Roxton Malone's Reviews > Patriot Games

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
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's review
Feb 05, 2009

did not like it
Read in December, 2008

I'm about 180 pages into this 500-page opus, and it occurs to me that every time I pick up the book to read another chapter, it feels like a chore. I realize that I'm spending an awful lot of time reading a book that I neither enjoy, nor appreciate intellectually, nor feel is important in my attempt at a self-imposed education in the classics.

Do you know what the difference between watching a movie that does nothing for you and reading a book that does nothing for you is? After the movie, you lament the two hours of your life that you'll never get back. After the book, you think to yourself, "Man, I spent three months on that stupid thing!"

That is why it is unlikely that I will ever finish Tom Clancy's Patriot Games.

Do I really need three pages of Jack Ryan going over his stock portfolio? Four pages describing in detail Jack Ryan's travails in putting together a dollhouse? An entire chapter devoted to Jack Ryan's uneventful flight home? This is a thriller, right?

I was only reading this book because Patriot Games is my favorite of the Jack Ryan movies. But Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan is nothing like Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is more like Alec Baldwin's Jack Ryan. And as good a movie as The Hunt for Red October is, and as much as I like Alec Baldwin as an actor, I have always been partial to Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan. Aw, heck, I'll even say it: I think Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan is better than Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan.

Well, if Patriot Games did anything postive for me, it's ensured at least for now that I hold no literary pretentions. No self-respecting literatus would openly claim to prefer the movie over the book.

The New York Post raved that in Patriot Games, "Clancy delivers the suspense," but I'm not buying it. No really, I'm not buying the New York Post. Did you ever wonder what a truly sorry excuse for a journalistic endeavor looks like? Read the New York Post. Read it cover to cover. By the time you reach the Sports section, you may find that you've drooled onto your chin, that your left eyelid is twitching, and that your capacity for intelligent conversation has dropped by thirty or forty percent.

Maybe someday when I'm old and bored, and I've read all the classics and have caught up on all my Michael Crichton and then read all those great books and all those Crichton thrillers a second or third time and seen Patriot Games the movie another dozen times on top of the dozen times I've already enjoyed it--then maybe I'll pick up Clancy's Patriot Games again. Maybe my bookmark will still be stuck in there between pages 186 and 187. Maybe by then I'll be 86 or 87 and won't be able to see that tiny print anymore anyway.

Until then, I'll be happy with Harrison Ford.

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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Neil Collins Ah! I got the problem about halfway through your review... You're a fan of Clancy MOVIES, not his books! Interesting, because the movies tend to leave so much of the guts out! I'll bet you like toaster waffles over the fresh cooked kind too...

Interesting, too, that it took you so many words to say you thought Clancy over-wrote the thing.

Just my opinion, as you stated yours.

Roxton Malone You're not quite the detective you think you are, considering I made it pretty blatant that I'm a fan of the Clancy movies. It really only took the one paragraph to explain how Clancy "over-wrote the thing." The rest was for fun. If you were just stating your opinion, as you so disingenuously claim, you would have told me what you LIKE about Clancy's writing and possibly gotten an intelligent dialogue going with me. Instead you decided to come up with some kind of cutesy metaphor that you thought was clever to try to simultaneously hurt my feelings and feel better about yourself. It's like tacking "I don't mean to be rude, but..." before an intentionally rude remark. Insincere formalities don't make you polite. They just make you sound like a prig. And I don't even like waffles.

Neil Collins My use of simile to point out in a few words my impression of your “review” has clearly been misunderstood. I made no personal assault on your character, and yet you have resorted to calling me names.

As you suggested, I will take the space to point out what I do like about Clancy’s books in general, and Patriot Games specifically, and why they don’t fully translate to film. I too enjoy films based on Clancy’s books, but I prefer the books for many reasons.

Tom Clancy’s earlier work is meticulously detailed, deeply researched, and about as close as any civilian will ever get to the inside of the intelligence community. His players aren’t super-human uber-soldiers who absorb bullets while running and gunning in a non-stop battle down city streets. Instead, they are regular people who take time to recover and have to fight off the very real effects of adrenaline overloads, tunnel vision, tachypsychia, pain, and limbs rendered unusable due to injury.

