Jason's Reviews > The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
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's review
Sep 29, 2011

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Read in September, 2011

I have been working through The Cloister and the Hearth, but I need more modern reading on occasion to keep me going. I am not sure why I picked up Red October from my shelf last week… it was just available and I thought I would give it a shot (despite my earlier, disastrous experience with Clancy while reading Patriot Games).
I like the movie starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, and submarines intrigue me, and I know Ronald Reagan loved this book... but I has also heard that it was very technical and read like a manual at times. I’m familiar with some of Clancy’s nonfiction stuff (I own a copy of Airborne!) but I wanted to give it a whirl.

In the 1980s, Captain Marko Ramius of the Soviet Union plans to defect to the United States following the death of his wife. To accomplish this task, he receives command of the USSR’s latest nuclear submarine, Red October, and hopes to utilize its silent propulsion system to evade both the Russians and Americans. Jack Ryan and a host of other American and British officials have to figure out how to save Ramius, capture the Red October, and fool the Soviets into thinking the submarine was lost at sea.

3.2 out of 5
I am a big fan of the movie, so I was interested in the book. It is different in a lot of ways, some of them positive and some of them negative, but reading the book definitely gave me a new appreciation for how the screenwriters took this good book and turned it into an amazing film.
The story is perfect, the execution is rough but good, and the characters are the weakest part of the story. Most troubling is probably the lack of interest in Marko Ramius. Sean Connery made that character into something really unique, and he is absent for most of the book. In a way this might prop him up as an almost mythical figure, but by the end he comes across as too human, too weak, too prideful, and with too little motivation. If he had been entirely absent and spoken of only in hushed awe, he would have been a stronger character.
Still, it is a good book, and I think I read it in a week and a half. I may not have liked it quite as much as Ronald Reagan, but it’s worth the time.

Characters: 2
I have heard that Tom Clancy isn’t the best writer for characters, and that’s somewhat true. Pertinent backgrounds are provided, but most of the characters exist to do their jobs. Intriguing characters like Admiral Painter are introduced once and then forgotten, while those who should be really interesting like Captain Ramius just don’t get everything they need. Ryan and sonar operator Jones are the two best features of the book. The various generals and admirals at the Pentagon are probably the most boring.

Pace: 3
The pace of this book is actually very fast, notwithstanding the long “breaks” to describe a piece of military equipment, technology, or a secondary character’s background. I went through this book quickly, but those breaks do interrupt the story.

Story: 5
This is an amazing Cold War epic, and takes place on personal, social, political, and military arenas between the east and west powers. This is magic in a bottle; a brilliant story that has everything else working for it.

Dialogue: 3
All of the “military lingo” is well written and feels real. Personal conversations swing between realistic and really propped up. Characters feel fake on occasion when they’re describing technology, but that is usually left up to the narrative. Ryan’s mini-speeches about life in America feel kind of empty; they just don’t sum up what being an American is.

Style/Technical: 3
It’s amazing that a story this good and captivating can still be filled with breaks in the narrative to provide an overview of technology and methodology, or useless background information on a minor character who only appears once. There are a lot of problems with this writing, but also a lot of promise. It’s no wonder this book made Tom Clancy a hit; I’ll have to read some of his later works to see if his flaws improved.
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