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Creator / Tom Clancy

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"Who the hell cleared that?"
— Reaction of a US Navy Admiral to reading The Hunt for Red October

Formerly an insurance broker, Thomas Leo Clancy Jr. (April 12, 1947 - October 1, 2013) was an American novelist who specialized in military and spy techno-thrillers.

His first and probably most famous novel is The Hunt for Red October. Notably, the book featured such accurate depictions of US submarine operations that he came under investigation because the government was convinced he was being leaked classified information. As it turned out, he was able to to piece together how things worked by thoroughly researching publicly available sources. He applied this rigorous attention to detail to the works he had a direct hand in — although he did get things wrong on occasion.

Famous enough to be a brand name; the appellation "Tom Clancy's..." has been applied to a TV miniseries, several series of novels, and numerous Video Games; which ostensibly meet the author's demands for research and technical realism, but feature some glaring inaccuracies while more-recent works focus more on Rule of Cool because most were made without much involvement from the man himself. Products bearing the "Tom Clancy's" branding ceased having anything to do with Clancy after Ubisoft acquired the intellectual property rights to his name and the drift away from rigid realism continued further.

Clancy passed away on October 1st, 2013. The cause was never officially stated, but his long-time co-author John D. Gresham speculated that he'd been on borrowed time since he'd had heart surgery a few years earlier.

The Tom Clancy franchise includes the following major series and works:

  • Red Storm Rising - Cowritten with Larry Bond, who is mentioned in the foreword but not on the cover.
  • The Jack Ryan series - Written by Clancy.
  • SSN, based on a submarine simulator video game of the same name. Written by Clancy.
  • The Net Force series - Licensed use of Clancy's name.
  • The Op Center series - Licensed use of Clancy's name.
  • The Splinter Cell novels - Licensed use of Clancy's name and a spin-off of the video games.

Films — Live-Action


Video games

Tom Clancy's novels have featured the following tropes:

