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FICTION

Harrison Ford, Call Your Agent : EXECUTIVE ORDERS. By Tom Clancy (Putnam: $27.95, 874 pp.)

August 25, 1996|Paul Dean | Paul Dean is a Los Angeles Times staff writer

In this, his longest and lumpiest collage of fundamental values and techno-babble, Tom Clancy resolves our Clinton-Dole-Perot-Nader uncertainties by suggesting the least of five evils: Jack Ryan for president.

Ryan--the indestructible, tighter-zippered superhero tied to Clancy and the CIA as closely as martini-weenie James Bond was to Ian Fleming and MI5--certainly speaks what the electorate knows in its heart is right: "Please, do not send me politicians. I need people who do real things in the real world. I need people who do not want to live in Washington. I need people who will not try to work the system.. . ."

He knows what's been klutzing up the system: "What ever happened to the truth? . . . It's all a game and the object of the game isn't to do the right thing, the object of the game is to stay here."

And, for God's sake, don't tread on Jack Ryan: "Those guilty of . . . attack will face our justice. We will not send notes of protest. We will not call a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council. We will make war with all the power and rage this country and her citizens can muster."

Yes, Mr. President. Tell 'em to kiss ours. Or we'll kick theirs. Because we're No. 1.

So, Clancy fanatics, relax in this familiar and wildly right mood of "Executive Orders," the logical, even plausible--lest we forget the World Trade Center or Lockerbie--sequel to "Debt of Honor."

In that masterpiece of action mayhem, you'll remember, America's trade war with Japan escalates to a Pearl Harbor II sneak attack on Pacific Fleet carriers. Ryan--seemingly risen on derring-do alone from college professor to deputy director of the CIA to national security advisor in five easy novels--saves our turkey bacon and the Detroit auto industry.

And in yet another eerie echo of real headlines, Ivory-pure Ryan gets the vice president canned for some Bob Packwood moves on the ladies. Now, most national saviors would have settled for a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a condo in Maryland. Ryan stepped into the vice president's job until the next election. Then, in the book's multi-megaton conclusion, a Japanese airline skipper dusts off his roots and proves that old kamikaze pilots never die. They simply fade into sore losers and stuff a Boeing 747 into the Capitol building.

Ergo, the final chapter of "Debt of Honor" becomes the first page of "Executive Orders," with Ryan up to his Irish eyebrows in rubble and gore. The president died when the Japan Airlines jumbo delivered its vote of no confidence. Also the Joint Chiefs of Staff and every Supreme Court Justice, most of the Senate, dozens of congressmen, and all but two Cabinet members.

So John Patrick Ryan is elected president by act of terrorism. His first thoughts don't exactly reflect the grit that carried his previous days against the Irish Republican Army, Colombian drug dealers, the Soviet Navy and Sean Connery. Ryan's musings, in fact, are more Dan Quayle than Abe Lincoln: "I don't know what to do. Where's the manual, the training course for this job? Whom do I ask? Where do I go?" (At least his grammar is correct.)

President Ryan, of course, does get his kit together and start saying and doing stuff fit for Harrison Ford or Alec Baldwin. All the time, courtesy of CNN, world leaders are watching Ryan in a global power vacuum. Some are former enemies stropping old scores or opportunists monitoring the teetering of American influence. Others are vultures seeing profit in our resources that may be up for grabs.

The bad guys--you win no lifetime subscription to National Review for guessing it's an ayatollah and those Iranians again--activate their death squads, cripple the military dictatorship of Iraq and forge a United Islamic Republic. Conquest of Kuwait and the Saudi kingdom and control of their oil supplies will be next. Then the baby UIR wants to crawl across Afghanistan and Pakistan and create a new, rich, powerful nation stretching from the Red Sea to China. With India and China its likely allies; with the United States and Russia its sworn enemies.

"Executive Orders" is a colossal read, which is praise for Clancy's ability to grind out exquisite details yet criticism of his inability to write an essentially simple geopolitical thriller in less than 874 pages. Quite worthy of note here is that the Cambridge text of the complete works of William Shakespeare ran only 125 pages longer; Raymond Chandler kissed off "The Big Sleep" in 155.

But if you can stay with him, if you can forgive Clancy some stereotyping here, some visible chauvinism there, there's no doubting the wizardry of his craft. His writing is too simplistic to place him among today's literati. But he is the honest-to-God creator of an exciting genre and a consistent producer of books that thunder, absorb and entertain.

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