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Nowhere to go but up -- the final step in Jack Ryan's ascent

Executive Orders

By Tom Clancy

Published by Berkley Pub Group


By Chris Brocoum
Staff Reporter

There is something especially reassuring about beginning a new novel written by the author who singlehandedly defined the genre. Tom Clancy proves that he hasn't lost a step in his latest technothriller saga, Executive Orders, tracing Jack Ryan et al as they race to avert disaster in the midst of international intrigue and frenzied battlefields. Somehow, it seems impossible to believe that he could have possibly surpassed his previous novels. He has.

Unfortunately, for those uninitiated in the Tom Clancy epic, many of the delicious little hints of previous adventures Clancy sprinkles throughout his latest novel may be lost. Some of the grandeur of the creation will pass unnoticed. And what a creation it is. In this, his tenth novel, ninth featuring the cast of Jack Ryan's world, Clancy manages to tie all the previous novels together in a masterful, utterly believable virtual reality. Rumors have been circulating that this may be Clancy's last novel, if that is the sad truth, at least his fans will be content. Executive Orders can be seen as the culmination of an adventure. This being the case, however, it is almost a necessity to have read some of his previous novels - Executive Orders picks up mere seconds after the cliffhanger conclusion Debt of Honor.

The basic premise is fairly radical: a rogue Japanese terrorist somehow evaded the air defenses around Washington, D.C. and flew a jumbo jet into the Capital Building during a joint meeting of Congress. The great majority of the United States Government perishes in the conflagration. A battered but lucky Ryan emerges as the highest ranking survivor, and is sworn in as President.

From here Tom Clancy's imagination is off and running in classic style. There is more domestic politics, foreign political intrigue, battlefield tactics, and plain old action/adventure than can possibly be digested in one reading. Avid Clancy readers will not be disappointed. Plenty of new technological advancements and daring plot twists abound.

The still green-behind-the-ears President Ryan finds himself facing adversity and crisis both inside and out. He must somehow find a way to reconstruct the shambles of the United States government while still maintaining the U.S.'s position as a world superpower. Crisis hits when a desperate Iran takes advantage of Iraq's weakened post-Gulf War state to form a powerful new alliance. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Somehow Clancy manages to weave a maze of subplots together into a grand work which builds slowly to a dramatic, nail-biting, smash ending. In fact, the beginning seems almost too disjointed - how do events in the Middle East, a couple of midwest Militiamen, and Ebola (just to name a few) possibly have any believable connection? The seemingly unrelated plotlines are set on the table in the first half of the book and then ever so slowly drawn together.

The reason Executive Orders turns out to be at least as good, if not better, than Clancy's previous novels is that he has added a new dimension to his repertoire. I would argue that the best aspect of this novel is not the suspense and thrilling action, but instead the deep, introspective character study of Jack Ryan. Although Clancy may sound preachy at times, he is trying to make a statement about humanity and about the principles of our nation. By throwing the utterly inexperienced Ryan into the feeding frenzy of American politics Clancy discovers a wonderful opportunity to expound on character.

The last thing Ryan ever wanted was to be President. But Ryan is a good man, not nearly perfect, and he felt a duty to serve his country to the best of his ability.

Along the same lines, Tom Clancy uses this novel to offer an idea of how the government is supposed to be. As Jack Ryan rebuilds the government, he starts at the foundation and builds from the people for the people. He takes businessmen off Wall Street to be his financial advisers, he recruits battle scarred officers to Defense Department positions. There are no ties or old boys networks in the Ryan Administration. Clancy presents these ideas in the same engaging style that fingerprints all of his work.

It's a shame that such a dear message has to be relegated to the backseat. But then again, riding in the back seat of a Mercedes isn't exactly a terrible place to be.