SSN, Tom Clancy

Berkley, 1996, 336 pages, C$21.00 tpb, ISBN 0-425-15911-6

Tom Clancy wants your money. It’s as simple as that.

The sad thing is, he used to be my favourite author. But that was in the good old days where the only Tom Clancy books were his novels, not tons of derivative franchise items.

The problem started when Clancy became a publishing category. Now, we’re getting companions, nonfiction books, “Op-Center” franchise novels not written by Clancy and this, surely the lowest of the low, a companion to a video game.

SSN (The game) is a simulation of submarine warfare currently available in stores for PC compatibles (CD-ROM) I have not played it. Clancy was allegedly heavily involved in this game, (There’s a logo for “Clancy Interactive Entertainment” on the game box) so it was more or less predictable that anytime soon, something written “by Clancy” would appear in stores. This is it.

SSN wants to be the exciting description of a submarine’s actions in (says the jacket copy) World War III. Instead, it ends up being a shoot’em up.

This reviewer will freely admit at having somewhat of a fondness for highly-detailed military fiction. Even if the most elementary literary characteristics are sadly deficient, one can get some enjoyment out of even the most inept shoot’em up. But there are limits, and those have been breached with SSN.

Almost everyone who has played a few RPGs has said, at one moment or another, “Wow, this game would make a good story!” Most of the time, they’re wrong. Personal involvement in a story makes it appear much better that it actually is. (Witness movies versus books, for one thing)

Folks, SSN is worse than the Doom books, and that’s no mean feat. Almost everything stinks, from the top to the bottom. At the top, there’s an implausible war between the US and China (why China? Because no one else has a decent navy to fight against!). It tries to be sophisticated, but ends up being myopic: Seems to the reader that only the USS Cheyenne fights the war. (Another weakness of gaming novelizations: “The world’s last, best hope!”)

Then, while the book is filled with potentially exciting situations, the reader’s pulse never goes up. It’s succession after succession of boring one-sided fights (the Cheyenne being no match for inferior Chinese technology) and briefings. (There are occasional POV switches in the middle of a chapter, but always to show a hapless Chinese commander about to commit a fatal mistake.

The prose is dull, dull, dull… There is absolutely no character development. In fact, there might be no characters at all! Great literature bores me, but I was nearly grinding my teeth at some of the horrendous passages in there. (Don’t tell anyone, but this review is almost better written that the book, and that’s saying something!)

SSN, in my judgment, is a manuscript that would belong on the slush pile. It’s not even worth your time, so it far from being worth any of your money. Clancy, come back when you’ve go something better to offer.

And please stop the merchandising. You’re just embarrassing yourself.

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