Tom Clancy, 1947-2013


I mark the author’s passing Tuesday in a Baltimore hospital at age 66 not as a fan--I found his books impenetrable and, truth be told, boring--but as an observer of a remarkable publishing paradigm, the rise of the technobabble thriller.

The best description of Clancy’s technique was given by Louis Menand in the The New Yorker way back in 1991. Clancy, Menand wrote, had discovered that:

“instead of writing ‘The submarine started to submerge’ you could write:

The reactor coolant pumps went to fast speed. An increased amount of hot, pressurized water entered the exchanger, where its heat was transferred to the steam on the outside loop. When the coolant returned to the reactor it was cooler than it had been and therefore denser. Being denser, it trapped more neutrons in the reactor pile, increasing the ferocity of the fission reaction and giving off yet more power. Farther aft, saturated steam in the “outside” or nonradioactive loop of the heat exchange system emerged through clusters of control valves to strike the blades of the higher pressure turbine--


and people would line up to buy it.”