Tom Clancy’s Net Force, Tom Clancy [ghostwritten]

Berkley, 1998, 372 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-425-16172-2

Reviewing “Tom Clancy’s” novels is the critical equivalent of shooting fish with big barrels. These ghost-written cookie-cutter novels sustain a basic level of readability, sure, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember anything about them only a few days after an initial read. Heck, you’d be lucky to remember the difference between the various series, whether they’re “Op-Center”, “Politika” or “Net Force”. As far as any serious reader is concerned, they’re three names for the same thing: Clancy’s willingness to whore out his diminishing reputation through dozens of mediocre novels he should be ashamed to be associated with.

This venom now being out of my system, allow be to concede that as far as the “Tom Clancy’s” novels go, Net Force is better than the other ones. The premise is slightly more SFish than the other series, being concerned about a federal agency dedicated to fighting computer crime. The series is set in a ten-year-away future, which is depressingly similar to our own except when it suits the purposes of the plot.

In other words, don’t go in Net Force expecting a fully-developed social anticipation in the tradition of the best Science Fiction. While Steve Perry has previously proven himself to be an adequate SF writer, he’s obviously writing Net Force to pay the bills, and this strictly alimentary approach to the novel shows through a distinct laziness.

Take, for instance, Net Force‘s representation of cyberspace, which makes all the mistakes you might see in a slush-pile SF novel magically teleported from the mid-eighties. Metaphorized into a representation of the highway system, it forces characters to drive cars and search highways for bad guys. Not only does this represent a singularly useless and inefficient mapping of cumbersome real-world equivalent over something that doesn’t require it, but it also drags down the level of the rest of the book to this quasi-adolescent car fetishism where driving a Dodge Viper is good enough to catch the enemies.

And, yes, there is a “good” level of the book to drag down. One character and one subplot is enough to keep our interest, the “Selkie” assassin and her contract against new Net Force director Alex Michaels. It’s the least ridiculous part of the book, the most focused and the most interesting. There’s also an interesting love triangle / martial arts exposé between Michaels, an agent named Toni Fiorella and some other agent whose name isn’t ultimately important. Oh, and a few funny scenes featuring a nerdy teenager.

But that’s it. Zero other set-pieces, zero compelling characters, awful technology and scarcely any good writing besides a very few fascinating technical/procedural details. The rest of Net Force is of such forgettable averageness that it blurs up almost instantly, sinking is the cesspool of “Tom Clancy’s” novels. The only question left for me to ask remains “If I’m buying those awful novels used, who the heck keeps buying them new?”

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