A Few Thoughts in Response to Tom Clancy’s Op Center: Scorched Earth
It was perhaps about 25 years ago that my brother and I decided to collaborate on a story. I don’t recall many of the details other than it involved a mansion of sorts and two main characters.
I would write a page or two featuring my character and then my brother would write a page or two. The characters were adversaries, though I have no recollection of why or what the issue was. The key feature of the story was that we were not allowed to kill each other’s character.
It didn’t take long before my brother would corner my character, the hero, in some kind of jam and then I’d have to figure out a way to get my him out of it. The story would basically go back and forth between one close call and another, something akin to a literary chess game that required all my wits.
Eventually, though, the game became monotonous and we set it aside.
Two weeks ago I picked up a copy of Tom Clancy’s Op Center: Scorched Earth. The opening sequence shows the author’s mastery of today’s high-tech military systems, with an apparent encyclopedic knowledge of the latest military acronyms. Likewise, he shows his skill at painting scenes and creating drama while introducing key players and a central theme. When General Underwood is beheaded near the beginning of the story, on live streaming media, you realize this was all setup, an intro.
After a lull the story movies into what will become a lengthy cat-and-mouse game between the ultimate ISIL bad guy’s operatives and the Americans. A person of importance has again been taken captive, inside the U.S., with the intention of whisking him off to Syria for another live beheading. The POV moves back and forth between the bad guys and the good guys for what seems will be the duration of the book. Will they succeed or will the reader fall asleep first?
Like the literary storytelling game my brother and I played, I found myself bored after a while. I mean, really.
As it turns out, despite the title, this book is a Tom Clancy novel in style only. Yes, his name is printed in letters larger than the book’s title, but duped I was. I had not yet learned till writing my review that Tom Clancy is no longer with us, having passed in 2013 at age 66.
It’s hard to say whether the story would have been better told had Clancy himself written it. It might be that I have just lost interest in this kind of story any more.
I’ve read a few of Tom Clancy’s thrillers over the years, and I find the insights regarding our military capabilities intriguing. I’m always left wondering if the Pentagon feeds all this info about whiz-bang military toys to Clancy in order to frighten our enemies so as to keep them from ever being tempted to mess with us. Napoleon believed that it is better to scare the enemy into disarming than to be forced to engage.
As for Scorched Earth, I was not reading this book with a white-knuckle handgrip on the storyliine. And the further we went along, the more humdrum things and stale it became. About 75 pages from the end I yawned and set it aside.
The plot was similar to the one I was writing with my brother in that it would appear that there is no hope, and then there was hope, and then another hopeless situation, but since you can’t kill my character I could always escape. Bring in the Mounties, or whatever.
One of the problems with many books of this ilk, and a primary weakness in my own early writing, is the heavy reliance on plot with seemingly thin character development. Maybe that’s what readers of this genre expect, I don’t know. It’s not what they teach at writer’s conferences.
That’s my take. Based on the Amazon reviews there appears to be a large quantity of readers who liked the book very much. I just wasn't one of these.