"Due to other writing commitments, Patrick O'Brian has engaged his close
friend Tom Clancy to ghost-write his next book. An extract is printed below.
At first this may seem an unlikely pairing; it dates back to a review by
Mr.O'Brian of Mr. Clancy's book 'The Sum of All Fears', at which Clancy took
offence and called his elderly fellow author out for a duel. This was settled
by each carrying his trademark weapon - an antique silver-handled flintlock
pistol for O'Brian, and a laser-guided anti-tank bazooka with computerised
wind-compensation and terrain-following guidance system for Clancy (both
obtained by mail-order from Sears). The duel resulted in minor flesh wounds
for both and a rather singed appearance to O'Brian's hair, at which point
honour was satisfied and a firm friendship ensued. We are honoured to print a
small part of the resulting book."
*** NORTH ATLANTIC, 0900 ZULU, 13 DECEMBER 1803
In the grey cold fog, the silent, sleek, deadly hull of the HMS Stealthy
cut through the waters. On her quarterdeck Jack Aubrey peered about him
through the mist.
"What have we got up, Tom ?"
"Sir, I have two lookouts at Combat Mast Patrol on the fore and main
crosstrees, and two midshipmen spotted on the deck at Plus Five readiness
with orders for the tops."
"Get 'em up, Mr. Pullings"
At the blast of a whistle, deckhands rushed up to the mids, snatched away
their coffee cups, rammed hard round hats and small silvery spectacles
designed by Stephen on their heads, and stood back. The midshipmen twirled
forefingers and gave a thumbs-up, a crewman raised his right arm, and two
burly Able Seamen picked up the reefers and launched them at the ratlines.
They swarmed upwards.
"They're off, Sir."
"Very good, Tom."
A short while later there came a shout.
"Conn, Masthead: one sail, bearing two-five-zero, range four, closing.
"Evasive, Mr. Pullings."
A short while later, they were ghosting along behind the other vessel,
murky in the fog.
"Tom, I believe we may... - er, why is Mr. Martin shouting 'Call the
ball' at that bird ?"
"Truth to tell, Sir, I'm not entirely sure."
They watched with puzzled frowns as the Revd. Martin dropped his red and
green lanterns and screamed "Wave off! Wave off!" at a small fat quail gliding
down towards the deck. It clipped the taffrail, tripped nose down onto the
deck and skidded forward to collide with Jack's feet, smoking gently. Martin
grabbed it, took a roll of paper off its leg, and gave it to Jack before
hurrying downstairs with the bird, comforting it. The paper was labelled
"Admiralty Mk.IIIA Quail-Type Long-Range Communications Asset, HM Govt
and was crammed with coded gibberish. Jack shook his head resignedly and took
below. Damned newfangled devices.
As he entered his cabin an arm shot round his neck and squeezed his
windpipe, and an uncouth voice breathed in his ear:
"I can break your spine in three places from here with my left kneecap.
The desk is booby-trapped, I know 15 martial arts, I've just poured
gunpowder down your shirt and I can light a match with my bare teeth. You can
me Clark - John Clark. It's not my real name, but you'll be dead before you
"Look - for God's sake, Killick."
"Oh. Beg parding, Cap'n. I was just guarding these here wicked private papers,
and I didn't knows it was you."
"Christ. Well, here's another one. Take it down to my clerk, and if I
catch you at my Madeira again..."
There came another shout from above. The ship in front was heeling to
starboard unexpectedly - a French manoeuvre known to the Royal Navy as 'Crazy
Yves'. Jack rushed on deck, shouting 'back the foretopsail!'.
"Conn, Masthead: we're cavitating - the sails are flapping! He can hear
A shot boomed out from in front. It had been meant as a warning, but a
ball came skipping over the water, ricocheted off a tall wave, and smashed
Jack's quarter-gallery to smithereens. He looked down mournfully at the
of his place of ease drifting away in the swell, reflecting that only that
morning he'd taken half a dozen of the Doctor's special blue pills. That did
"Bonden, stand by to establish contact with submarine assets," he barked.
