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  • RIP Tom Clancy

    BBC News – Spy novelist Tom Clancy dies aged 66.

    I owe a debt of inspiration to Clancy, because it was my fascination with his, and others’, technothrillers that led to me writing Sounds of Soldiers.

    It would be remiss of me not to repost this-

    The World According To Tom Clancy

    I first became addicted to techno-thrillers when I was unemployed. Needing something to keep me in the house without resorting to daytime TV I scoured charity shops and second hand bookshops for anything to read. The only things which were less than a decade old were the free romance booklets given away with copies of More and the works of Clancy, Brown and their imitators.

    I didn’t expect to like the politics and wasn’t surprised by the flat characterisation. But I was hooked and have now waded through a dozen or so of these bricks. It has become obvious to me that the genre adheres to a few simple formulae, as follows-

    1. The military is always right.

    Politicians have rarely been able to make sensible military decisions- influenced as they are by paranoia about backstabbing or spin- and there seems no reason why soldiers should be any better at making decisions about the economy. However, in the techno-thriller, the only people whose decisions are for the good of the country come from one of the armed services.

    1a. Some parts of the military are more right than others.

    Depending upon the favoured service of the author, their branch of the services gets more of the action. Stephen Coonts’ guys are usually naval fliers, Dale Brown favours the boys and girls of the bomber wings and Area 51’s toys. Clancy himself, who didn’t serve, is most balanced, even bringing in the Feebs and Spooks. Write about what you know, and all that, but sometimes there’s a bit of childish name calling.

    2. America, America Uber Alles.

    Even the rare Brit writing techno-thrillers centres upon the US of A. Other countries are only good for occasional specialists, who are still in awe of the Yanks’ military system.

    3. Muslims are a bad lot.

    With the Soviets no longer a plausible threat, most plots now revolve around the towelheads running rampant. (Though Clancy did take a little time out to show those uppity Nipponese who was still boss. [Debt of Honour]) Occasionally someone will comment that most Muslims are honourable people before proceeding to send hordes of them to meet Allah, but usually the only followers of Islam encountered are about to be used as target practice by the Marines. [Executive Orders, Shadows of Steel]

    3a. China’s a bit dodgy too.

    Pre September 11th, ragging on the ragheads had worn thin with everyone, and they turned their attentions to Mao’s boys [Hong Kong, Fatal Terrain, Sky Masters, The Bear and The Dragon] (though Clancy took time out again to slap ecologist about and defend GM and Ford’s right to build cars that need their own oilwells [Rainbow Six]). I guess that’ll be over with now.

    4. Women must always be protected.

    And wait at home and worry. And be prepared to give up their career to go where their husband’s job takes them.

    4a. Jack Ryan is the most fertile man in the world.

    In all of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels that I have read, the character has only had sex with his wife twice. And she got pregnant each time. This reminds me more of The Meaning of Life than a mature relationship.

    5. ‘It was the sort of thing that only happened in bad movies/ novels/ TV programmes.’

    An observation made by characters each time some horrendously contrived plot twist, suitable only for a bad movie, novel or TV programme, happens. As characters turn into franchises the twists are getting ever more convoluted.

    And, finally, the award for being most out of touch with reality. In Task Force 61, the task force has landed, ready to kill a few Arabs. The commander is strolling along the beach. He marvels at how all his troops- black, white, hispanic- have rallied together to listen to the hard, raw, gritty music of the streets. The song- ‘You can’t touch this’ by MC Hammer.

    Break out the baggy trousers men, we’re going to war!


  • Nuclear CSI

    With the right mobile equipment, nuclear detectives could sift through the debris and the radioactive cloud of an attack in this country or elsewhere and quickly glean crucial information, the scientists argued in a 60-page report discussed Feb. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

    The report, Nuclear Forensics: Role, State of the Art, Program Needs, was written by a joint working group of the AAAS and the American Physical Society.

    Using radiochemistry techniques and access to proposed international databases that include actual samples of uranium and plutonium from around the world, the nuclear investigators might be able to tell the president – and the world – where the bomb fuel came from, or at least rule out some suspects.

    “Nuclear forensics can make a difference,” May said in an interview.

