Tom Clancy Books – Techno Thrillers

These days, you can find Tom Clancy books at bookstores of all sizes,
from airports and thrift stores to giant chain book retailers. But
before his huge success sprouted in the 1980s,
Tom Clancy
was your
typical American Everyman — insurance broker by day, amateur historian
by night. Clancy’s taste for all things naval led directly to the
publication of his first novel in 1984. The Hunt for Red October was
an instant bestseller, earning the man who dreamed of writing a novel in
college high praise from President Ronald Reagan, who said Clancy’s book
was “a perfect yarn” and “not-put-downable.”


We don’t know much about Tom Clancy besides the fact that he was born
in 1947, majored in English at Loyola College, and spent his days
selling insurance for a small Maryland company. Humble beginnings for a
man whose books would one day be turned into blockbuster movies. Since
the publication of Red October, Clancy has become known as a master of
realistic storytelling, and a current events maven who works hard to
stay a step ahead of the world stage.

Tom Clancy may be best known for “techno thrillers” — along with
Michael Crichton, Clancy’s books in the 1980s defined the genre. So what
is a techno thriller?

Techno Thrillers

Books in the techno thriller genre are a strange combination of spy
novels and speculative fiction. The word “techno” refers to the large
amount of technical detail and “hard science” contained in these books,
generally technical details of military equipment and procedure. The
only genre that stuffs as much hard science and tech into its pages is
“hard sci-fi”. Techno thrillers highlight the details and inner workings
of complex systems, like politics and espionage, but still have time to
include plot.

Though Crichton and Clancy are the godfathers of the techno thriller,
they are hardly its only proponents. A partial list of other techno
thriller authors would include:

  • Joe Buff
  • Larry Bond
  • Patrick Robinson
  • Stephen Coonts
  • Dan Brown
  • Cory Doctorow

The techno thriller is a particularly easy book to transform into a
film. Clancy and Crichton were the first to prove this, as both The
Hunt for Red October
and The Andromeda Strain (Crichton’s
breakthrough book) were successful at the box office. Other techno
thrillers by Clancy that did time in Hollywood — Patriot Games and
Clear and Present Danger.

Tom Clancy books are notoriously well researched and Clancy’s prose
style, while not particularly artistic or well-wrought, is good enough
that any new Tom Clancy book is an instant bestseller.

Here’s a look at five great Tom Clancy books — techno thrillers that
will keep you turning pages until the very end.

The Hunt for Red October

Originally published by the U.S. Navy on their Naval Institute Press
label, The Hunt for Red October was inspired by real events. In 1975,
Valery Sablin attempted a mutiny on board the Storozhevoy, a Russian
anti-submarine frigate. In the novel, a Lithuanian-born Soviet Naval
officer named Marko Alexandrovich Ramius, attempts to defect to the
United States along with his crew and his experimental submarine, the
Red October. Fearing the impact that the sub may have on world affairs,
and further disturbed by the death of his wife and the Soviet regime as
a whole, Ramius and his crew must survive a heavy assault by most of the
Russian navy.

The coolest techno thriller aspect of Clancy’s first novel is the
insight you gain into American-Soviet relations during the Cold War.
Sure, the details about the experimental submarine (that runs on a
“Caterpillar drive”) are interesting, but they are not tackled with the
ferocity that Clancy would show in later tech-inspired books.

Patriot Games

This follow-up to Red October is technically a prequel, since the
events take place just before Red October and just after Clancy’s
later novel Without Remorse. This novel is more action-oriented even
than Red October, starting off as it does with a foiled assassination
attempt and an attack on Clancy character Jack Ryan’s family. In
Patriot Games, a fictional Irish terrorist group (the ULA) attempts
various crimes against Ryan and his family, as well as against members
of the Royal Family. Their purpose is to destabilize the government of

This may be one of the least “techno” of Clancy’s novels, focusing as
it does on international relations and the personal life of Clancy’s
most famous character, Jack Ryan. Those interested in issues like
domestic terrorism would love this book, though technophiles may find it
lacking in the tech department.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin

This novel is the true sequel to Red October, full of intrigue,
espionage, and diplomacy. In this novel, Jack Ryan is part of an
American delegation to the Soviet Union just after the events of Red
. The plot is complex, involving the Strategic Defense
Initiative (known popularly as the “Star Wars” program), Mujahideen
warriors in Tajikistan, and the KGB and the FBI. If Clancy readers were
disappointed by the lack of tech in Patriot Games, they got a treat
with The Cardinal of the Kremlin. This is where Clancy’s penchant for
detailing military and political machinations became evident.

Little known fact — a film of this book was proposed, starring
Harrison Ford and
William Shatner. Though that sounds completely
amazing, the project was scrapped and will probably never be made.

The Sum of All Fears

Made into a successful film in 2002 starring Ben Affleck and Morgan
Freeman, The Sum of All Fears was a groundbreaking work in the Clancy
catalog. The novel focuses on Russian politics after the destruction of
the Berlin Wall, as well as American and Soviet nuclear policy. What
made this book particularly amazing is that within a week of its
release, the 1991 Moscow Uprising took place, effectively dissolving the
Soviet Union. Clancy is often seen as something of a prophet, perhaps
because he writes about topics happening in the real world right now.

During this book, Jack Ryan will get involved with the Vatican,
Palestinian rebels, and fleets of Baltimore dockworkers, all while
attempting to prevent a nuclear strike on the Super Bowl that will lead
the world into nuclear war. Chock full of techno thriller goodness,
Sum of All Fears
is often listed at the top of Clancy’s best books

Rainbow Six

Made into a

hugely popular video game series, Rainbow Six
is an
oddity in the world of Tom Clancy books in that it does not focus on
Jack Ryan. The plot focuses on a fictional counter terrorist unit with
the codename Rainbow. International. Intrigue abounds, with less of a
focus on American politics and more of a concentration of the tactics of
terrorist groups around the world.

This novel has everything that techno thriller readers love — spy
games, killer viruses, secret gold stashes, and details on the
inner-workings of black ops government agencies.

The popularity of Tom Clancy books does not need to be restated. Tom
Clancy’s techno thrillers have sold millions of copies, including Clear
and Present Danger
, which sold more hardcover copies than any other book
in the 1980s. Something about the techno thriller genre appeals to
people across all boundaries — is it the political intrigue? the
technical details? the explosions and gun play? Whatever it is, Tom
Clancy is a living master at it. His latest book, 2010’s Dead or
, hasn’t even been published yet, but odds are that it will join
the ranks of Clancy’s other techno thriller books on the bestseller