dirk, Al, the Admiral, and the other characters in the Dirk Pitt series, I find it far easier to “confine” them to their proper books, because they seem bigger than life. They are believable in most ways, but somehow, like James Bond, they are not quite believable.

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