Government officials may have worried how Clancy knew that a Russian submarine spent only about 15 percent of its time at sea or how many SS-N-20 Seahawk missiles it carried. But his extreme attention to technical detail and accuracy earned him respect inside the intelligence community and beyond and helped make Clancy the most widely read and influential military novelist of his time, one who seemed to capture a shift in the country's mood away from the CIA misdeeds that were exposed in the 1970s to the heroic feats of Clancy's most famous creation, CIA analyst Jack Ryan.
"Thrillers, like all art, are always a reflection of the culture," said fellow author Brad Meltzer. "No one captured that Cold War fear — and that uniquely American perspective— like Clancy. Jack Ryan wasn't just a character. He was us. He was every American in those days when we were a push-of-the-button away from nuclear war."
Fans couldn't turn the pages fast enough and a number of his high-tech, geopolitical thrillers, including "The Hunt for Red October," ''Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger," were made into blockbuster movies, with another, "Jack Ryan," set for release on Christmas.
"Fundamentally, I think of myself as a storyteller, not a writer," Clancy once said. "I think about the characters I've created, and then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do. There's a lot of subconscious thought that goes on. It amazes me to find out, a few chapters later, why I put someone in a certain place when I did. It's spooky."
A tall, trim figure given to wearing sunglasses that made him look like a fighter pilot, Clancy had such a sure grasp of defense technology and spycraft that many readers were convinced he served in the military. But his experience was limited to ROTC classes in college. Near-sightedness kept him out of active duty.