Fiction Reviews

Debt of Honour

(199) Tom Clancy, pub, .99, pbk, pp. ISBN

There's a lot of interesting SF that's currently being published on the fringes of the genre, or even in disguise as thrillers. I'm talking about the Dale Browns, the Daniel Eastermans and the Tom Clancys of this world. None of them is writing overt SF, but nearly all of them are using SF elements. Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels (of which The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger have been turned into movies) take place in a self-consistent world in which elements from the previous novels play a role.

Following on from a nuclear attack on America in Sum of all Fears, the Americans and the Russians have destroyed the last of their ICBM's. Both sides' military forces are being downsized; the nuclear missile submarines are being scrapped, and the last few fast attack boats are out tracking whales. Everything seems fine with the world, until...

A freak car accident leads some members of Congress to call for a ban on Japanese cars imported to America. This starts a complex trade war in which the dollar is attacked and the American stock market goes into free-fall.

The trade war soon heats up when Japan invades Siapan and Guam. When it becomes clear that Japan has its own stock of ICBM's it looks as if America is in serious trouble; and National Security Adviser Jack Ryan is the only man who can save his country.

Getting facts across in a work of fiction is very difficult, and I always admire those writers who are able to do it effortlessly. I think that a lot of it is down to one's familiarity with the subject. In previous novels, Tom Clancy has managed to get details of military technology across to the reader without any pain: but this time he's dealing with the workings of the American economy, and I sensed that he wanted to tell us everything in great dense chunks. This made the first half of the novel a little boring, as most of the action took place over the telephone or by e-mail. However, once the action started it continued right up to the very last paragraph.

I kid you not: one of the most dramatic scenes in the whole book took place in the last couple of pages. All that, and a kind of cliff-hanger ending.

Jason Jarvis

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