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Tom Clancy, Executive Orders
G.P. Putnam's Sons

     Robert Frost once said that a poem is like a trip into Hell, and the first line of the poem tells you how far into Hell you're going to go. Actually, I am bringing that quote to you via the mouth of Doctor DeFalco, my Contemporary American Literature professor from Marquette University, so I don't know if Frost every really said it. Not that it really applies, because although Executive Orders packs 874 pages, it's not a bad read.

     The first line to which I refer does not actually appear in the narrative anyway. Clancy has dedicated the book to Ronald Wilson Reagan. It's foreshadowing into Clancy's ideal government, which Jack Ryan, hero of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, et al., finds himself irreversibly. Of course, I hate to ruin the ending of Debt of Honor, the immediate precedent for the novel, but Jack Ryan becomes President.

     After a short war with the Eastern powers of Japan and India, a tragic suicide attack on the Capitol kills the President, most of Congress, and the Cabinet. Ryan's got to put the government back together, and he's going to do it the right way. As he's not a politician, he puts self-made men in charge of several departments and skates the lines of Fascism, dictatorship, and every other epithet the press can murmur to itself. Ryan's no Caesar, though; he's reluctant to take on the responsibility, and hates to do anything oily to get the job done.

     Of course, it wouldn't be a Clancy novel if things did not spend most of the novel going from bad to worse to worst to inconceivable. Foreign governments align and shift against the new president, thought to be weak. India wants respect on a worldwide stage. China wants to replace the United States' global hegemony with its own. And the Ayatollah of Iran manages to off the leader of Iraq, create the new United Islamic Republic, threaten its new neighbors, and get Prince Ebola in a Can.

     Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention the militia men with the concrete truck of explosives and the internal power grab to delegitimize Ryan's presidency?

     Although Clancy uses the two and a quarter inch hardback instead of the traditional soapbox upon which to stand and deliver his commentary on the way the government should be run (which I happen to agree with, but some people do not), my biggest problem with the book is that it takes a hundred and fifty pages or so to really start rolling. Of course, once it does, Clancy keeps stirring the plot. I always reach the end of a chapter thinking it could get no worse, but it does. Needless to say, although Executive Orders has 130 more pages than Anna Karenina, I read Clancy's work in a week and have not finished Tolstoy's in five years. 'Nuff said.

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