  • America Saves the Day: A fairly standard plot, especially in later novels.
  • Armies Are Evil: Inverted. If a character has served or is serving, they are almost certainly a good person. The very few exceptions tend to be Soldiers at the Rear anyway. Even characters who appear for a little less than a paragraph get a little military biography. Sometimes this is semi-justified, as it is pretty plausible for airline pilots to be retired Air Force, but sometimes taken to ridiculous levels.
  • Author Filibuster: The discussion of the US Tax Code in Executive Orders. Almost any reference to abortion will elicit one of these from one of the characters.
  • Author Tract:
    • Executive Orders basically features Jack Ryan cleaning up politics by putting Clancy's personal views into action.
    • Clancy's views of environmentalists in Rainbow Six has all the subtlety of John Rambo or Commander Shepard trying out for the team: to cut a very long story short they not only have a burning hatred of the human race and desire to wipe them out but feverishly work towards the ability to do so, while pointing out their hypocrisy and double standard left right and center.
  • Badass Army: America (and to lesser extents other good guys) are portrayed as commanding one, though America seems to get the lion's share.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Played straight, lampshaded, subverted, discussed, and averted in several places.
  • Cold Sniper: Played straight, inverted, and deconstructed in different novels.
  • Colon Cancer: Many of the games.
  • Commie Land: The setting for significant portions of the books, first the USSR and later the People's Republic of China after the Soviet Union fell apart.
  • Continuity Nod: All over the novels and some of the games.
  • Contrived Coincidence: See the entry on that page. In general, lots of what gets the plot moving depends on either someone having a change of heart at the right moment, or someone making a discovery that went ignored by everyone else just in the nick of time. To be fair, much of this is justified since it's uncovered by analysts who are doing what they're paid for.
    • Clancy's versions are extreme even by most versions of this trope. A car crash happens in Tennessee? Japan declares war on the US. A priest dies in China trying to prevent an abortion? China declares war on Russia. Each carefully laid out step by step.
    • One of Clancy's effective themes in his major works is the For Want of a Nail: one seemingly obscure thing or minor crime explodes way out of proportion all because the event is connected to important people through unlikely coincidences. Or because the right person was not in the room to make the right call...
    • One complaint about his novels was how most of the advanced tech gear he slavishly describes always worked: rarely did a gun jam or a helicopter crash due to accident. Although his very first novel has the hero present for the final act at all only because the team of officers it would have been far more logical to assign the mission to had died on the way there, in a helicopter crash.
  • Cool Boat: You might think every US naval vessel was this, given the amount of loving description Clancy visits on them. Clancy is almost never pictured without a baseball cap of a US Navy ship or unit, making those his Iconic Item.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The U.S. military, which makes plans for literally every conceivable military scenario. Probably Truth in Television.
  • Dirty Communists: Played more or less straight until The Cardinal of the Kremlin for the Soviets/Russians, but completely turned on its head afterwards, not only because of the fall of the Soviet Union. The trope is still applied to China, however.
  • Discussed Trope: Clancy loves to discuss the tropes related to Reality Is Unrealistic, largely via characters commenting on how people expect various aspects of police and spycraft to work because they saw it in a movie.
  • Doorstopper: Most of his novels.
  • Everybody Smokes: Not all the time, but the number of prominent characters who don't reach for a cig when the tension levels rise are few and far between.
  • Every Bullet is a Tracer: Averted, unsurprisingly. When tracers are used (particularly in the miniguns on the Pave Low helicopters in Clear and Present Danger), it's specifically mentioned that only one out of X bullets is a tracer round, for the purposes of assisting with aim. Given minigun rates of fire, it's also mentioned that it looks like a laser beam at full "rock and roll".
  • Extruded Book Product: In addition to the name-branded Cash-Cow Franchise series, Clancy’s later Ryanverse novels were collaborative works. How much of the writing was actually Clancy’s, if any, is unclear. After Clancy’s death in 2013, the Ryanverse series continued.
  • Failed Future Forecast: The Hunt for Red October takes place in the year it was written, 1984. But by the time the film was being made in 1990, the Cold War was in the last stretch and Russia was no longer considered an enemy of the US. This required the filmmakers to set it back in 1984, contrasting with the trend of later adaptations to just update the year and socio-political backdrop. The Sum of All Fears, which features the Soviet Union prominently, was released days after the August 1991 attempted coup by Soviet Communist hardliners, which was one of the major events leading up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union four months later.
  • Fictional Country: Averted. Because of Clancy's preference for realism, every place named in his stories or games exists in real life. This has led to some controversy when Ghost Recon Wildlands was set in Bolivia and presented the country as a narco-state.
  • For Want of a Nail: As mentioned above, this is one of Clancy's favorite tropes. At least once per book you'll have a major disaster occur due to a relatively minor detail, such as a faulty switch compromising an entire production line of cars and causing an international incident or a vibrating pipe causing a nuclear meltdown on a submarine.
  • Godwin's Law: When the story is trying to rapidly establish the villainy of a particular country or ideology, expect a certain German dictator to crop up. A lot.
  • Guy in Back: Featured in several novels, with one of the more prominent examples being CDR Jackson's back-seater in The Hunt for Red October becoming severely injured when Jackson's F-14 was attacked. The back-seater later gets mentioned briefly as taking command of his own carrier wing.
  • Hot Sub-on-Sub Action: More subs attack each other in Clancy's novels than in the entire history of naval warfare. On the other hand, most of these novels are premised on the Cold War heating up a bit, so it's entirely justified: after the '60s, that kind of sub-to-sub combat was not only possible but likely given that NATO and Warsaw Pact subs were constantly on one another's tails.
