Rainbow Six

Mark Athitakis reviews 'Rainbow Six' by Tom Clancy

Published August 25, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

In some respects, Tom Clancy isn't terribly different from Don DeLillo. Both are deeply concerned with the secret workings of the world -- the covert operations, shadow conspiracies and hidden histories that make things twirl whether we like it or not. In fact, like DeLillo's "White Noise," the plot of Clancy's 10th novel, "Rainbow Six," revolves around an "airborne toxic event." An international band of eco-terrorists funded by a pharmaceutical company CEO are plotting to unleash a deadly Ebola-like virus upon the entire world.

These evil-doers do a lot of plotting. It's not until about halfway through Clancy's 700-page tome that their nefarious plan finally reveals itself in full: Humans are doing so much damage to the planet that most of the population must be removed to let Mother Earth heal herself. (And of course, it's a plot that stretches all the way to the White House.) DeLillo could probably fill a few hundred intriguing pages sorting through the moral rot that presents itself here, but Clancy is a more literal -- and more hero-minded -- writer. His books aren't so much about evil as they are
about the military's unstoppable ingenuity when it comes to preventing
major bummers like this man-made plague. Which is probably why "Rainbow Six"
has a video game tie-in,
and "Underworld" doesn't.

The hero of Clancy's earlier novels, Jack Ryan, is absent here, but
"Rainbow Six" offers another familiar face in Jack Clark, who's called upon
to head Rainbow, an ultra-secret international anti-terrorist commando team
based in England. (Clark is "Rainbow Six," hence the title.)

"Rainbow Six" is breezy reading, even by Clancy standards. The long action
sequences in the book's early sections are ostensibly there as a way for
the eco-terrorists to test Rainbow's mettle, but it feels more like
page-padding. You read on, not in suspense, but in the hope that something
-- anything -- less contrived will happen. In one sequence, an IRA splinter
group discovers Rainbow's home base, where a Rainbow member's wife, who's
nine months pregnant, is staying. (Think they'll meet up?) The book is
almost certainly Clancy's most mean-spirited work to date. An unapologetic
pro-military conservative, Clancy spews pages of invective against tree
huggers of the Earth First!/Discovery Channel/Sierra Club ilk. Even the KGB
looks better than environmentalists, who kidnap people off the streets to
test their "Shiva" virus before unleashing it on the masses.

Except for the introduction of a people-finding device that reads enemies'
heartbeats in the field (Clancy claims it exists), there are no new
techno-marvels in "Rainbow Six." And the author stretches his narrative
powers so thin and voices his politics so stridently that the results are
flimsy even by his own standards. It's no wonder Clancy has so much
contempt for environmentalists: Anti-logging policies mean less paper for
his outsize books. But the joke's on Clancy. "Rainbow Six" is recyclable.

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis is a regular contributor to Salon.

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