War Games

The new Jack Ryan novel is slow, but satisfying.

Given recent events, the casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that the Presidency of the United States is a desirable office to hold. Jack Ryan, however, doesn't think so - an opinion he expresses frequently over the course of the thousand-odd pages that constitute "The Bear And The Dragon."

Ryan has reason to be displeased - although the Cold War is over, there's a new war brewing between the former USSR and the People's Republic of China. The flashpoint for this conflict is Russia's discovery of new gold and oil resources in Siberia, resources that hold the key to Russia's economic survival. Unfortunately, Chinese minister Zhang Han Sen (previously involved in two attacks on America) is also eyeing those oil and gold fields with avarice - and he's prepared to go to any lengths to get them.

When Chinese human-rights violations cause an uproar in America, Ryan offers the Chinese an ultimatum: clean up your act, or we will outlaw you from the community of nations, both economically and politically. The Chinese respond to this threat by launching an attack on the Siberian oil and gold fields - and America is forced to enter the conflict together with the almost-defunct Russian army. With nuclear weapons aimed at America, Ryan has to use all the skill and technology at his disposal to resolve the conflict before it turns into World War III...

Clancy's books - and the Jack Ryan series in particular - have always been noted both for their exceptional realism, and for the large number of characters that populate their pages. "The Bear And The Dragon" is no exception - set in locations around America, Russia and China, it's filled with a variety of interesting people, and Clancy skillfully shifts from one developing situation to the other. The book starts off slowly - the first quarter is taken up almost entirely with background and character development, and also includes riffs on everything from organized religion to Mao's philosophies - but picks up pace once the bullets start flying, and closes with a crackerjack ending. A must-read for Jack Ryan fans!

This article was first published on 31 Jan 2001.