"Tom, in the Doctor's absence please ask Mr. Martin to arm the ASLOTH
Bonden ran below and leaned out of a gunport. Below him the Doctor's wooden
submersible, copied after his earlier model used in the Red Sea, bobbed
a few feet under the surface. Above him he heard the cry, "Bonden, activate
the Ultra Low Frequency underwater communications device". He promptly
picked up a bargepole and rapped smartly three times on the top of the wooden
Inside, Stephen and Padeen heard the thump - thump - thump. "Is there to be
no peace in this miserable war-torn world ?" fumed Stephen, flinging aside the
squid he'd been examining. There was a sad wet squelch. "Very well - hand me
that cursed book", He rifled through His Majesty's Admiralty's General
Printed Instructions on the Deployment of Underwater Vehicles, 3rd Edition.
"Three taps - STAND OUT FROM UNDER, WE'RE SINKING - no, no, wrong page -
ah, here we are: BY THE AUTHORITY INVESTED IN ME BY THEIR LORDSHIPS, I DO
REQUIRE AND DIRECT YOU TO CONDUCT UNRESTRICTED WARFARE AGAINST ALL
SURFACE TARGETS IN VICINITY, OR ANSWER TO THE CONTRARY AT YOUR PERIL. RULES OF
ENGAGEMENT OPTION BRAVO. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. - good heavens, all that
from three taps, for all love ?"
"The English are a verbose race, so they are." replied Padeen in his native
fluent Gaelic, climbing on to his geared pedals. Outside a propellor
began to turn, and they moved off. Operation SCREAMING JELLYFISH was underway.
Back on deck, Jack brought the ship about and gave the order to fire.
His Gunner had been a gunner's mate under him on board the old Worcester,
and had unfortunately been deeply impressed by the firework powder that Jack
had used for practice firing. Nowadays he had to be constantly checked
from loading the ship with flares, flying rockets, sparklers, and
Catherine wheels. The results of his last run ashore now became sadly apparent
the guns went off and the air between the two ships filled with spinning,
whistling, dazzling projectiles in assorted colours; great gushes and
of sparks; shots that flew up to a great height and then divided into
countless lovely flames, and one that exploded into hundreds of tiny flares on
cute little parachutes. The Gunner giggled and rolled around on the deck,
chuckling and sucking his thumb. His mate hurried him off to feed him
more of his regular dried herb pills.
Meanwhile, Martin had finished his preparations. He patted the hollow
projectile, and watched as it was loaded into a stumpy gun on the
forecastle. There was a loud bang, and the secret weapon was on its way. It
out over the water. As it reached its apogee, the protective shroud fell
away and the warhead got its first view of the enemy. Wearing little
goggles, it peered around as its canvas canopy opened. The sloth settled
gently on the deck, unseen, and began to gnaw away at the rigging.
Jack stood on his quarterdeck and gazed through his telescope as his elite
forces did their worst. The enemy's masts tumbled in a confusion of
sails as the sloth triumphed. The Gunner's special unauthorised flare-shower
the whole mass on fire. Finally the diving bell with its specially adapted
hull-mounted surgical bone-drill sent the lot bubbling into the sea. The
Gunner's last shot detonated in a carefully timed shower of delayed flares,
leaving the words THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING TO THE SHOW HAPPY GUY FAWKES DAY
THE KING AND PARLIAMENT hanging in letters of fire above the wreckage.
The clerk came running up on deck, waving his decoded message. "To Captn
Stealthy comma at sea stop", it read. "Be advised my brother Heneage in
your immediate area comma carrying despatches for you stop convey my regards
Doctor Maturin stop Melville comma FstSeaLd stop".
"Er..." said Jack, looking uncertainly at the sodden splinters drifting
past him. The fog rolled in.
[Marketing Director to Editorial team, MEMO: any chance of getting Craig
Thomas instead ?]"
On Thu Oct 19, Bob Bridges wrote
>That makes sense. When I read a story where the author gets the computer details right, at the very least the missing mistakes don't distract me from the story and at best I actually enjoy finding a writer who took the trouble. I read one of those just last week, now if I can just remember whose ... oh, I'll bet it was Twice Shy by Dick Francis. And I remember grimacing at some of the computer concepts attempted in the beginning of The Hunt for Red October, although in the end I raved over it.
>(I'd told my librarian I'd been caught up in submarine stories lately, and she recommended THfRO. I came back raving, as I said, and she told me "Yeah, that books been kind of a sleeper; it's been around for about two years and nobody's noticed it, but suddenly it's getting attention". After that I read all the Tom-Clancy stories, but within a few months I had to start getting on a waiting list.
