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on 23 November 2000
I bought the latest Clancy/Ryan novel because I have always been a Clancy fan, and the idea of the clash between Russia and China in Siberia is an interesting, and increasingly plausible scenario. Ultimately though I was dissapointed with this novel, and Clancy's work has shown distinct deterioration in quality since Debt of Honour.
Increasingly Clancy's novels are becoming more a vehicle for his own political views, and less an entertaining read. Clancy manages to get every element of the right wing conservative political philosophy in the novel - maybe he should run for the Republican ticket in 2004! To me a novel should not be a medium to impose one's own political views on the rest of the world - that's rather selfish of the author.
The book is very long, and the first 700 pages drags on and on and on...yet it is easy to know where it is all heading. Russia is an economic mess after 70 years of communism. It discovers a big oil and gold reserve in Siberia, and needs US assistance to exploit it. President Ryan turns this opportunity into an excuse to bring Russia into NATO - a very unlikely prospect in the real world - just in time to deal with a plot by the 'Evil Empire Mark II' - the Chinese - to try and grab the oil and gold themselves.
The 'good guys' - the Americans and the Russians are cardboard cutout characters. Ryan has become the 'perfect Republican President we would all like'. He is a man of honor, truth and justice - with perhaps one failing of liking to smoke. Forget sacrificing principles to get into power, and stay in power - Ryan never does anything wrong and is purely concerned about doing good in the world. His advisors are equally virtuous and decent people - Washington is Camelot once again. The Russians are portrayed as honourable warriors having put the past behind them. Their politicians are carbon copies of Ryan - their soldiers are all carbon copies of American military officers. A nice vision - but neither the US or Russia is really like this. Politicans are corrupt, principles are negotiable, doing good is optional. Soldiers whilst having a sense of duty and honour can make mistakes, can be afraid, can be corrupted.
Clancy paints the Chinese as one dimensional, bumbling bad guys - so over the top in fact that China could be the Third Reich reincarnated. The political leadership are portrayed as purely evil in every respect, and totally 'stupid' in their ability to assess the intentions or policies of the outside world. Yet the real world suggests that the Chinese Government are in fact far more intelligent and formidable as a potential opponent than Clancy would have us believe. An intelligent, calculating adversary is for me far more interesting than a bunch of stupid dictators, and the Chinese are not stupid.
Likewise when the action finally does begin, Clancy portray's the Chinese armed forces as equally as 'stupid' as the political leadership. Clearly Clancy has ignored the reality of current Chinese military planning which is based around exploiting US military weaknesses via assymetric response. Instead, the PLA blindly charge into the sights of US and Russian armed forces, with the US easily winning purely through reliance on superior military technology. There are zero or minimal casualties on the US side - real wars in the future are not likely to be that way, especially given that the Chinese did learn the lessons of the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo Conflict, and have developed their military strategy around denying the US an easy, cost free victory. Clancy clearly is an advocate of the Revolution in Military Affairs, and paints a picture of the US forces as reluctant warriors who always win because they are after all the 'good guys' and because they have the 'silver bullet' of advanced tech. In this assertion, Clancy completely ignores (or maybe he is ignorant of?) the on-going debate about the true value of advanced military technology in future war. It will not be as one sided as Clancy would have us believe.
The novel reaches a climax in dealing with the issue of use of weapons of mass destruction. Clancy portrays a future in which the US and Russia have eliminated virtually all of their nuclear capabilities - also highly unlikely - and here Clancy manages to make it clear that he is an advocate of National Missile Defense. I am too...but not at the expense of maintaining a nuclear deterrent. Clancy provides an 'easy test' for an NMD capability and thus does not have to face the question of what happens if hundreds or thousands of warheads are inbound. He ignores the reality that the Chinese are planning to upgrade their capability from the 20 or so old liquid fueled ICBMs they currently have to maybe several hundred mobile solid fueled ICBMs - because this clearly would fly in the face of his distaste for maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent in a period when the WMD threat is increasing - not decreasing.
Ultimately the perfect President Jack Ryan, and some good old American technological know how saves the day, in China the young educated capitalist students rise up and the evil dictators and Chinese communism are banished to the ashheap of history. Predictable, unimaginative, boring. The Americans and the Russians walk off into the sunset together, having saved the world for democracy, and we all wait for the next novel.
