The Sum of All Fears is a hold-your-breath novel from Tom Clancy featuring Jack Ryan, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Accustomed to Cold War hostilities, neither America and its allies nor Russia and hers are quite sure how to behave in the new, lukewarm conditions.
Ryan gets an idea for a Middle East peace plan brokered by the Vatican. The plan works, but all Ryan gets is the animosity of the President and his Secretary of Defense, who also happens to be the President’s bed mate.
Terrorists, to whom peace is unnatural and unsettling, have plans of their own.
As both the West and the Soviets have dismantled missiles with nuclear warheads, some of the nuclear material has simply disappeared. The owners haven’t publicized their losses. Nevertheless, a few men of ill-will know where the material is and how to use it for their ends.
Clancy provides plenty of excitement with a minimum of gore. He focuses on how people rise to or fall before a challenge for which they could not rehearse.
Clancy’s text is packed with jargon and technical details about intelligence procedures, aircraft, ships, submarines, weapons, and bomb building, which feels incredibly dull but is essential to the plot: Evil is not passive in this novel.
The Third World War: August 1985 is not a real novel. It’s not about people; it’s about populations.
The book is classified as a fantasy: Tanks, submarines, and nuclear war heads take the place of wizards, elves, and magic wands.
Its authors are “General Sir John Hackett and Other Top-ranking NATO Generals and Advisors.”
They begin their book with three pages listing acronyms used in the text.
The text itself is written as a post-war analysis compiled at the conclusion of the war. It certainly sounds like a military analysis: Ponderous prose in passive voice.
Today’s readers will have difficulty getting past the first chapter.
The map of the world is very different today than it was in 1978 when the generals and advisors were concocting this tale: Germany, divided then, is once more reunited. The map of Africa has been redrawn, countries renamed.
What remains of interest are small bits, as, for example, the military men say socialist countries reject American-style democracy because they see it as substituting corporate rule for Soviet political rule or the assertion that Europeans distrust America’s judgment because it wasn’t invaded in WWI or WWII.
During a military exercise, American bombers armed with nuclear weapons streak off past the fail-safe point, headed for Moscow.
Watching blips on the air command’s radar screen blink are a congressman and a manufacturer whose equipment went into the complex system intended to make the nuclear deployment program accident-proof. All hope fervently that the radar reports are wrong.
Russians watching their radar screens are also convinced the problem is in the display: nothing has prepared them for an attack or an American accident.
The President calls Krushchev.
To prevent an unprovoked attack on Moscow, the President first tries to shoot down the US planes. When that does not work, he seizes the only option available to avert World War III.
With that material to work from and their taut prose, Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler could not help turning out a thriller.
Fail-Safe, however, is not just a few hours’ entertainment. It’s a reminder that in any complex, untested system, the occurrence of several statistically improbable errors can bring the whole system crashing down. Perhaps if that lesson had been learned from this novel, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might not have come as such as shock to the American public.
Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler
1962 Bestseller #6
My grade: B+
On the Beach is a gripping novel of suspense and horror by a master storyteller.
I burst into tears after I finished it.
Nevil Shute (a pen name; his real name is Norway) writes quietly, warmly about people who seem familiar. There’s no blood and gore in this novel: just the raw horror of seeing the personal effects of world events.
The book opens Dec. 27 in Australia in the aftermath of a nuclear war that wiped out life in the northern hemisphere.
Radioactive particles in the atmosphere are slowly making their way south. Scientists predict they will have reached Australia by September.
Australian naval officer Peter Holmes, assigned as liaison officer on an American nuclear submarine—one of two remaining American vessels in the world—invites American Captain Dwight Towers home for the weekend.
Peter’s wife gives a party, inviting Moria Davidson to amuse the captain. Moria falls hard for the captain; he likes her, too, but he loves his wife and kids back home in Connecticut.
Besides, he has a job to do.
Radio signals have been coming intermittently from Puget Sound. Mostly the signals have been gibberish, but there have been occasional decipherable words. Captain Towers is sent to investigate.
What happens after that will terrify anyone who keeps up with world news.
On the Beach
by Nevil Shute
William Morrow, 1957. 320 pages.
#8 on the 1957 bestseller list.
My grade: A+