The King is dead!
For myself and millions of others, Tom Clancy, was the King of the techno-thriller. I was brought into reading fiction by his excellent work. I have first editions of every one of his Jack Ryan series. But what I really got from Mr. Clancy was a reverence and respect for those who risk their tomorrows for our safety today. Before The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and the others, military heroes were mostly one-dimensional war-fighters. Clancy opened them up, made them regular people with a skill set to be respected and he gave them souls. Without overtly writing it out, he revealed the warrior’s code, he brought a level of admiration, professionalism and honor that filled in the outlines sketched by the likes of John Wayne et al.
Clancy also appealed to me because he was a master at explaining the technical on the way to laying the foundation for a heart-racing story. Also because he was just an insurance salesmen fooling around with his kid’s video game and synthesized one of the greatest Naval techno-thrillers of all time.
His prescient detailing of a jumbo jet passenger plane being used as a guided missile years before 9/11 was the kernel at the heart of this very blog, “It’s Only Fiction `til It Happens!”
I have homages to TC throughout my work. Just short of plagiarism, my Dick Bridgestone, super-operative, who is a fierce warrior and expert spy, is kinfolk of John Terrence Kelly or as we know him, Clancy’s John Clark.
In fact, in my first book, I had my lead character, Bill Hiccock actually consult a best selling author on some “What-if” scenarios as he tried to figure out what the bad guys were up to. With Clancy in mind, I set the meeting on a palatial mid-atlantic estate on the Chesapeake, replete with military artifacts and statues and hardware on the grounds. I had him negotiating his “rate” as getting to fire off the 16-inch guns on the U.S.S. Iowa, his fall back position was if he could shoot off one cruise missile. Speaking as a “novelist” he gave my Professor Hiccock the novel idea which became the inciting element to his quest. My “Clancy” couched his idea in the phrase, “If I were writing the book I’d….”
Tom Clancy has achieved what many of us write for, immortality. Although he is gone, his work will never leave us.
God rest your soul, Tom Clancy.
Here’s the excerpt from The Eighth Day where I had Hiccock meet with Frank “Clancy” Harris:
CHAPTER 12 PEN AND SWORD
The exclamation “Pull!” was followed shortly by an ear-piercing shotgun blast which shattered a clay pigeon. The pieces fell serenely into the Chesapeake Bay. The skeeter, in shooting goggles, ear protectors, duck hunter’s hat, and red flannel jacket, was bestselling author Frank Harris. When he was 45, he started fooling around with some military-styled video games, and a year later wrote his first thriller, which became a huge hit.
At the age of 55, the former bank manager was a multi-million-dollar word machine churning out high-tech spy and political novels. Although Harris never served in the military, when his publisher dressed him up in pseudo military casual attire for the picture on his dust jackets, he looked every bit the part of a retired flag officer. He had handsome features, and the peaked cap covering his balding head made him appear years younger.
He was firing from the jetty that extended into the bay from his 25-acre waterfront estate. Hiccock, standing next to him, recoiled from the kickback as the next blast emptied out of the double-barrel shotgun in his hands.
“This is about the terrorists isn’t it?” Harris asked as he removed his ear protectors and walked over to the gun table.
Hiccock smiled. How could he have expected this guy not to figure it out? “Let’s make believe you didn’t ask that and I didn’t nod, okay?”
“Just like in one of my books. What’s the Washington braintrust think?”
“They’re looking for the ghost of cold wars past. They are so inside that box, a light goes on when you open the door. That’s why I’m here.”
“Generals always lose the start of the next war because they fight it like the last war. After a few licks, they’ll catch on.” Harris wiped down the shotgun and placed it on the table.
“Something tells me the clock may run out before we get off the last shot.”
“Well, I think I know what you’re looking for, but it’s going to cost you.”
Hiccock surveyed the vast accumulated wealth of Harris’ surroundings. A quarter of a mile behind him, knights in armor, forever mounted on stuffed horses, stood on motionless display behind the 20-foot glass windows of Harris’ armaments room. A Sherman Tank was propped up like a statue with a landscaped circular garden surrounding it amidst original Remmington sculptures with a few Robert E. Lee pieces thrown in for good measure. It was Harris’ private homage to man’s largest and longest-running endeavor: war.
“Forgive me, but what else could you possibly need or want?”
“The U.S.S. Iowa.”
“I want one magazine battery, three cycles, nine rounds,” Harris said matter-of-factly as he reset his “ear muffs” and heaved a shotgun into the ready position. “Pull!” he called to his houseboy, butler, or whoever was launching the clay pigeons, 50 yards downrange from them. The clay pigeon disappeared in a smear of powder. “I get to squeeze ‘em off!”
“Let me get this straight, Mr. Harris. You want the United States battleship Iowa for target practice?”
“Each shell weighs 2,700 pounds, is 16 inches around and can hit a target 20 miles away. Ever hear one of those babies go off as it belches out flame and smoke? What a sight! What a sound!” He gently wiped down his prize shotgun. He picked up a smaller weapon.
“How about a million dollars, a plane, and enough fuel to make it to a sympathetic country?”
“Okay, one cruise missile?”
“I can’t believe I am negotiating weapons of mass destruction with you!”
“That’s what you need to afford the best-selling author who has everything.”
“Deal. I hope.”
“Trance-inducing visual graphics,” Harris said plainly.
Hiccock again smiled. “That’s certainly outside the box. You mean brainwashing by computer?”
“If it was my novel and I was writing it, I would have the bad guys lulling regular people in with hypnotic graphics, the kind only a computer can make. Clicking the mouse would make the graphics swirl and perform. When their mouse click responses start to lag or match a predetermined rhythm, then I‘d know they were going under and ready to accept input. All that would be left to do is implant the commands. Maybe by telephone.”
“That is brilliant. I’ll order a check of the phone company logs.”
“Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have told you. It would have made a great book. Well it’s yours now. Time to feed more fish.”
“Feed more fish?”
Harris picked up one of the target pigeons. “I have them specially made from freeze-dried compressed fish food. Mixed with a little egg, they harden like clay. The minute they hit the water they re-hydrate into fish food.” He brandished an Uzi sub- machine gun. “Watch this.” He smiled at Hiccock. “Pull!” he barked.
With the sound of a zipper, the gun spit out 30 rounds per second. The plate was not exactly shattered as much as separated in mid-air, continuing in the rough shape of a plate until gravity pulled the falling pieces apart. “Neat huh?” he asked with the excitement of a schoolboy.