I have nothing against a conservative world view. Were I an American (I'm not - I'm Australian) I would probably vote Republican rather than Democrat. But having or portraying a realistic world view is vital - and in The Bear and the Dragon, Clancy portrays a completely unrealistic perspective of how America should be, what it should be doing, and how it might defeat future security challenges. Clancy's novel is way too black and white - when in fact the world of international security is always shades of gray.
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VINE VOICEon 8 November 2002
This book is INCREDIBLY American. Tom Clancy portrays every country in the most stereotyped and cliched way possible. The Russians are useless at anything hi-tech and out of date, the British are alchoholic estate-owners who can't swear properly, the Chinese are baby-killing, barbarian communists and dear old America is brilliant and invincible.
My teeth grind as Clancy takes 800 pages explaining the political background and China's arrogance while making every American character a genius/super-spy etc. The novel chugs through endless technical boredom: Clancy has forgotten that war isn't about statistics, its about killing people.
The war between Russia and China is a joke. Russia's only detailed action is a couple of fixed-position AT turrets. Clancy introduces Russia to NATO as an excuse to send in Uncle Sam, who doesn't lose a single casualty (!) while butchering the enemy with ludicrous hi-tech weapons.
Clancy has no apparent grasp of the state of modern war. There is no close range combat, just Apache helicopters and super-tech tanks descimating crude Chinese tanks while invisible spy cameras hover at 40,000 feet forever, and zoom in so you can read people's diaries in full colour. Very realistic.
The whole thing is simply terrible. Only insecure Americans should apply, so they can feel good about how "this great nation" can crush anything that threatens it.
To some up the novel: Clancy says that after the terrible state of bombing in Yugloslavia "the air force had shaped up its act". The air force didn't mess up in Afghanistan now, did it?
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on 6 November 2001
The Ryan series is patchy at best, and some of Clancy's most enjoyable work hasn't even featured his most popular character (Red Storm Rising, the pretty much Ryan-less Rainbow Six). However, ever since *becoming president* any residual appeal has pretty much evaporated. Bear and the Dragon takes us into Jack Ryans second term in office, as he faces the prospect of a showdown's between the east's biggest and oldest rivals. The result is entirely disappointing.
Executive Orders was tolerable but got bogged down with Clancy's turgid handling of domestic policy and saddled with a pathetically anticlimatic ending. Bear and the Dragon continues this trend adding an utterly predictable plot and racial stereotyping that is actively scary. The depiction of the Chinese as aliens (referred to throughout, in fact, as 'Klingons') makes Rising Sun's handling of Japan look enlightened
However, Clancy has committed a worse crime in producing a 'thriller' that is in no way thrilling. The plot is signposted from 50 pages in (but takes a further 550 to actually get going), the 'whodunnit' subplot is utterly predictable and the 'climax' less satisfying than any other Clancy book. This is compounded by an inability to effectively handle highly emotional scenes, giving the pivotal moment in the plot a cringingly mawkish feel rather than any sense of pathos. Even the return of old favourites John Clark and Ding Chavez seems tacked on and gimmicky. Clancy is largely just going through the motions- as an earlier review said, he continues writing until reaching his requisite 3 ½ inches. He can still write big battle scenes, but I felt pretty cheated with only a tiny fraction of the book having any action, and the rest doing little to advance the plot.
I should declare personal bias- I am not of the same political persuasion as Mr Clancy, nor of the same nationality, but I have greatly enjoyed his work in the past. However, I do not believe, on the basis of this book, that I will be reading any of his work in the future.
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on 6 September 2002
After a slow and confusing start the story romped along and kept me going to the end. Much better than Rainbow Six and I would recommend it for that car/bus/plane journey.
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on 4 January 2002
As a fan of Tom Clancy I am always compelled to read "his" books. However Tom is now becoming tiring, the plot is inevitable lacking in substance and surprise, the technology always works and the characters lack any sparkle. Clancy books are becoming James Bond, Dirk Pitt affairs which are not the audience they are aimed at? This book lacks intrigue and interest and by the end was tiresome and only completed because I had read the first 600 pages. It is time to ditch Jack Ryan (predictable all American hero) and go back to what made Clancy good (see Red O, Red Storm Rising) or use what could be interesting plots (Russia v China in Siberia) with realistic characters.