    Fascinating stuff. Nuclear forensics was a key part of The Sum Of All Fears (the book, anyway, I’m trying to forget the film) but, the scientists assert, that sort of expertise has disappeared since the end of the Cold War. More here.


  • Who'll watch the Watchmen?

    The film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ major graphic novel, Watchmen (or buy Absolute Watchmen, a hardcover special edition with bonus features such as sketches and script samples), looks like it may be about to happen. The director is Zack Snyder. His remake of Dawn of the Dead was quite good and the trailer for his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 (buy the graphic novel) looks gorgeous. I’m not so sure about his involvement with an adaptation of Rainbow Six (buy the book), one of Tom Clancy’s poorest efforts with a moronic anti-environmentalist message and a plot stolen from Moonraker, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Who’ll watch the Watchmen? I will, for one.

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  • Rip it up and start again?

    Darren at ProBlogger has set a challenge- tell him how you’d proceed if you were to start your blog all over again.

    I started Spinneyhead in January 2001. The simple and most obvious thing I’d do would be to post more often, and longer posts. That would have been a little tricky, of course, given the fact that I was mostly posting on work time. Looking back on it, I should have posted more often about work and what I was putting up with, but done it after hours.

    2001 wasn’t a good year for me, and I came out of it a lot poorer and significantly less healthy. Too much time on the road, drowning my sorrows and maxing out the daily expenses allowance on big meals. All in all it was ideal fodder for the sort of work blog that would get you sacked now but would then have been a short cut to notoriety (and maybe a book deal) then.

    Then, of course, there was September 11th. I was working in Cardiff that day. At some point someone set up a TV in a corner of the office and, as we found out what was going on, we all gravitated to it to try and take in the events. I was shocked, obviously, and living with a guy who claimed he knew people who worked in the World Trade Centre made the degrees of separation smaller. Yet somehow I didn’t find myself caught up in the clamour for War On Terror the way so many others did. Even back then I felt that some of the stuff we were being sold was utter rubbish. Such as when people kept telling us that no-one had ever thought terrorists could use civilian aircraft as weapons. What about the Tom Clancy novel where an avenging Japanese pilot landed a 747 on the State of the Union? Surely Clancy was just the sort of people Bush Jr.’s people read?

    Maybe I should have published these thoughts, controversial then but justified now, and had another shot at notoriety.

    But the honest truth is, sometimes when you’re in a shitty situation it’s just too hard to see how bad it is, let alone write about it objectively. Especially when the person who’s making it worse, by agreeing to every idiot idea from management, is supposed to be your friend. And I’m not great with conflict, so I didn’t really want to tell the truth to all those revenge blinded Americans.

    So in the end, this is the Spinneyhead you got instead. It’s still here. My enthusiasm has waxed and waned but never died, and the family has grown. Maybe, after all, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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  • I'd like to say Sidewinder, but I don't think I can afford to

    Aeroplane and other manufacturers demand royalties from model companies wishing to depict their products in miniature. This is fine for their commercial vehicles, argues Internet Modeller, but now they are increasingly demanding money to use the names and likenesses of their military creations. IM’s argument is that the names of the military’s toys are public domain as the taxpayer, through the government, paid for the development and acquisition of such things as the F22 rather than the companies that went on to build it.

    No doubt this licencing issue also exists for video games, but will it extend to authors wishing to be the next Clancy? Are the B-52s and U2 going to get backdated demands for royalties?


  • Executive Orders

    Okay fanboys, get your heads around this. Seven of Nine was married to Jack Ryan, President of the United States and recurring character in Tom Clancy’s books. But they got divorced. Seven cited the President’s desire to have sex with her in public at “avant-garde” (as he called them) clubs in New York and Paris (Tom Paris? He’s involved in all this as well.) They should have just used the holo-deck.

