In an appreciation of science fiction and its authors, Philip K. Dick once noted of the genre, "It's not just 'What if?' It's 'My God; what if?'" When I learned of the death of novelist Tom Clancy at age 66, those words immediately came to mind. To understand Clancy and his legacy, it's useful to remember a time when we didn't casually toss around terms like "SEAL Team Six" and "radiological bomb," and the only people who worried about the threat of "NBCs" were network-television execs.
The power of Tom Clancy is that he gave us a glimpse into a post-9/11 world from the relative comfort of the 1990s. He described the astonishing might of the world's militaries, and of the power that generals wield only for want of an enemy. He didn't just tell you about a fighter jet; he let you fly it. He didn't just quantify the destructive power of an atomic bomb; he blew up the Super Bowl. Restraint was never his specialty, and if it seemed like he was sharing details on par with number of bolts in an aircraft carrier, it's because you could almost see him having so much fun while he was writing. He was a geek with a restless imagination, and vast swaths of his prose are like an applied version of Jane's Defense Weekly.