Saturday, January 18, 1997

Some Bookish Comments

Usually I've been the kind of person who is reading at least two books. I might have one book at work for reading at lunchtime, another book on my nightstand for reading in bed at night, and perhaps even a third book in the living room or den. This would not, of course, count magazines, and I used to be a regular reader of the main science fiction magazines (Analog, F&SF, and Asimov's, not to mention those SF mags that have passed to pulp heaven...If, Galaxy, Amazing, and, they were not all simultaneously publishing on a monthly basis). As you may suppose, my wife and I are not big television viewers. We would have a few favorite programs that we would watch together (Thirty-Something, Quantum Leap, the first two years or so of Sisters, etc.) and we would also each have our own favorites that the other did not watch (I was a big fan of Hill Street Blues, for example, and she will tune in network made-for-tv-tragic-situation-of-the-week movies when she is working on a quilt). Mostly, however, we have always been readers and have been quite content to sit around and read rather than sit glued to the boob tube.

Since moving to Rhode Island, however, I've had less and less time for reading. I found myself putting in many more than 40 hours at work (last January/February I put in a string of 70 and 80 hour weeks) and my commuting time alone was already stealing about 45 more minutes a day than it was before we relocated. When I did have time to read, it tended to be technical, work-related reading, studying really, not just reading. In October and November I think the only non-technical books I read were airplane reading (a Gresham novel to get to England and a spy novel on the way back...oh, yeah, and a Red Dwarf novel I bought in England and took two weeks to read after I got back).

The Internet. Ah, yes, the Internet... it can certainly swallow up hours... so I must confess to also spending a number of hours on the web. (Obviously not spent working on this page.) Surfing. E-mail. Stuff...

Oh yeah, I was also taking a grad course. Maybe that was part of it. Once the semester ended and Tuesday nights were no longer tied up with a class and I didn't have to do any reading or research or write any more papers... because it's been since mid-December that I found myself once again having time to read... Also, I think I am at the point where I do not need to put in as many hours preparing for the classes I teach as I used to need.

Now that I've rambled on about having time to read again, I wonder if I left myself enough time to share a few comments on some of the books I've read recently (which was the original impetus for this installment).

Primary Colors When I picked up this book I was expecting it to be a bit of a hatchet job on the Clintons and I thought it might be interesting/amusing to read at least part of it but I was not expecting it to be much more than a piece of political satire. I was surprised to find myself drawn into it as a story. It was a real page-turner. I couldn't put it down. Well, at least through the first third, maybe even the first half... after the New Hampshire primary ended, the urgency seemed to diminish. It never turned boring, but the second half was not quite the compelling reading that the first half had been. And I'm still somewhat amazed that what I had picked up as a simple political roman a clef turned out to be an interesting and entertaining novel in its own right.

Executive Action by Tom Clancy. (As I typed that I had an insecure feeling about the title... is that the correct title?) Will this the final novel about Jack Ryan? Let me just say that I think Clancy's best novel was Red Storm Rising, his one novel not in the Jack Ryan series. You may have read the previous novel, in which Ryan has just been sworn in as vice president (reluctantly, following the resignation of the v.p., and only because the president asked him to hold the position and to handle foreign affairs, etc. for just a few months until the party nominating convention can select a new running mate for the fall elections) and then a suicide pilot flies a 747 into the capitol building, killing the president along with the entire Supreme Court, almost every member of the House and the Senate, and a majority of the cabinet. And as Ryan and his family are hustled to safety one of the Secret Service agents says "This way, Mr. President." Okay, okay, helluva cliff hanger ending. I mean this is like the ending of the first book in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series, where the last view John Carter sees before the temple door rotates closed for a year is an evil priestess about to plunge a dagger into the breast of his true love, Deja Thoris. (Am I spelling that correctly? I'm feeling very orthographically challenged tonight!) So, even though I am getting tired of Ryan, I was waiting eagerly for Clancy's latest novel...

So tell me, is Clancy just too much of a big shot for an editor to be able to suggest that maybe he might consider the possibility of cutting a page or two (or two hundred?). This is a vastly bloated book, somewhere around eight hundred and sixty pages. We jump back and forth to various subplots. There is hidden assasin. There is a terrorist threat against Ryan's children. There is a political plot to replace him with the former vice president. There is a terrorist germ warfare plot to spread a form of Ebola virus. There is an Oklahoma City type plot involving packing a cement truck full of explosives. There is trouble in the Middle East, trouble in the Indian Ocean, trouble between China and Taiwan, trouble everywhere. With all of these plots and schemes and threats, you would expect some page-turning edge-of-your-seat tension and suspense. Nope. Well, maybe in a few places, but you have to wade through a many pages of bloat. Clancy here shows sure signs of Allan Drury Syndrome. Drury, a former political correspondent who covered the Senate, had a best seller (about 35 years ago or so) called Advise and Consent. He followed that with a sequel. And then a sequel to the sequel. And then yet another sequel, etc. etc. Like multi-generation photo-copies, his books got further and further from reality, becoming populated by cardboard cutout stereotypes, an endless series of noble conservatives battling foolish empty-headed liberals, ignorant and venal members of the media, and nasty communists. Clancy seems to have borrowed some of Drury's cardboard cutouts to serve as Ryan's political and media opponents.

I fear there will be a sequel showing Jack Ryan's campaign for re-election and his noble battle to totally reform politics, government, media, international affairs, plus feed the masses with only a few loaves and fishes.

I accused Clancy of writing a bloated book and here I am rambling on and on. I think I will close this entry now so that I can get in some reading. I have just begun Encounter with Tibor by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes.

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