    (Executive Orders- Tom Clancy, Star Trek: Voyager)


  • MIP

    The other three people in my office are working on the Major Incident Procedure Policy, covering pile-ups, plane crashes and, of course, terrorist incidents. It all sounds cool and interesting, moreso than what little I’m doing. Perhaps I should send them this piece in the LA Weekly which gets all Clancy and imagines an Anthrax attack on the City of Angels.

    via GeekPress


  • The world according to Tom Clancy

    I first became addicted to techno-thrillers when I was unemployed. Needing something to keep me in the house without resorting to daytime TV, I scoured charity shops and second hand bookshops for anything to read. The only things which were less than a decade old were the free romance booklets given away with copies of More and the works of Clancy, Brown and their imitators.
    I didn’t expect to like the politics and wasn’t surprised by the flat characterisation. But I was hooked and have now waded through a dozen or so of these bricks. It has become obvious to me that the genre adheres to a few simple formulae, as follows-

    1. The military is always right.
    Politicians have rarely been able to make sensible military decisions- influenced as they are by paranoia about backstabbing or spin- and there seems no reason why soldiers should be any better at making decisions about the economy. However, in the techno-thriller, the only people whose decisions are for the good of the country come from one of the armed services.

    1a. Some parts of the military are more right than others.
    Depending upon the favoured service of the author, their branch of the services gets more of the action. Stephen Coonts’ guys are usually naval fliers, Dale Brown favours the boys and girls of the bomber wings and Area 51’s toys. Clancy himself, who didn’t serve, is most balanced, even bringing in the Feebs and Spooks. Write about what you know, and all that, but sometimes there’s a bit of childish name calling.

    2. America, America Uber Alles.
    Even the rare Brit writing techno-thrillers centres upon the US of A. Other countries are only good for occasional specialists, who are still in awe of the Yanks’ military system.

    3. Muslims are a bad lot.
    With the Soviets no longer a plausible threat, most plots now revolve around the towelheads running rampant. (Though Clancy did take a little time out to show those uppity Nipponese who was still boss. [Debt of Honour]) Occasionally someone will comment that most Muslims are honourable people before proceeding to send hordes of them to meet Allah, but usually the only followers of Islam encountered are about to be used as target practice by the Marines. [Executive Orders, Shadows of Steel]

    3a. China’s a bit dodgy too.
    Pre September 11th, ragging on the ragheads had worn thin with everyone, and they turned their attentions to Mao’s boys [Hong Kong, Fatal Terrain, Sky Masters, The Bear and The Dragon] (though Clancy took time out again to slap ecologist about and defend GM and Ford’s right to build cars that need their own oilwells [Rainbow Six]). I guess that’ll be over with now.

    4. Women must always be protected.
    And wait at home and worry. And be prepared to give up their career to go where their husband’s job takes them.

    4a. Jack Ryan is the most fertile man in the world.
    In all of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels that I have read, the character has only had sex with his wife twice. And she got pregnant each time. This reminds me more of The Meaning of Life than a mature relationship.

    5. ‘It was the sort of thing that only happened in bad movies/ novels/ TV programmes.’
    An observation made by characters each time some horrendously contrived plot twist, suitable only for a bad movie, novel or TV programme, happens. As characters turn into franchises the twists are getting ever more convoluted.

    And, finally, the award for being most out of touch with reality. In Task Force 61, the task force has landed, ready to kill a few Arabs. The commander is strolling along the beach. He marvels at how all his troops- black, white, hispanic- have rallied together to listen to the hard, raw, gritty music of the streets. The song- ‘You can’t touch this’ by MC Hammer.

    Break out the baggy trousers men, we’re going to war!


  • Resolutions

    In a vain attempt to make sure I keep some of them, I’m going to put forward a huge list of resolutions. With so many things to aim for, I should hit one or two.
    Stop
    Worrying so much.
    Paying attention to negative people. So much of what passes for political debate is just one attack after another on the opposition. Occasionally an attack is deserved, and I know I won’t be able to keep from making one or two myself, but I’m going to try to make positive suggestions more often than insults.
    Start
    A health regime. More exercise, better food, etc.
    A better paying job/ making money from this site. (Might happen.)
    Tidying up the computer/ books room.
    Begin
    The Sounds of Soldiers. A satire on the works of Clancy and the like.
    Finish
    Heavensent.
    All the models I started this year.
    DEx, the comic I started work on last year.
    All the unread books on my shelves before I buy any new ones.


  • No Title



    As I’ve just spent the last three days buried in Fatal Terrain and with the film version of The Sum Of All Fears coming out here this week, I was reminded of a little something I wrote a while ago. I’ve added a couple of extra comments, in bold, and links to some of the books on amazon (because no matter how much I mock them, they are addictive).-

    The World According To Clancy

    I first became addicted to techno-thrillers when I was unemployed. Needing something to keep me in the house without resorting to daytime TV I scoured charity shops and second hand bookshops for anything to read. The only things which were less than a decade old were the free romance booklets given away with copies of More and the works of Clancy, Brown and their imitators.

