*As with many of my articles, this one first appeared in AntiqueWeek:
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”
Best-selling author Tom Clancy, who died October 1 at the age of 66, wrote military novels that made a whole lot of sense. So much sense, in fact, that he was viewed suspiciously by certain members of the military.
According to Hillel Italie of The Associated Press, “In 1985, a year after the Cold War thriller The Hunt for Red October came out, author Tom Clancy was invited to lunch at the Reagan White House, where he was questioned by Navy Secretary John Lehman. Who, the secretary wanted to know, gave him access to all that secret material?”
Clancy, a meticulous researcher, insisted that he gathered all his information from unclassified, easily obtainable books, interviews, and technical manuals, a practice he continued until his death.
Like Ian Fleming, whose James Bond novels were touted by John F. Kennedy, Clancy’s work was given the unofficial presidential seal of approval by President Ronald Reagan, ironically enough. Reagan called The Hunt for Red October “the perfect yarn” when a reporter asked what he was reading as he stepped off Marine One, the book tucked under his arm.
Originally published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press, The Hunt for Red October had a first run of 15,000 copies, according to The Making of a Bestseller: From Author to Reader (1999, McFarland Publishers). However, shortly after the remarks by Reagan, the novel was picked up by Berkley Books and became a New York Times Best Seller.
According to some sources, including abebooks.com and veryfinebooks.com, first print, first edition copies of The Hunt for Red October are worth $400-$800 in Fine condition or better. However, other sources, such as nudelmanbooks.com, list the book at more than $3,000. Uncorrected proofs of the first edition, which, of course, are scarcer, typically command $2,000-$4,000.
The Hunt for Red October, which kick-started the techno-thriller subgenre, tells the tale of the pursuit of a runaway top secret Russian missile submarine. The hero is Jack Ryan, who was played by Alec Baldwin in the 1990 feature film based on the book. Other popular actors would portray Ryan in movies based on Clancy works as well, including Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears) and Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger).
Comic book scripter and science fiction novelist John Jackson Miller (Star Wars: Kenobi) credits Clancy as an influence on his personal and professional life. “There was a time when I was first in line for the new book and movie,” he said. “I saw The Hunt for Red October three times opening weekend, and Clancy’s work partially inspired me to pursue my foreign policy studies.”
Despite his keen interest in the armed forces, Clancy, who suffered from poor eyesight, never served in the military, a point Miller acknowledges: “My year on (Marvel Comics’) Iron Man was very much a Clancy homage, mimicking his drive for technical accuracy. He showed that you didn't have to spend a career in the military to write about it if you did your homework.”
Seventeen of Clancy’s novels have reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list, and his books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. His final book, Command Authority, co-authored with Mark Greaney and starring Jack Ryan, is scheduled for release December 3.