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on 14 February 2001
If you're interested in quality, read on: The last Clancy book I'll read. Although this has TC's fingerprints all over it, you get the feeling that he has a team of researchers and undergrads putting together the tale in a first draft form after which he edits and puts his stamp of approval on it. The name sells the work after all, not the quality (the American way of marketing alas, and we Brits always were suckers for everything American). The final chapters move along at a good thriller pace and that's about the best I can say for it. For any discerning readers (surely there must be a few left) who wish to avoid scamped (a Yorkshire word for hurried) work, I would suggest they try the former British military man John Templeton Smith and his novel "White Lie". I'd bet money (not an easy thing for a Yorkshire lad to say) that Smith's work will be around a lot longer than Clancy.
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on 31 December 2009
I'm a Tom Clancy fan. Despite the cardboard characters, the unconvincing dialogue, the political sermonizing, and the fascination with gadgetry (usually of the lethal sort) his book have something. The man can tell a story. When he starts to build to the climax he holds your attention, and the climax is usually riveting. Get past the first, rather slow section, in a Tom Clancy novel and you're probably hooked on the rest of it. But not here.
What went wrong? "The Bear and the Dragon" has all the bad things, and too few of the good ones. It's too long, there are great lengths of text that could have come out, the politics and action are way over the top. And worst of all, the climax is badly written, unconvincing, and lacks the immediacy and mind's-eye descriptiveness of previous books.
Not only that but the characters - most of whom we have met in previous novels - have failed to develop. Some have actually regressed, and that includes the central figure Jack Ryan, whose behaviour at the end is both illogical and (in the worst sense) un-Presidential. And Clancy acts as if he has just discovered the "F" word and uses far, far too much, putting it in the mouths of characters, make and female, quite indiscriminately. The effect is to annoy and the final result rather childish.
The whole book has a tired and formulaic feel. I would have given it two-and-a-half stars, that's because, under it all, it is a Tom Clancy. What a pity it didn't receive some firm and good editing on its way to publication.
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on 24 February 2015
My previous review `Enjoyable reading and mostly plausible' was unfortunately a little `optimistic'. Having got to the part where the war against the Chinese begins and American Arms triumph over the (Chinese) gooks in Tom Clancy's world of America the Supreme make-believe, I gave up.
I don't mind that he wants to advertise US technology. As an American he is entitled to do that.
What I object to is his very American characterisation of The Enemy (anyone different from or opposing the US) as Stupid Unthinking Imitators of Nazi Jackboots going blindly to war like robots to be slaughtered by America the Great and turned into sub-Americans with slit eyes but Americans nevertheless, all kowtowing to Ryan's version of American Moral Righteousness. Yet in the American view either the whole world is stupid or it is American, and it only remains for the US to demonstrate its utterly invincible mil tech for everyone to realise the folly of opposing or even being different from Uncle Sam.
The fact that the US has not won a single conflict since the War against Japan in 1941-45 is ignored, by most Americans. GW1 was won against a million peasant conscripts who hated SH more than the US. The anti-Iraq Coalition could barely handle the numbers surrendering.
Americans do not win wars; they just destroy efficiently (as in the battle at the end of Bear and Dragon) and then go home, leaving everyone else to clear up the mess. A bit like spoilt teenagers trashing a place for the hell of it... The Chinese, Russians and others are every bit as intelligent as Americans, probably more so. 10 years of US fighting and US defeat in Iraq and Afghan amply demonstrates this.
So The Bear and the Dragon is an enjoyable read up until the battle, with enough humour in it to lighten the Moral Righteousness stuff. Unfortunately then it becomes a rerun of WW2 yet again, with all the smarts and the hi tech on the US side. Its insulting, deeply offensive to the Chinese and only just plausible about the FSU. It was written in 2000 so after a decade of US unipolar dominance (The Wall fell in 1990 and the US with Allies was successful for 100 hours in GW1, its only military victory since 1945). So Clancy is writing from this perspective. What a difference 15 years make in the world of Great Power politics!
