by Brian Andrews

From THE CARDINAL IN THE KREMLIN to RAINBOW SIX, Tom Clancy has captured the imaginations of millions of readers worldwide with his gripping tales of espionage, warfare, and geopolitical intrigue. But what exactly made Clancy the godfather of the military thriller and gold standard upon which today’s genre authors are judged? In this week’s blog post, I’ll explore five key factors that contributed to his phenomenal success.

1. Technical Accuracy & Attention to Detail

One of Clancy’s hallmark traits was his meticulous research and attention to technical detail. He had an uncanny ability to describe complex military hardware, procedures, and tactics with remarkable accuracy. This level of detail lent his stories an air of authenticity that readers found both compelling and immersive.

For example, in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, Clancy provided intricate descriptions of submarine operations and sonar technology. In doing so, he introduced readers to an underwater world that is inaccessible in every day life. How many people are afforded the opportunity to ride on a nuclear submarine? In Clancy books, readers are transported to the edge of the battlefield. His technical prowess not only educated readers but also made the story feel more real and immersive.

2. Geopolitical Insight & Prescience

Clancy had a keen understanding of global politics and often seemed to anticipate real-world events in his fiction. His narratives frequently explored complex geopolitical scenarios that felt eerily plausible.

In DEBT OF HONOR (1994), Clancy imagined a scenario where a civilian airliner was used as a weapon to attack the U.S. Capitol. This chillingly foreshadowed the events of 9/11, demonstrating Clancy’s ability to envision potential future threats. Similarly, his 1986 novel RED STORM RISING depicted a conventional war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, imagining strategies and technologies that would later be used in the first Gulf War.

3. Character Development & Human Drama

While Clancy was known for his technical acumen, he also excelled at creating memorable characters and compelling human dramas. His protagonists, like Jack Ryan and John Clark, evolved over multiple books, allowing readers to form deep connections with them and their families.

Jack Ryan’s multi-book journey from CIA analyst to President of the United States showcased Clancy’s skill in long-term character development. Readers watched Ryan grow, face personal and professional challenges, and grapple with the moral burden of leadership. This human element provided an emotional core to Clancy’s military thrillers, balancing the technical aspects with relatable character arcs.

4. Mastery of Pacing & Multiple Subplots

Clancy was a master of pacing, skillfully weaving multiple subplots into a cohesive narrative that keep readers on the edge of their seats. He often employed a technique of cutting between different storyline threads, building tension across various fronts before bringing them together in a climactic convergence.

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER exemplifies this approach. The novel juggles several plotlines – including covert operations in Colombia, political maneuvering in Washington, and Jack Ryan’s personal investigations – maintaining suspense across all fronts before dramatically tying them together. This technique created a sense of global scale while keeping the narrative propulsive and multi-faceted.

5. Accessibility & Enlightenment

Despite the complexity of his plots and military subject matters, Clancy had a remarkable ability to make technical and strategic concepts accessible to the everyday reader. He loved weaving explanations of military jargon, intelligence tradecraft, and geopolitical concepts seamlessly into his narratives, educating readers while entertaining them.

In PATRIOT GAMES, Clancy explained the intricacies of satellite surveillance and signals intelligence in a way that was both comprehensible and integral to the plot. This educational aspect of Clancy’s writing appealed to readers who enjoyed learning about these topics within the context of a thrilling story.

In Summary

Tom Clancy’s success as a military thriller author stemmed from a unique combination of technical knowledge, geopolitical insight, strong character development, narrative skill, and an ability to educate while entertaining. His attention to detail satisfied technophiles and military enthusiasts alike, while his storytelling chops and character development ensured his books appealed to a broad audience.

Clancy’s legacy extends beyond his novels. His name has become a brand associated with military fiction, film & television, and hugely successful video game franchises. The enduring popularity of his work and the characters he created are a testament to his writing skill and the appeal of his approach in the thriller genre.

Tom Clancy passed away in 2013, but his characters persist today. Gifted authors such as Mark Greaney, Mike Madden, Don Bentley, and Marc Cameron have carried on Clancy’s legacy by continuing the Jack Ryan and Jack Ryan Sr. series. Now, I’m humbled to add two more names to the list of standard bearers: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson. Our first Jack Ryan novel, ACT OF DEFIANCE, is our tribute to Tom and a love letter to the novel that launched an entire genre: THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.

Carrying the mantle of Clancy was a daunting responsibility, but by staying faithful to the formula that made Tom’s books so iconic and successful, we were able to write a sequel to the greatest submarine novel of all time. As a former submariner and naval officer, I can say with FULL FORCE AND EFFECT that Tom Clancy’s writing inspired me to join the Navy and become an undersea warrior. Thank you Tom, for launching the military thriller genre and inspiring millions of fans to learn about and appreciate military service, and guys like me to serve this great and noble country.