>Max, if Grisham were already an adored favorite I might not want to know—or maybe I would—but as it is I'd rather hear the facts than revere the author: Care to let me in on one or three of the fatal legal-procedure flaws? (I have a private bet with myself that one of them might be the bit in The Rainmaker where the insurance company "complied" with the discovery requirements by handing over unintelligible computer reports several feet thick, and during the trial the lawyer handed the same printout to an executive of the corporate defendant on the witness stand and asked him several questions based on that report, which the executive of course couldn't answer. I thought it was a lovely move at the time, but later I decided it's probably an old trick and therefore no longer used.)
>On Thu Oct 19, Max wrote
>>If, like me, you are a lawyer then the plot holes in Grisham are fatal.
>>Clancy is like George Martin, just dense enough to keep my attention without requiring real thought.
>>On Wed Oct 18, Bob Bridges wrote
>>>Funny—I can't recall a Tom-Clancy movie that satisfied me, certainly including Hunt for Red October. I probably would have liked it better had the book not spoiled me for the movie.
>>>I used to think the problem was simply that books always spoil me for the movie, but I've found a few exceptions. Mostly when movies change the plot, I get all chuffed about it. I can live with Liv Tyler as an elf, but that whole added bit with Strider falling off a cliff seemed like a stupidly unnecessary embellishment to me—and I was wroth, very wroth when Faramir dragged Frodo and Sam all the way back to Osgiliath before finally releasing him with that fatuous line "I think at last we understand each other, Frodo Baggins". The recent attempts at Narnia stories I accorded one horrified look and then turned away in disgust. And so on.
>>>But except for a few movies that clung closely to the book (for example Where Eagles Dare and the Harry-Potter series), the ones I enjoyed seem to be where the plots changed so much it was almost a different story. Jaws wasn't much like the book, but they made a good (different) story out of it. Likewise Jurassic Park.
>>>I'll risk the pedantry just long enough to ask: David Niven good or bad? Oh, wait, Larry Niven! Yes, I'm always getting those two turned around; sorry about that.
>>>On Wed Oct 18, NiceRedTrousers wrote
>>>>The thought of David Niven and Jerry Pournelle collaborating made me chuckle: "The Moon's a Balloon" with added Moties.
>>>>Larry Niven on the other hand...but I'm being pedantic - sorry!
>>>>I do like Niven and Pournelle, and I agree about Heinlein. When I was devouring his books in my teens I'd read anything, even if I did struggle a bit with Stranger in a Strange Land and some of his later works.
>>>>I'm a big Neal Stephenson fan - Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle (great for history buffs), but I have to grind through some of his more recent stuff.
>>>>I can't say I've read any John Grisham. I think the marketing of the blockbuster films may have put me off, but then it didn't put me off Tom Clancy so maybe I should give him a go.
>>>>On Tue Oct 17, Bob Bridges wrote
>>>>>We were speaking of Alistair MacLean recently, who (in not just my opinion) started out well and trailed off miserably. I'd say Peter Benchley did the same; I loved Jaws and The Deep, positively adored The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, and as I recall Jaws 2 was good—I'm talking about the books, not the movies—but Beast was pretty bad and White Shark was just awful.
>>>>>Now, I have a different problem with John Grisham: Some of his novels I can't put down, and some I can't finish. I don't think it's a matter of inconsistent quality, just that some appeal to me and some don't. I'm curious about whether I'm the only one.
>>>>>In the first category, "Couldn't put it down", I'd put A Time to Kill, The Runaway Jury and The Client, also maybe The Rainmaker. Couldn't finish The Star Chamber, I can't identify why. I finished The King of Torts and Gray Mountain, but I wish I hadn't; they were far too preachy, with one-dimensional villains both individual and corporate. I just finished the first Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer and plan to read more. (I never did give up reading juvenile novels, and don't plan stop now.) I see that there are a lot more on his list; guess I'll have to sample more of them.
>>>>>With most authors I love, once I find out about them I'm willing to read anything they write. Elizabeth Moon and Robert Heinlein leap to mind; also any collaboration by David Niven and Jerry Pournelle, any Kipling story ... well, never mind. The point is that for some reason John Grisham writes novels I love and novels I hate. Anyone else have that reaction? And can anyone identify why?