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The Hunt is On
on May 30, 2003
The Hunt for Red October
Although it was the first of the series to be published, Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October is actually the third novel in the Jack Ryan series. It propelled Clancy, who had been an insurance salesman with only a few letters to the editor under his writing belt, to best-selling superstar. His success with military and espionage-related fiction earned him a title he does not readily accept: father of the techno-thriller.
This novel, if I remember correctly, was the first work of fiction published by the Naval Institute Press, the publishing arm of the United States Naval Institute, a civilian entity which promotes all things naval, including the study of naval history, strategy, technology, and tactics. Some of the Naval Institute Press' other books include A.D. Baker's Fleets of the World, Clay Blair, Jr.'s Silent Victory, and Norman Friedman's Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait. But considering that although Clancy's novel deals with the workings of other federal agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and both the Executive and Legislative branches, the heart of the story is a sea chase.
Based loosely on a 1975 incident in which a Soviet frigate attempted to defect to the West, The Hunt for Red October tells the by-now familiar tale of how Captain First Rank Marko Ramius and a group of selected officers aboard the Soviet Navy's newest Typhoon-class SSBN (the Navy designator for a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, or "boomer") band together to defect to the United States and hand over the Red Navy's most advanced "stealth" submarine.
Ramius, you see, is motivated by one of the strongest emotions of all: the desire for revenge against the callous Soviet state. Not only for the death of his wife as a result of negligence by a well-connected surgeon, but for all the injustices he has witnessed from even his early childhood. His father, a Lithuanian communist and devoted Party apparatchik, was responsible for many deaths and unjust acts, and Marko, raised by a decent grandmother, sees both his father and the State as monsters who care for nothing but power and expansion.
In this novel, set sometime in the mid-1980s, Clancy introduces us to Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst being groomed by his mentor, Admiral James Greer, for better and more crucial postings within the Agency. Now currently assigned as CIA liaison in London (which puts this novel's setting to be after the current Clancy novel Red Rabbit), it is Ryan who first hands the U.S. its first intelligence data on Red October, courtesy of the British Secret Service.
The novel's focus is on Ramius' defection attempt aboard the Red October, which has been modified to use a "caterpillar" drive (described in the movie version as a "jet engine for the water") which enables a sub to glide through the ocean almost undetectably. It also deals with the Red Navy's desperate attempts to seek and destroy the defectors' submarine, and the almost equally desperate moves of an Anglo-American fleet to acquire Red October.
The novel, as if often the case, is far better than its film adaptation. Not that John McTiernan did a bad job with Paramount's 1990 feature film, but in slimming down the characters and situations to fit within a 2-hour movie, far too many exciting scenes were ignored and the scope of the sea chase is narrowed down from "seeing" almost the whole spectrum of the Soviet Navy in the novel to actually seeing one Bear-Foxtrot anti-submarine bomber and one Alfa-class attack sub. I am not saying the movie is not worth watching, but the book, with its various characters and storylines (some of them which would be woven back and forth in all the other Ryan novels), is far better.