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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 aides.

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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