Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
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it was amazing

Tom Clancy's 1984 The Hunt for Red October is a top-notch 5-star Cold War naval technothriller. Far superior to, say, near-contemporary undersea-themed superpower hijinks such as those of Clive Cussler's guilty-pleasure Raise the Titanic!, Clancy's work is both serious and fun, fast-paced and yet occasionally thoughtful.

When the Soviet Union, whose military technology has always been inferior to that of the West, produces a huge ballistic missile submarine with an ultra-quiet drive, the stakes are very high. If NATO forces cannot detect Red October and her sister boats soon to be built as well, after all, then the military advantage shifts precipitously, such that the Soviets may be lured into further adventurism around the globe, or perhaps even an attack on the United States itself. Here, mind you, we do have to forget what the public would learn the year after this book was published: Because the John Walker spy ring had given the Soviet Union the codes used by the U.S. Navy, along with countless other pieces of intelligence for a decade and a half, all American fleet orders could be deciphered immediately, and thus at the time our naval forces already were probably completely vulnerable, with even the supposedly hidden deterrent subs being findable. That reality is perhaps even more shocking than this novel's premise, but Clancy could not have known it, and his work of course makes sense from the perspective of 1984.

In any event, while the fictional Soviet technological development makes things seem perilous for the U.S., what really perks things up is the fact that venerated Captain Marko Ramius is in command for the shakedown exercises of Red October. Despite being a Lithuanian rather than a Russian, Ramius was the son of a rabid Lithuanian Communist who served the Party ruthlessly, and the despite his horror and disgust for the man who, after an incautious question from the young Marko, once made the father of one of the boy's schoolmates "disappear," the intelligent and capable Ramius has comported himself with great care and seeming orthodoxy. He truly is a great submarine commander and has trained many a fine young officer...including careful, secret admonitions to the too-perceptive on how not to stand out.

Yet the death of his wife, caused by a drunken doctor whose Party connections prevent any punishment and by substandard drugs produced in the hasty and substandard manner the Soviet system essentially encourages, pushes the skilled captain from slow rage to final action. When the disaffected Ramius decides to defect with a handpicked cadre of his likeminded officers and deliver his top-secret vessel to the enemy--after mailing a nose-thumbing letter to his superior that sends the entire Atlantic-based portion of the Red Navy roaring toward the American coast to find and sink Red October first--tensions grow higher still. With hundreds of Soviet ships heading at full speed to within striking distance of the United States, after all, the U.S. must send out its own countering forces just in case. The chances of war erupting accidentally are...far from small.

Clancy takes us from the highest levels of the Presidium to the White House, from enlisted personnel to admirals and generals, and from nuclear submarines of both sides deep under the sea, to surface vessels operating in subtle feints under shifting cover stories, to helicopters and fighter jets and radar warning aircraft. There is military hardware galore, there are witticisms and stoicisms, there are jerks who get their comeuppances, and there is the warm glow of superior American technology and--it is underplayed, but it probably should be in capitals anyway--superior AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE as well.

This novel from the height of the Cold War might be a tad smug in places, and yet, really, there can be little doubt that, despite our country's failings, the intellectually crushing, even murderous Soviet Union was on the wrong side of history and, even worse, on the wrong side of morality. The Hunt for Red October is not especially deep, but of course it's no history text--it's a thriller, and a very entertaining and exciting one indeed.

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Reading Progress

September 25, 2020 – Started Reading
September 29, 2020 – Finished Reading
September 30, 2020 – Shelved

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