  • In Name Only: The works whose titles include "Tom Clancy's" only bear his name on the cover, other creators working off of basic setting outlines written by Clancy. In general, many of the "Tom Clancy's" novels are somewhat less well received than the works directly from his hand (or word processor), particularly in regards to the "Op-Center" book series.
  • Interservice Rivalry: All over the place. CIA vs. FBI, FBI vs. Secret Service, KGB vs. GRU, etc.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: A single throwaway line buried in Debt of Honor mentions that North and South Korea had recently been reunified. Which is exactly the kind of major event that Clancy usually takes a whole book to cover. Clancy's one-time collaborator Larry Bond covered this in Red Phoenix. Clancy may have more or less "incorporated it by reference."
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted. Gunshot wounds incapacitate and kill or nearly kill several protagonists.
  • Pink Mist: Clancy, for all your realistically gory headshot descriptions.
  • Red Scare: Communists, first in the USSR and later in the People's Republic of China, are frequent adversaries in the novels.
  • Reporting Names: Being a technothriller, the Soviet (and later Russian) military gear is almost always referred to by their reporting names, not the formal designations. Even Soviet/Russian characters utilize these sometimes, which makes no sense no matter how one looks at it. Lampshaded in Red Storm Rising where a Soviet politico speaking to the Western press uses the NATO reporting name for a submarine, but goes on to say "...of course we call it something else."
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Defied — in several novels it's pointed out that this does not work in real life. In most cases, the shooter has to use several more bullets and messily destroy the lock mechanism to open the door.
  • Shown Their Work: He actually had Navy personnel visit him demanding answers about what was in The Hunt for Red October, as some detail about submarine operation that he included in Red October, that he had pieced together himself, turned out to be not only correct but classified. The Soviet embassy in Washington reportedly made the novel required reading for its staff as well. Clancy explained the details were readily available in many library books on submarines. Not bad considering that Clancy was an insurance salesman with no prior military experience before becoming an author.
  • Shrine to Self: Several military characters are shown to have this attitude.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Soviet KGB troops tend to get this treatment, as distinct from the Red Army's soldiers. Even the Red Army soldiers show their disdain for their green-shoulder-board-wearing comrades.
  • Strawman Political: Clancy makes rather blatant use of strawman liberals, pacifists, and environmentalists throughout his novels. It's a given that such people will be morally weak as well.
    • Ed Kealty, widely regarded as being a Take That! directed against Ted Kennedy is a very Democratic one, although this may be a subversion: Arnie Van Damm notes that Kealty has no real principles, holds liberal views only in order to get himself elected, and would "fuck a snake," in order to get what he wants.
  • Take That!: Clancy takes the opportunity in several of his novels to note that none of the things that happen in Ian Fleming's James Bond novels would ever pass muster in reality.
  • Tear Your Face Off: Clancy is rather fond of this. Multiple books feature somewhat graphic descriptions of a well-placed headshot plastering someone's face against a wall.
  • Technobabble: Clancy's lengthy, loving descriptions of exactly how military technology works can occupy whole chapters.
  • Technology Porn: Lots, especially military technology.
  • Title Drop: Done in virtually all of his novels, with very few exceptions.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Clancy writes a lot of enemy plotting from their POV (as the protagonists rarely meet the antagonists directly). As said enemy plotters are frequently ideological and/or mentally unbalanced, their assessment of an operation can differ radically from what it will or could actually achieve.
  • Weapon Running Time: This plays into many of his novels.
    • The Hunt for Red October: Inverted. The Red October survives a torpedo hit because the torpedo doesn't run long enough. Its safety systems require a run of at least 400 meters before the warhead would arm, and it hits Red October just 350 meters after it's launched.
    • Red Storm Rising:
      • Aircraft use missiles as their long-range weapons (where "long-range" is anything beyond 500 meters). However, as in real life, all air-to-air (and most air-to-ground) missiles have top speeds in the 500-600mph range. This is a particular problem for the F-14 with its very long-range Phoenix missile: at long Phoenix range, the Tomcats must take every possible precaution against being detected, because the missiles take so long to reach their target that a forewarned target will be able to dodge, duck, or decoy the missiles and escape.
      • Submarines use both missiles and torpedoes, and both have the same problems: limited speed and limited fuel, which means limited range. Torpedoes also have top speeds between fifty and seventy knots, while submarines have top speeds ranging from twenty to forty knots. This means that under certain circumstances the submarine can outrun a pursuing torpedo. Even if the sub can't outrun a torpedo, it can use noisemakers and water conditions to dodge or fool the torpedo. A great deal of the skill in attacking an enemy sub comes from the need to get as close as possible before firing, so the target doesn't have time to employ any counter-tactics.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: Clancy has had mixed success in finding new Big Bads after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's a tossup whether Japan in Debt of Honor or a unified Iraq and Iran in Executive Orders is more implausible.
  • Yellow Peril: Tom Clancy loves this. Apart from multiple Ryanvese examples, SSN has China go to war with America over the Spratly Islands. Based on a submarine simulator Video Game.
  • Zeerust: From The Hunt for Red October on, a big part of the appeal of Clancy's techno-thriller style has been the central placing of speculative military technology that was assumed to be "just around the corner." Silent, non-propeller submarine propulsion, "Star Wars" strategic defense satellite weapons, Comanche helicopters, and "Dark Star" drones are all examples of showcased military projects on the drawing board or in development at the time books were written that never quite made it into being non-fictional, while others were abandoned or redesigned in real life.