Red Rabbit

Tom Clancy novels were some of the first real adult reading that I enjoyed. I read (and reread, and reread) The Hunt For Red October when I was 12, and several others (particularly Red Storm Rising) received a similar treatment as I discovered them.

However, as time went by, the stories became more and more implausible to my increasingly jaded eye. Jack Ryan the intel analyst who ends up in the middle of operations and somehow comes out on top I can believe—Jack Ryan the intel analyst who does it again and again and AGAIN and somehow ends up President is very hard to swallow. The last book of the series that I really enjoyed was The Sum of All Fears--let’s not talk about the movie.

To be fair, certain other of the characters were pretty interesting and had books which focused more on their exploits--Without Remorse featuring the adaptable and very scary Mr. Clark was grim but enjoyable. But in general, I just kind of gave up on Clancy’s fiction.

I’m telling you this not because you are likely to be fascinated by my changing reading tastes over time (although perhaps you are), but so that you may understand where I’m coming from when I decided to read Red Rabbit, a paperback from 2003 featuring a younger Jack Ryan from the mid-80s—after Patriot Games but before Red October. I didn’t pick this book because I had a deeply felt need to rejoin the Ryan story arc—I picked this book because I hadn’t read it yet and nothing better presented itself.

Let’s digress a bit: What makes a Tom Clancy novel (of the classic persuasion) fun? First, they tend heavily toward explaining (and utilizing) technical things; whether it be submarine propulsion systems or nuclear weapons treaties, Mr. Clancy has a way of explaining things that appeals to the inner geek. Second, there is a wide cast of characters all moving toward their own purposes and setting events into motion by their interactions—the process is like a train wreck sometimes, and sometimes it’s the hero’s job to stop the train. Third, the pacing starts slow, but hundreds of pages of character development and fateful decisions and mysterious actions which only gradually reveal their significance generally culminate in the last 1/3 of the book being rather exciting—I think the phrase is “page turner.”

It’s easy for me to define the qualities that make up an entertaining and enjoyable Tom Clancy novel because they were all AWOL in Red Rabbit.

I wanted to like this book, but it really feels like a throwaway gap-filler. On every page is a reference to events or characters from another book—perhaps people who aren’t important yet, but will be. There are also just plain silly things to show the reader how insanely clever and wise and prescient the hero is—buying Starbucks stock, for example. I guess I'm supposed to read that and think, “Ha, how clever, he bought Starbucks back before they were big. Starbucks is a real company. Wow, this book is super realistic.” Even if I didn’t hate Starbucks, I would still find this device insulting.

The cast of characters is not very big, and very few of the “minor” characters have anything like development. The pacing is just bizarre. There are three successive chapters in which the KGB head is doing nothing but thinking about how he ought to respond to a crisis. There is no new information given to him or anything in between—it’s just like the whole thing was being dragged out to fill space.

Perhaps this was because the Grand Evil Plot turned out to be So Incredibly Lame.

Particularly objectionable was how Ryan somehow ended up involved in operations twice on pretexts that not even the characters could really believe. Even so, the pacing managed to somehow keep these operations from being exciting. I had to re-read a few paragraphs because I found myself scanning over what turned out to be the climactic action sequence.

There are things to like about this book, I’m sure, but having just finished, I couldn’t tell you what they are. A sideplot about Ryan’s doctor wife adjusting to British socialized medicine was abandoned without resolution—I’m not sure what it says about me that I found this fairly interesting and was annoyed not to learn how it came out.

When held up to the standards of classics like Cardinal of the Kremlin, it becomes apparent that publishers are now just printing any old piece of crap that comes off the word processor with TOM CLANCY written on the front. I’m sorry, Tom: I love your earlier work and the nonfiction I’ve read, and I would be happy to gush about it given half an opportunity, but this book blew chunks and someone ought to have told you that before.

One more thing: the protagonist whose codename in the book is “Rabbit” is named Zaitsev, which means (if I recall correctly) “rabbit.” Brilliant. I’m amazed at the cleverness.

I give it 3 out of 10 bunnies. At least one of those is because it's a really long book and killed most of a day in a very boring place.



Red Rabbit?

You're kidding right? There really is a book called that by Tom Clancy? I don't think I've ever heard it mentioned before now. And I agree--I very much enjoyed the first couple of books, but then I couldn't stay interested in the later ones. Have any of the boxes of books we mailed to you arrived yet? I think there are four boxes on the way.


They're on hold at Bagram, because he'll have trouble bringing them all back from the fire base where he is now. At least, that's what I gathered from our last conversation. He asked them to keep his packages there and he'll get them whenever he returns.