    I didn’t expect to like the politics and wasn’t surprised by the flat characterisation. But I was hooked and have now waded through a dozen or so of these bricks. It has become obvious to me that the genre adheres to a few simple formulae, as follows-

    1. The military is always right.

    Politicians have rarely been able to make sensible military decisions- influenced as they are by paranoia about backstabbing or spin- and there seems no reason why soldiers should be any better at making decisions about the economy. However, in the techno-thriller, the only people whose decisions are for the good of the country come from one of the armed services.

    1a. Some parts of the military are more right than others

    Depending upon the favoured service of the author, their branch of the services gets more of the action. Stephen Coonts’ guys are usually naval fliers, Dale Brown favours the boys and girls of the bomber wings and Area 51’s toys. Clancy himself, who didn’t serve, is most balanced, even bringing in the Feebs and Spooks. Write about what you know, and all that, but sometimes there’s a bit of childish name calling.

    2. America, America Uber Alles.

    Even the rare Brit writing techno-thrillers centres upon the US of A. Other countries are only good for occasional specialists, who are still in awe of the Yanks’ military system.

    3. Muslims are a bad lot.

    With the Soviets no longer a plausible threat, most plots now revolve around the towelheads running rampant. (Though Clancy did take a little time out to show those uppity Nipponese who was still boss. [Debt of Honour]) Occasionally someone will comment that most Muslims are honourable people before proceeding to send hordes of them to meet Allah, but usually the only followers of Islam encountered are about to be used as target practice by the Marines. [Executive Orders, Shadows of Steel]

    3a. China’s a bit dodgy too.

    Pre September 11th, ragging on the ragheads had worn thin with everyone, and they turned their attentions to Mao’s boys [Hong Kong, Fatal Terrain, Sky Masters, The Bear and The Dragon] (though Clancy took time out again to slap ecologist about and defend GM and Ford’s right to build cars that need their own oilwells [Rainbow Six]). I guess that’ll be over with now.

    4. Women must always be protected.

    And wait at home and worry. And be prepared to give up their career to go where their husband’s job takes them.

    Vaguely related-

    4a. Jack Ryan is the most fertile man in the world.

    In all of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels that I have read, the character has only had sex with his wife twice. And she got pregnant each time. This reminds me more of The Meaning of Life than a mature relationship.

    5. ‘It was the sort of thing that only happened in bad movies/ novels/ TV programmes.’

    An observation made by characters each time some horrendously contrived plot twist, suitable only for a bad movie, novel or TV programme, happens. As characters turn into franchises the twists are getting ever more convoluted.

    And, finally, the award for being most out of touch with reality. In Task Force 61, the task force has landed, ready to kill a few Arabs. The commander is strolling along the beach. He marvels at how all his troops, black, white, hispanic, have rallied together to listen to the hard, raw, gritty music of the streets. The song- ‘You can’t touch this’ by MC Hammer.

    Break out the baggy trousers men, we’re going to war!

    I still have a hankering to do a satirical/ spoof techno thriller, but have a feeling too many people would take it seriously………….

    Platters that matter- Good Morning Vietnam (5 disc compilation, not the movie soundtrack.)


  • No Title

    I’ve started reading the last Tom Clancy, The Bear and The Dragon, to satisfy my guilty techno-thriller craving. I’m only a fraction of the way in (it’s bloody huge), but first impressions-
    You can’t stop reading it, you need to know how it’s all going to pan out. The good news is it looks likely to be another large-ish conflict at the end, just based upon the characters being set up, rather than the nasty anti climax of Rainbow Six. The bad news is you get more than the usual Clancy editorialising through characters- a depiction of the Chinese which isn’t quite racist but is certainly xenophobic, some unnecessary homophobia, dismissals of ecological concerns in ways which would sound stupid to anyone but an oil baron and regular slagging of Clinton (despite the fact that in Clancy’s universe, ol’ Bill never even made it into the White House.)
    I’m still going to read all the way to the end though.