What to say about the passing of Tom Clancy?
Well, first, he was no Elmore Leonard, whose passing a few weeks ago was a huge loss. Leonard was a great stylist, a keen observer, and a master plotter. His stories were lean and mean until the end, and he had a knack for throwing unexpected events into his novels that you never saw coming, but made perfect sense when you looked at it in context of the story.
(I’m saying this now because I was in the throes of blogging apathy when Leonard died, and never gave him a proper sendoff in this forum.)Clancy’s work probably outsold Leonard’s, but then he practically invented the genre of the technothriller. And if he didn’t, one of my Facebook friends commented earlier, then he certainly made it a popular genre and refined it to the n-th degree.
Unlike Leonard, Clancy got a little lazy in his later years. His success enabled him to purchase part ownership of the Baltimore Orioles, and I’m sure that took up much of his time. At one point he went seven years between releasing a novel, and when he did, astute readers noticed that it had been written as a collaboration with another author. All of the novels he has released since then have been in collaboration with one of three other writers. One of those, a title called Search and Destroy, was cancelled by Clancy’s publisher prior to release. I always meant to put on what’s left of my Journalist’s Hat and try to find out why, but never did.
(I picked up on this before the book’s release, and my original post about it, along with the ensuing series on Ghostwriting it inspired, has proven to be one of the top draws to this site.)
Chock the ghostwriters up to “old author’s syndrome”, wherein an aging author reaches the point that ideas are more plentiful than the time to write them, and so they get farmed out to a competent lesser-known writer who can match the spirit and style. This isn’t a new thing – Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCafferey, and Clive Cussler count among those who have done this, and if you look carefully at the new releases, you’ll see others – even younger successful authors – doing this now.
Like all popular authors, Clancy also succumbed to King’s Bloat – a publisher-inflicted disorder in which editors are too busy and/or scared to edit the work of an author who has become an 800 pound gorilla, and subsequent manuscripts suffer in quality as a result. I loved Executive Orders, but it could have lost some wordage and been even better. The last Clancy novel I tried to read was The Bear and the Dragon, and I felt it was such a mess that I never finished reading it (I can’t say if Clancy’s three ghostwriting collaborators put him into a Word Watchers program to take off some of that weight – I might have to pick up one of the newer ones to see). For me, the best of the pre-bloat Clancy came in The Cardinal of the Kremlin, in which Clancy proved that he could shuck aside a lot of the tech stuff and write what was basically a darn good spy novel.
So the industry that was Tom Clancy has left us, and there’s nobody that I can see on the horizon that could take his place. Perhaps that’s a good thing. And no, I’m not even going to try. I’m still struggling to become the first Joe Clifford Faust.