The Hunt For Red October

I’m finally reading the original book version of The Hunt For Red October. As a kid, I repeatedly watched the movie. Can’t believe it took me as long as it did to get into the actual book, but I finished it.

Having gotten through my initial first read-through, I’m sharing my thoughts. I’m not posting this at Fuldapocalypse because it’s deliberately meant to be more an off the cuff first impression than a structured review.

Granted, the deck is a little stacked with stuff that was beyond Clancy’s control. Like his RSR co-author Larry Bond, he has a big “after you’ve read so many imitators, the original doesn’t seem so original” effect. There’s a vastly different cultural context-high tech military equipment is routine rather than novel now. There’s the “all or nothing” problem that’s inherent to submarine fiction as a whole. And it feels a little harsh to slam someone’s first novel. So I’ll admit there’s some bias here.

Still, reading it supports the feeling I had when reading Red Storm Rising.

Said feeling is that Tom Clancy was a decent-at-best author whose success came more from being able to tap into the zeitgeist of the time than any true writing skill, and that his work doesn’t age well even compared to other 80s cheap thrillers.

Now he’s not a terrible or unreadable author by any standard, and it’s easy to see his appeal. If it was written later and/or by someone else, The Hunt For Red October would still be a good enough submarine novel. But it has two big problems.

  • Infodumps and plotlines. Plotlines, dogfights and at-sea antics. And infodumps. Frequently outdated and/or inaccurate (that’s not a big deal to me) infodumps that cross the line, in my opinion, from “understandable” to “self-indulgent” (that is a big deal to me) .
  • Supervillain Soviets. Reading the infamous “Politburo Chapter” of Red Storm Rising was not a pleasant experience, and I saw a lot of stuff like that in The Hunt For Red October.

It’s why I think the movie is better. The book just has so much “fluff” to trim that the movie could do so without compromising the basic quality of it. The movie is also, in my opinion, less reliant on the rapidly dated “wow-look-at-this-supertech” factor.

Yet for all its problems, it’s still quite readable and is very good as a “historical” document for what an archetypical thriller of the time was like. So I can’t be too hard on it.


2 thoughts on “The Hunt For Red October

  1. Christopher Lampton

    I picked up The Hunt for Red October when it first came out in paperback. I’d had it recommended by a (female) friend in the book business who found it riveting, but I couldn’t see the appeal. Halfway through I quit, bored to tears, and still haven’t finished it.

    The movie, on the other hand, really is riveting. Alec Baldwin makes Jack Ryan come alive in a way that he never did on the page and Sean Connery was, well, Sean Connery. You’re right that the film is better than the book, at least based on the half of the book that I read. I’ve never read anything else by Clancy and I assume he got better as he became more experienced, but his techno-political approach to thrillers never held any interest for me.


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