Red Storm Rising

By Tom Clancy

Alternate History/Technothriller

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Red Storm Rising is one of those novels that’s difficult to classify after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of course the danger of writing a “future history” about the cold war warming up to a conventional war in Europe were already quite evident in the pages of General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War published in 1978 and depicting a near future 1985 where Jimmy Carter is still president and an emboldened U.S.S.R. attacks. The lesson is simple: political events often move farther and faster than imagination and quickly move so-called future histories like Red Storm Rising firmly into the category of alternate history.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Red Storm Rising is an excellent book whether it’s a contemporary military thriller or an alternate history military thriller. It’s the story of military officers and servicemen from the top levels of command down to the lowliest grunt in the thick of things being forced to prosecute a conventional war that none of them really want to fight. The conflict rages in Iceland, the Atlantic, Russia, and across Germany with fast paced action and all the military technoporn you would expect from a Tom Clancy novel.

Characterization is thin, jingoistic (on both sides) and hamfisted, but that’s about par for the course for a Clancy novel. At the very least Red Storm Rising doesn’t suffer from the character sock puppet author tracts that tend to derail the plot in his later books.┬áSubtle characterization isn’t why you read a Clancy book anyways.

Clancy is the master of military drama and Red Storm Rising, only his second published novel, is early enough that he still delivers the edge of your seat action without much of the derailing philosophizing I mentioned above. Red Storm Rising is about two giant armies grinding together across the Atlantic and on the front lines in Europe. The characters we that carry us through the conflict are just as much along for the ride as the readers, but Clancy’s mastery of military strategy is good enough that you probably won’t even notice.

Clancy is an author who you either love or hate, and at this point in his career most people know exactly where they fall on that line. I’ve always enjoyed his books. They’re the literary equivalent of a big action popcorn flick that lets you check out for a bit and enjoy the ride. And Red Storm Rising is definitely Clancy working at the peak of his form before he gained protection from editors and started to lose the plot.