Tom Clancy and speculative fiction

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I was sad to read of the passing of Tom Clancy. I discovered his novels when I was eleven, and found them riveting. Red Storm Rising remains one of my favourite pieces of speculative fiction. Because that’s the things about Clancy – for all that he used a modern, grounded setting, his stories were filled with speculation, the stuff on which science fiction is built.

On the surface, the thing that stands out is the technology. Clancy knew so much about weapons and cutting edge military tech that, to me, it might as well have been imaginary. New toys were applied in new ways, and I never knew whether he was drifting over into making this stuff up. It had me convinced.

But his real speculation was in what might be called social science fiction. Like some of Bruce Sterling’s work, he specualted less on technological change than on shifts in human relations, on the world’s political future. And it was this speculation on international relations that made him seem precient when both the method and the motive behind the September 11 attacks were things he had written about.

Some of his work has become dated, but that’s part of its appeal. With the end of the Cold War, Red Storm Rising went from fearful futurism to alternate history. But I love a good alternate history, and its period details, the way it captures the strange mindset of the Cold War, remains part of its charm.

Clancy’s world wasn’t quite ours, but it was close enough to seem that way, and it showed how sci-fi doesn’t have clear boundaries, how it bleeds into the fiction around it. If you haven’t already, give his books a go. If nothing else, you’ll be in for an exciting ride.