Review of Red Storm Rising (1986)


Larry Bond (writer), Tom Clancy (writer).

Read in 2019.

Disgruntled workers of Azerbaijani descent sabotage a central Siberian oil refinery for Allah and revenge. Risking an uprising from the economic strain, the Politburo prefers taking the Persian Gulf by force over cutting back consumption, even though this means they must first defeat NATO in an open war under false pretences that prevent escalation to nuclear weapons.

Military fiction: An ahistorical war novel, very close to the future war genre. The authors use a speculative version of the F-19, here a stealth fighter, and the ASM-135 anti-satellite missile, the latter confirmedly real but unused in reality. Those are just details; the vast majority of the story, including the economic and political layers, are credibly extrapolated from the time of writing, no more than six months into the future. The time of writing, by the way, is when the world had its maximum number of nuclear warheads. The inciting incident is halfway between Chernobyl and 9/11. The Soviet plan is reminiscent of Putin’s 1999 Russian apartment bombings and analogous to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990, though it never actually reaches Kuwait. It’s plausible enough, certainly at a 33-year remove.

The rape plot on Iceland starts as a reasonable illustration of the horrors of war. It takes an unpleasant turn when nerdy he-man Edwards and the uncomfortably idealized Augustdottir fall in love under unrealistic circumstances. Clancy takes remarkably few of those missteps into fantasy through the rest of the book. It makes for a good page-turner, less masturbatory than the Ryanverse because it isn’t enslaved to further real-world developments. Like Lucifer’s Hammer (1977), it feels almost definitive in its particular niche of vintage global disaster fiction, if you can stomach the wishful thinking.

text fiction