Rainbow Six, by Tom Clancy

rainbow-six-by-tom-clancyGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Berkley
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: threestars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Although not marketed as such, Rainbow Six is really science fiction. Like a few other very popular authors, Clancy is too big to be marketed with a genre label, especially one like science fiction, which evokes images of four-eyed geeks, Dungeons and Dragons, and adolescent computer nerds (at least among the marketing departments of book publishers). Hell, Clancy is a genre, much like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. But calling a dog a cat doesn’t make it a cat, and Clancy’s book is science fiction whether or not his publisher wants to admit it and market it as such. It’s science fiction because central to the plot is the development of a genetically engineered super-plague intended to wipe out the human population of Earth. The scariest thing is that we almost have the technology right now to attempt what the villains do in this book. In a few years… well, let’s hope this book isn’t thinly veiled prophecy.

John Clark, an ex-CIA agent, now heads the international anti-terrorist group code named Rainbow Six. Based out of England, Rainbow has a true international reach and is called upon throughout the book to respond to situations in a variety of countries. Made up of dedicated, highly trained experts, they prove more than a match for the terrorists they find themselves pitted against. Popov is an ex-KGB agent hired by the high-powered American executive Brightling to coordinate seemingly random terrorist attacks. Brightling is the head of an international biotech research company, a billionaire, an environmental extremist, and the architect of a plan that could result in the near-extermination of the human race. There are plenty of other bit players here as well: members of the Rainbow team, associates of Brightling, the various terrorists, and more.

Clancy writes long. Loooonnnngggggg…. Trimming the book by a third or more would have made it a much more energetic read. There are several lengthy scenes that could have been cut entirely, and the application of an editor’s scalpel would have gone a long way towards trimming the fat and making this a more enjoyable meal. Do we really need to know what everyone eats from breakfast? Do we need daily training regimes broken down in such excruciating detail? Do we need three page historical accounts of weapons, or organizations, or personal histories? Clancy has a reputation for including all the technical details and leaving nothing out, so perhaps complaining here is out of line. By now, we should all know what we’re getting into when we pick up a Clancy book. Still, it makes some sections of his book read like a training manual or a textbook. Some like this style. Others, myself included, would like to get on with the story and the action.

The action (when it does come) is well done and authentic. His characters are adequate to the story, rather one-dimensional in purpose and motivation, but realized well enough so that they aren’t a hindrance. I didn’t care about them as much as I would have liked, but I cared about them enough. Clancy obviously knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the military, the CIA, and various other aspects of ‘spook’ work, although he does make a few mistakes. One such is referring to the nickname of MH-6/AH-6 helicopter as “Nightstalker” when it’s really “Little Bird”. I don’t think these slips will cause concern though, since 99 percent of his audience won’t notice.

Despite the action and a thorough knowledge of his subject, some of what happens in the book strained my credibility. How did Brightling, a man of such extreme beliefs and conviction, rise to the position he holds and become so close to so many in power? And his ex-wife, who is a close presidential adviser, also holds those same beliefs. Wouldn’t have someone along the way picked up on the fact that these two were wacky? Dangerous wacky? I mean, you can cover it up, but only so much when your beliefs are so strong. On the surface, their plan of developing a super plague seems like a good one. But how could so many people be in on it and nothing get leaked? How can these big, expensive facilities (intended for Brightling’s hand-picked survivors) get constructed and no one wonder why? Clancy touches on security efforts, but never goes into any real detail. With that many people knowing, something would get out, and the same holds true for Rainbow, the ‘secret’ anti-terrorist team.

Lest I sound too negative, let me say that overall I enjoyed the book. Some sections were real page turners–too bad there were too many pages between them. If you like hard-core, (mostly) realistic military/political thrillers by a man who knows his stuff (and doesn’t mind writing at length about it) then this is a book for you. If you’re looking for something leaner, driven by better developed characters and with a faster pace, you might want to look elsewhere.

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