My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.
A military thriller so gripping in its action and so convincing in its accuracy it’s rumored that the White House debriefed the author. The theme: the greatest espionage coup in history. The story: the chase for a top secret Russian missile sub. The Hunt for Red October remains a masterpiece of military fiction by one of the world’s most popular authors.
Chris Kuzneski is one of the many fans of Tom Clancy’s debut. I, on the other hand, am not. Kuzneski starts off talking about a moment during Reagan’s presidency when he was seen reading the book, which helped to spark its popularity. Clancy himself admits he got lucky; who knows if his career would have taken off like it did without a presidential endorsement?
“Clancy’s debut novel ushered in a brand-new, extremely popular genre: the modern techno-thriller, books that included a massive amount of technical details and cutting-edge technology while maintaining action and suspense.” A few words from that sentence stick out to me. Massive, for one… which in this novel feels like an understatement. But also action and suspense. Those are the most important parts of a thriller, and while they weren’t absent from The Hunt for Red October, they were definitely overshadowed; I felt like the book was 75% “techno” and only 25% “thriller.”
Maybe it’s because I didn’t live through the Cold War (or at least wasn’t old enough to understand the little that I did), but I just have a hard time relating to the main conflict here. The story – after you strip away all of the technical details – is interesting, and I wanted to know how it all turned out. But I didn’t feel any urgency.
On the plus side, it made for a pretty good movie adaptation. I could tell while I was reading that I’d probably like it better as a movie, and my suspicions were proven correct a couple weeks later when I finally watched it. The intricacies of politics and intelligence and submarines and naval warfare were all stripped away, leaving only those details that moved the plot forward.
The Hunt for Red October launched a career, and it introduced a hero of several books and movies. If Kuzneski is to be believed, it also helped to define a subgenre (though Crichton was already writing at this point, so I think techno-thrillers were on their way up anyway). But I just can’t call it a must-read.
Twenty-six down, seventy-four to go…
Next month I’ll be discussing Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact.