Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” tells of a group of Soviet naval officers attempting to defect to the U.S. via the Atlantic Ocean in a highly advanced nuclear-powered submarine, as the Soviet Union gives chase with the intent to destroy and the U.S. attempts to secretly capture for study.
Here are 10 of my favorite excerpts from the novel, Clancy’s debut. Hope you enjoy them, too.
“Why is it, Comrade Captain, that you always seem glad to leave the Rodina and go to sea?”
Ramius smiled behind his binoculars. “A seaman has one country, Ivan Yurievich, but two wives. You never understand that. Now I go to my other wife, the cold, heartless one that owns my soul.” Ramius paused. The smile vanished. “My only wife, now.”
Sonarman Second Class Ronald Jones, his division officer noted, was in his usual trance. The young college dropout was hunched over his instrument table, body limp, eyes closed, face locked into the same neutral expression he wore when listening to one of the many Bach tapes on his expensive personal cassette player. Jones was the sort who categorized his tapes by their flaws, a ragged piano tempo, a botched flute, a wavering French horn. He listened to the sea sounds with the same discriminating intensity. In all the navies of the world, submariners were regarded as a curious breed, and submariners themselves looked upon sonar operators as odd. Their eccentricities, however, were among the most tolerated in the military service. The executive officer liked to tell a story about a sonar chief he’d served with for two years, a man who had patrolled the same areas in missile submarines for virtually his whole career. He became so familiar with humpback whales that summered in the area that he took to calling them by name.
“Sorry we don’t have any extra fuel, or I’d show you some aerobatics. The Harrier will do almost anything you ask of her.”
“That’s all right.”
“And your admiral,” Parker went on conversationally, “said that you don’t fancy flying.”
Ryan’s hands grabbed the armrests as the Harrier went through three complete revolutions before snapping back to level flight. He surprised himself by laughing. “Ah, the British sense of humor.”
“Orders from your admiral, sir,” Parker semi-apologized. “We wouldn’t want you to think the Harrier’s another bloody bus.”
Which admiral, Ryan wondered, Painter or Davenport? Probably both.
Tyler moved towards the door. It annoyed him that he could not walk gracefully, but after four years the inconvenience was a minor one. He was alive—that’s what counted. The accident had occurred on a cold, clear night in Groton, Connecticut, only a block from the shipyard’s main gate. On Friday at three in the morning he was driving home after a twenty-four hour day getting his new command ready for sea. The civilian yard worker had had a long day also, stopping off at a favorite watering hole for a few too many, as the police established afterwards. He got into his car, started it, and ran a red light, ramming Tyler’s Pontiac broadside at fifty miles per hour. For him the accident was fatal. Skip was luckier. It was at an intersection, and he had the green light; when he saw the front end of the Ford not a foot from his left-side door, it was far too late. He did not remember going through a pawnshop window, and the next week, when he hovered near death at the Yale–New Haven hospital, was a complete blank. His most vivid memory was of waking up, eight days later he was to learn, to see his wife, Jean, holding his hand. His marriage up to that point had been a troubled one, not an uncommon problem for nuclear submarine officers. His first sight of her was not a complimentary one—her eyes were bloodshot, her hair was tousled—but she had never looked quite so good. He had never appreciated just how important she was. A lot more important than half a leg.
Quentin sipped his coffee. His stomach rebelled at the additional caffeine, remembering the abuse of four months of hellish chemotherapy. If there were to be a war, this was one way it might start. All at once, their submarines would stop, perhaps just like this. Not sneaking to kill convoys in midocean but attacking them closer to shore, the way the Germans had done…and all the American sensors would be in the wrong place. Once stopped the dots would grow to circles, ever wider, making the task of finding the subs all the more difficult. Their engines quiet, the boats would be invisible traps for the passing merchant vessels and warships racing to bring life-saving supplies to the men in Europe. Submarines were like cancer. Just like the disease that he had only barely defeated. The invisible, malignant vessels would find a place, stop to infect it, and on his screen the malignancies would grow until they were attacked by the aircraft he controlled from this room. But he could not attack them now. Only watch.
Then the light clicked off. Ryan had wondered how long that would take. Did it mean that he was finished whatever the hell he was doing? It so, in an instant they’d be all gone. Or maybe the guy just realized how vulnerable the light made him. Trained field officer or not, he was a kid, a frightened kid, and probably had as much to lose as Ryan had. Like hell, Ryan thought, I have a wife and two kids, and if I don’t get to him fast, I’ll sure as hell lose them.
Merry Christmas, kids, your daddy just got blown up. Sorry there’s no body to bury, but you see…It occurred to Ryan to pray briefly—but for what? For help in killing another man? It’s like this, Lord…
“You’ve seen our file on Captain Ramius. He’s the Communist version of an eagle scout, a genuine New Soviet Man. Add to that the fact that a defection conspiracy necessarily involves a number of equally trusted officers. The Soviets have a mind block against believing that individuals of this type will ever leave the Workers’ Paradise. That seems paradoxical, I admit, given the strenuous efforts they expend to keep people from leaving their country, but it’s true.
Ryan hoped they would succeed and make their transition from Communism to freedom. In the past two days he had come to realize what courage it took for men to defect. Facing a gun in a missile room was a small matter compared with walking away from one’s whole life. It was strange how easily Americans put on their freedoms. How difficult would it be for these men who had risked their lives to adapt to something that men like Ryan so rarely appreciated? It was people like these who had built the American Dream, and people like these who were needed to maintain it. It was odd that such men should come from the Soviet Union. Or perhaps not so odd, Ryan thought.
The red and green buoy lights winked at them, dancing on the chop. Forward he could see the lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, but there were no moving automobile lights. The CIA had probably staged a messy wreck to shut it down, maybe a tractor-trailer or two full of eggs or gasoline. Something creative.
“You’ve never been to America before,” Ryan said, just to make conversation.
“No, never to a Western country. Cuba once, many years ago.”
Ryan looked north and south. He figured they were inside the capes now. “Well, welcome home, Captain Ramius. Speaking for myself, sir, I’m damned glad you’re here.”
The Red October sat alone with the dry doc draining around her, guarded by twenty armed marines. This was not unusual in the Eight-Ten Dock. Already a select group of engineers and technicians was inspecting her. The first items taken off were her cipher books and machines. They would be in National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade before noon.
Ramius, his officers, and their personal gear were taken by bus to the same airfield Ryan had used. An hour later they were in a CIA safe house in the rolling hills of Charlottesville, Virginia. They went immediately to bed except for two men, who stayed awake watching cable television, already amazed at what they saw of life in the United States.