Onyx reviews: The
Bear and the Dragon by Tom Clancy
After years of hardship and decay, the future looks bright for the Russian
bear. Nearly simultaneous discoveries of a gold mine to rival South Africa and
an enormous oil supply mean that Russia is suddenly able to put herself on the
road to recovery.
The same is not true of her southern neighbor, the dragon. America is decrying a
huge trade imbalance with China. American intelligence knows that the country is
almost bankrupt, having spent the trade surplus on the military. China has long
lusted after resource-rich Siberia and the newfound spoils of that region are
too tempting to resist.
American President Jack Ryan achieved his political position through an unusual
chain of events in previous novels. He's not a happy man, though. He spends a
great deal of the book whining about the fact that he can't get everything done
that he wants and begging cigarettes from his staff. His position of power
prevents Clancy from putting him in the thick of the action and his character
suffers for this. Ryan in the field made things happen. Ryan in the White House
is a passive onlooker, relegated to being fed information and advice by his
It takes Clancy over 700 pages to finally get around to the action. The build
up, a ponderous tale of espionage and intrigue, is slow and repetitious.
Different characters look at the same situation and interpret it using the same
stock phrases. Spies discuss in detail the anticipated behavior of their
subjects and, a few pages later, the subjects behave exactly as predicted.
Clancy's elite Rainbow Six force is back. It takes the author an inordinately
long time to manipulate events so that they will coincidentally be ready to
provide assistance once the conflict between China and Russia comes to a head.
The book is a 1000-page gorilla that Clancy uses to broadcast his conservative
viewpoints, mostly through the voice and thoughts of Ryan. Less forgivable is
that Clancy uses the fact that the Chinese are the nominal enemies in the book
to allow his characters—supposedly the good guys—to utter every conceivable
racial epithet toward the Chinese people.
Clancy will never win over a female readership with the chauvinistic tone of
this book, either. The two strongest female characters in the book are the CIA
Deputy Director of Operations and Ryan's Secret Service agent Andrea Price-O'Day.
DDO Foley works with her husband in the CIA and refers to him on the job as
"Hunny Bunny." The Secret Service agent is inconveniently pregnant,
allowing her colleagues to comment on how difficult it is for her to be doing
"a man's job."
And, finally, Clancy never gives the bad guys a fighting chance. The U.S.
intelligence is light years ahead of anything the Chinese have—which may well
be true—but he makes the Chinese oblivious to this fact. He orchestrates them
from one stupid mistake to another, allowing the Allied forces to slaughter them
in gleefully graphic scenes littered with more racial insults.
With Clancy novels, the big picture is a broad, sweeping playing field, complex
international intrigue and intricate details of espionage and military strategy.
In The Bear and the Dragon Clancy interjects a few new gadgets but
is basically restaging the same type of lop-sided conflict that he has used in
recent novels. He seems tired of the game—perhaps personified by Ryan's ennui
in his presidency—and his editors also seem to have been intimated by the
cumbersome and unwieldy canvas Clancy has created here.
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