His “slow paced” examination of the legal process was intentionally so; it brings to the fore the agonizing and frustrating reality of what actually happens once the bullets stop flying and the suits take over. The exploration of how soldiers recognize their own and share the commonality of the warrior experience, outside of the public eye, was accurate and made the players all the more human and interesting.

Clancy’s bleak look inside the workings of the intelligence world’s day to day was likewise eye opening. No James Bond gadgets or Jason Bourne hail of bullets. Instead, the reality of intel gathering and analysis frustrating the analyst who desperately wants to be both sure, and decisive. It’s a time consuming and mind numbing process that gives up few or no perfect answers, only best guesses based on being lucky or good enough to find all the pieces of a puzzle that almost no one even knows exists.

That happening, we are then shown a subject that far too few Americans understand now, in a post 9/11 reality; what nearly no Americans could even conceive in the late 80’s when the book was written. The concept of terrorist warfare within civilized society. In the book, as in life, even the best minds in the intel community kept saying, “They’ve never done that before…” And we now have the proof that it can and will happen here, just as Clancy imagined.

Clancy’s understanding of the foregoing would be a waste of time, had it not been for the characters he created. The people and worlds they inhabit are both detailed and accurate. Fighter jocks, Special Ops soldiers, Marine Gunny’s, and former stock traders turned intel analysts. Each has a role to play, and a reason to be there; even the Jesuit Priest with an inside line to the heads of the most secret offices.

In the end, it’s never cut and dried, just like in real op’s. Good guys die and bad guys don’t always get what’s coming to them. Mistakes are made and plans change. It isn’t a non-stop adrenaline rush, as in so many other spy novels. But, it is an exciting and accurate portrayal of a shadowy world few would ever see or understand.

I hope that wasn’t too priggish.

Roxton Malone Your original comment was received as more an assault on my character than an opinion of my "review"--and yes, I realize that the quotation marks are justified. Mine was not a review so much as a response. But to insinuate that I like style over substance--I take umbrage, sir!

I'll continue being honest: Your original comment did sound priggish. I may be splitting hairs to point out that I said your choice of words made you sound priggish and that I never actually called you names, but that is so. You came across as one of these people who go around reading other people's blogs just to find things to be a jerk about without actually having anything of value to say in response. Your waffle simile may have been, in your opinion, a light-hearted jab, but I don't take kindly to such jabs from people who don't even know me, and I decided to respond as such.

That said, and now that both of our egos have been bruised and (I hope) vindicated, I'd like to say that I appreciate the depth of your appreciation for Clancy's writing. I suppose I understood beforehand, to some degree, the value of Clancy's writing, but you have enlightened me--perhaps not enough to motivate me to pick up "Patriot Games" again anytime soon, but at least enough to enable me to appreciate him a little better.

My only regret is resorting to name-calling Clancy himself. That kind of snarky writing always bothers me when others do it, so I don't know why I thought I should feel justified in so doing myself. I will also apologize for having insulted you, but I hope you can also recognize your original insult to me.

You surprised me with your in-depth analysis. You're not a bad writer. I'll admit, I almost didn't read it because I was expecting more taste-related barbs--perhaps something about instant mashed potatoes. Priggish, no; informed, yes. Thank you for your response and your review.

Neil Collins I do apologize to you for those barbs… Sometimes when I attempt to be dryly witty I come off as rude and pointed. When I say my humor is dry, I mean it as in the Sahara is dry.

I do thank you for your kind reply, and wish that I had started on a more approachable foot. I also hope you’ll accept an invitation to sample some of my collaborative work on my writing partner’s website: You’ll also find excerpts from our book there (And yes, it’s a long book), which I think you’ll enjoy.

Best wishes,
Neil Collins

P.S. I'll admit I had to look up Prig to know the full meaning.

Gavin completely agree with the dollhouse-building bit and the entirely uneventful flight home. sheesh.

Roxton Malone Gavin wrote: "completely agree with the dollhouse-building bit and the entirely uneventful flight home. sheesh."

Maybe the rest of the novel picks up the pace. I just couldn't take it anymore.

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