Tom Clancy-Red Storm Rising


Themes Explored: politics, geopolitical warfare, geopolitics, oil dependency, economics, communism, modern warfare, espionage, suspense, adventure, mystery, terrorism, diplomacy, meteorology

Synopsis: Using the latest advancements in military technology, the world’s superpowers battle it out on land, sea, and air for the ultimate global control. (From Goodreads)

Review: I apologize for the lack of recent activity. Between graduate school and work I have scant free time; which means I also struggle to find time to read. Funnily enough, after reading twelve chapters of assigned reading each week, I tend to not have much energy to read books I might actually enjoy. I considered reviewing some of my textbooks, which would either be hilarious or just desperate. Thankfully, I have not fallen to such depths of literary doldrums at this time.  Stay tuned though; it could occur at any moment.  Now, for something completely different, I recently finished reading Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. I attempted to read The Hunt for Red October a few years ago and managed to plow though half of the first chapter before calling it quits. After that experience, I pretty much wrote off Tom Clancy as an ”okay, but rather boring author” and ignored his output. But I really needed something to read and my mother suggested Red Storm Rising. Sighing heavily, I reluctantly picked up the book and fully expected the same outcome as the last time. By the end of the second chapter I become completely enthralled. Due to homework, I had to wait until the weekend to finish, but managed to finish the last three-fourths in one day.

Imagine the 1980’s. The USSR still reigns supreme, but tensions from the Cold War still leave everyone on edge. Peace, while fragile, seems to remain steady. Then a terrorist attack destroys a Russian oil field; which wreaks havoc on the USSR economy. With oil supplies running dangerously low, the USSR’s Politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) make a drastic decision: forcibly confiscate the Persian Gulf oil fields. Moving quickly, the USSR manages to catch the rest of the world off guard and successfully launches World War III. Action takes place all over the globe as the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact struggle to decipher the Russians’ strategy. Jumping between an Atlantic convoy duty, the shooting down of reconnaissance satellites, strategic espionage in Iceland, to tank battles in Germany, Red Storm Rising is unique in the way it portrays modern warfare on a global scale. Similarly, Clancy stands out by having the participating nations relying upon conventional weapons, rather than escalating to nuclear warfare.

Unlike most novels, Red Storm Rising features four protagonists: 1. Colonel General Pavel Leonidovich Alekseyev; 2. Commander Daniel X. McCafferty, USN – Commanding officer, USS Chicago, a Los Angeles class attack submarine; 3. Lieutenant Commander Robert “Bob” A. Toland III, USNR – NSA analyst; 4. First Lieutenant Michael D. Edwards, USAF – Meteorological officer, Keflavík Air Base, American evader on Iceland; leads intelligence gathering and guerrilla group in Iceland.  Jumping between the four different stories can become a tad disconcerting, but it is neat to watch how the action of one protagonist affects the actions of the other three. Also, how many war novels cast a meteorologist as a lead hero? This merely proves that scientific thinking applies to any situation.

Obviously, this novel deals in pure speculation. However, the events depicted are not outside the realms of possibility. Clancy does an excellent job capturing the intricacies and multiple moving pieces that characterize modern warfare. One reason why Red Storm Rising captures the imagination is the extreme realism. Each protagonist gives the readers a kind of “behind the scenes” look at military strategy in several different environments. While I may never walk on a nuclear submarine, I can perfectly imagine the terror of being locked in a floating metal tube while the enemy launches torpedoes in an effort to sink said tube. I found the main characters wholly believable. Instead of super soldiers who can foresee their enemies every move, Clancy’s heroes struggle to gain the upper hand for most of the novel.  

While the USSR is technically the antagonist, Clancy does not paint all of the Russian characters in a wholly negative light. Colonel General Pavel Leonidovich Alekseyev, the USSR protagonist, is a man caught between a rock and a hard place. In this case, the rock is certain death from lack of quality military equipment and the hard place is death by committee by not fulfilling the Politburo’s delusions. Now this does not mean that Alekseyev is a misunderstood saint, far from it in fact. He continually sanctions orders that amount to little more than government sanctioned mass murder. However, a lot of his decisions arise from a genuine desire to end an increasingly desperate war and purge the USSR of ineffective leadership.  Overall, he comes across much more sympathetically than most of the other USSR characters. While the Politburo receives the completely justifiable characterization of a brutal group of men clawing each other apart in order to increase personal power and influence.

 Commander Daniel X. McCafferty, Lieutenant Commander Robert “Bob” A. Toland III, and First Lieutenant Michael D. Edwards round out the American protagonists. McCafferty helms a submarine that goes out on increasingly dangerous missions, some more successful than others. Toland works on collecting intelligence in order to try and catch the Russian’s off guard. And Edwards runs around Iceland and gives information on troop movements and weather patterns to a group of rather skeptical Scottish intelligence officers.   While all three characters have riveting narratives, Edwards’ is probably my favorite. As I mentioned earlier, few authors’ cast a meteorologist in a lead role.  Overall, Red Storm Rising is a gripping read and worth the time investment.  If you are looking for a realistic, techno-suspense war thriller, then look no further.

Red Storm Rising, Berkley, 1987, ISBN 9780425101070