Now in 2015 with the Russian/Ukraine sit in a mess, the ME in upheaval (Clancy's UIR starting a conventional war truly implausible if one knows anything of the ME), China on track to beating the US in economy and equal it in hi-tech sometime within a generation, this story is practically unreadable in 2015 with any degree of plausibility. I feel deeply disappointed in it. The world has changed radically; the US hasn't nor have its attitudes to the world. To my mind Clancy reflects those rather anachronistic and ossified attitudes very distinctly. In fact the US of 2015 rather reflects the Chinese that Clancy describes in his book more than the present day Chinese themselves do.
The 2 stars are for the humour and the technical descriptions both of which are good.
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on 28 August 2001
That's about how long it takes this book to get going. I found it very hard to retain any sort of interest in the book during this, frankly rather dull, period. In my opinion, Clancy would have done better to have chopped out this entire section of the book and summarised it into nearer four or five. As Tony Niemczyk has mentioned before, the British army seem to get left behind in the fighting somewhat - as indeed do the Russians - and it unfortunately becomes a tale of America saving the day. Perhaps Clancy is taking after directors of American-made war movies? Anyhow, although the American home audience would have enjoyed it, it would have been nice for foreigners to have got a look in. All that said, once the war is going in the last 300-400 pages, it does become a gripping read and evidence of what the author can accomplish when he puts his mind to it.
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on 27 August 2000
Alright, so it's OK. And that's the way most novels are, just OK. The problem arises because this is Tom Clancy and he's supposed to be way better than merely OK. He's supposed to be the very best. And in the past, he lived up to that expectation. Now, I have to wonder. I don't think The Bear and the Dragon is a bad book; as I said, it's OK. Maybe a better description would be dull.
I discovered Clancy and the entire Technothriller genre quite by accident while wandering through my local library in North Toronto eight years ago. Picked up a copy of The Sum of All Fears. Terrific! Read, Patriot Games. Good. The Hunt for Red October. Good. The Cardinal of the Kremlin. Fabulous. Pretty soon, I'd read everything Clancy had written. He was always good and when he was really on his game, nobody could touch him. Stephen Coonts, Larry Bond, et al . . . were mere pretenders to the throne. They lacked the complex plotting and rush of believable action Clancy unleashed in every novel. Unfortunately, I think it all started to change around the time of Debt of Honor...
...And now we have The Bear and the Dragon. Boring. Not as bad as Rainbow Six, but not by much either. Ryan has a unique role in this one. In essence, he complains: "Why can't the President do anything? Why do I have to live like this? Woe is me?" Jack. Shut up! You sound like a broken record. Ryan's entire purpose in this book appears to be giving speeches. And I do mean speeches (or more accurately polemics)...this is a thriller, not Atlas Shrugged! ...when I'm reading light entertainment, I don't want to be hammered over the head with partisan philosophy. Wether I'm in agreement with the sentiments or not is irrelevant. If I want cogent arguments for or against particular issues I'll read The New Republic or National Review. I simply don't want to get nagged at one way or the other in a Technothriller. Whenever Ryan appears the story stops. Again, I don't care about the specifics you're arguing. Please do them in an op-ed piece or write nonfiction. Just leave them out of your fiction!
I could go on. The Chinese attacking Russia and taking over Siberia? I don't care how demoralized the ex-Red Army is, the Rodina is sacred! Did you not say so yourself repeatedly in The Cardinal of the Kremlin? The Russians would use nuclear weapons before they would ever allow the dismemberment of their nation by a traditional enemy. The Chinese are not that ill-informed. And do you really have to refer to them constantly as Chinks, slant-eyes and Klingons? There is a troubling racist theme that predominates throughout the book. I didn't care for it at all.
When I first started reading your novels, I tried to get through the books of your competitors. It didn't work. Tom, they lacked your style and panache. Other than your books, I don't read Technothrillers any more. This is what makes your latest one so unsatisfying. Even in the midst of The Bear and the Dragon, the old Tom shines through on occasion. Your prose in the midst of the Russian/Chinese battle works. In fact, the entire last third of the novel is much better than the first two. I hope you remember what you felt when you were writing The Hunt for Red October as a regular working guy from Maryland. You weren't Tom Clancy, famous millionaire then. You were just a burgeoning writer with a story to tell. A great story to tell. I hope you find another one.
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