Tom Clancy Doesn’t Know NetFrak

Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh.

So approximately ten years ago I was on a trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan with my mommy at the local casino so she could gamble and I could loiter in the hotel. At the in-house gift store I spotted a copy of NetForce, a Tom Clancy novel which caught my eye because I recently saw the made-for-TV movie of the same name and I enjoyed it. So I bought the novel, but me being ten years younger and ten years stupider than I currently am, I could not get through the first chapter. It wasn’t until recently, after going up into storage and pulling out a bunch of old books that I never finished, that I finally got around to reading it.

While NetForce isn’t a bad book there are a lot of things to hate about it. For one, the technology. The story of NetForce is supposed to take place in 2010…present day…but it was written in 1999 so it can be forgiven for screwing a few things up. But some things don’t make sense in a practical universe. For starters, in the “future” all web surfing is done through the use of VR equipment. People travel through the web on virtual highways in virtual cars and that is meant to simulate web browsing. Which may be fun for those on it, but the practical application of such a mechanism is non-existent. Why would you drive for three minutes to get to Google when you can just type http://www.google.com? Of course, as a literary device it works wonders. It brings all the excitement of high-speed chases into the world of cyber-crime, and allows events that take place online to be represented as more then just text on a screen, which was why the author did it. But as a man who expects some level of realism out of his sci-fis (as one might expect from my FlashForward review) this is nothing but disappointing. Suspension of disbelief is a powerful tool, but only goes so far. It’s hard to accept it when it makes absolutely no practical sense in the real world, even if you ignore the physical laws of the universe.

To a lesser extent there is another cringe-worthy moment: 900 MHz. At one point in the book the hard-core military guys are bragging about their top-of-the-line military computer system, with a 900 MHz processor. Really? For the uneducated, today’s top-of-the-line civilian computer system has a 2000 MHz dual-core processor. Dual-core being a fancy way of saying there are two processors in this one processor. Of course this could be a miscalculation on the author’s part. I mean: How were they to know processors were to advance so much in a period of ten years? I guess my biggest pet-peeve with some sci-fis is they decide to overestimate the technological advancements. We still don’t have ubiquitous space travel like we should have had nine years ago, and it’s true that we may never see a man named Zefram Cochrane construct a warp drive in this century. So it might be better in some cases to underestimate technological development, in order to keep it in the realm of possibility. But this is just pathetic. In 1999 the Pentium III processor was introduced, which had a clock speed of 450 MHz-on the low end, and that was a mainstream processor, not the best offered by the technology of the day. Basically according to the author of NetForce, in a period of ten years, processor speeds would double…that’s not what happened, and that’s not what Moore’s law would have predicted, especially if you grossly misinterpret it. Not only that, in 1999 AMD released the Athlon, which had a top speed of 1000 MHz. In 1999 we were already past what they would consider top-of-the-line in ten years. That is pathetic and really rather insulting. Personally I would have preferred they overestimate technological development, especially considering they did in other areas. We still don’t have fully functional VR systems, or holograms, and to be quite honest, I doubt we ever will. You know, it’s funny, if he talked to an expert in the microprocessor industry, they might have given him a better estimate, but honestly it would have been better if he simply said it was a top-of-the-line system, and left it at that. No numbers, just end it there.

The only other cringe-worthy moment (that I can think of) in the book, is in the second half when one of the major supporting characters, Genaloni, a stereotypical Italian mob boss, fondles his recreational vagina mistress.

As soon as she closed the door, he slid one hand underneath the silk thing and cupped one of her breasts. No silicone here, just smooth, warm boob.

…Really? Really, that’s what he went for? He used the words ‘thing’ and ‘boob’? He couldn’t think of anything more eloquent? How about ‘camisole’ and ‘flesh’? No! ‘Thing’ and ‘boob’! It’s like this is written by a six year old. Now, I know this is nit-picking but I must point out, this isn’t a typo. The author clearly chose these words. Now it’s true, the juvenile nature of this paragraph may be intentional. I mean this particular part of the book is told from Genaloni’s point of view, and perhaps he’s not the most eloquent speaker. However, it is also told in the third-person, meaning these aren’t his words anyway so it doesn’t matter!

Now, it’s important to note that this is not Tom Clancy’s fault. Why? Because he didn’t fucking write it! That’s why! Turns out the only books that Tom Clancy ever wrote were 11 non-fiction titles, Red Storm Rising, SSN (which appears to be about submarines), and the 12 books in the Jack Ryan universe, including Rainbow Six. Now, while that is an impressive resumé, you may notice it’s missing a lot of titles credited to Tom Clancy, specifically, NetForce. Turns out the real author of NetForce is a guy named Steve Perry and Clancy’s only contribution was coming up with the idea along with his friend, Steve Pieczenik. The only mention of Perry is in the Acknowledgements where, Clancy (I assume) thanks Perry for “his creative ideas and his invaluable contributions to the preparations of the manuscript.” Which last I checked does not mean, “he wrote the whole thing.” Now thankfully the book doesn’t explicitly say Clancy wrote it either, only that it belongs to him (the full title is Tom Clancy’s NetForce) and he “created” it with Steve Pieczenik…which is also false. Tom Clancy didn’t create it, I think they’re confusing coming up with the original idea with creating it. It’s like if someone creates a film out of an idea proposed by Steven Spielberg, and then say he created it. He didn’t do any of the work, he didn’t create it! He just came up with the idea, got someone else to do all the work and took all the credit. I’m sorry Mr. Clancy but that does not fly. The only reason I can see to give him any credit is marketing, making him a disembodied name. Which is bullshit because honestly, I would have bought NetForce with or without Tom Clancy’s name because I liked the movie and was intrigued by the premise: A special branch of the FBI is set up to monitor the Internet. Outstanding! I rarely, if ever, care who wrote the book. All I care about is if it’s good or not. The same thing goes with EndWar on the DS, I would have bought it with or without Tom Clancy’s name splattered across the front of it.

So that’s the book, overall a good read, but you know me, I like to nitpick. Honestly, I enjoyed reading it. What I did not enjoy was the movie which I re-watched recently. As a kid I probably enjoyed it, than again I also enjoyed eating dirt and playing the floor’s made of lava. I, like most kids, was not very bright. Nor did I have a critical view of cinema.

So why is the movie so bad? Well it could be the mediocre performance by Scott Bakula, which surprised me because from what I’ve seen he is a pretty successful actor, so he probably just phoned it in for this movie, or the script was so tacky he just made do with what he had. There’s also Judge Reinhold’s performance, which again was pretty bad, although it could simply because he was playing his character with a sort of manic personality…I’m going to go with that. But there are a few other problems, (Spoiler Alert) starting with the assassination attempt on Scott Bakula’s character, Alex Michaels, which is written pretty badly. The Selkie, the professional assassin hired to kill Michaels, decides to use an injected poison as a weapon. Now that is just a bad idea, guns and knives are a hell of a lot more effective and easier to pull off. Also, as a supposed master of disguise she is very bad at it. She acts very suspicious and very much unlike the character she’s supposed to imitate. Then when Michaels gets a call from his girlfriend, who the Selkie is supposed to be imitating, on video phone. It’s not until he fights with the Selkie, gets a low dose of the poison in him before putting the rest into her, falls into a coma for several days and is boldfacedly told what happened, that he clues in that they were two separate people. So apparently the man is retarded. Then they mention the Selkie had a dog which up until then isn’t mentioned in any context and makes no appearance. The only reason I can think of to squeeze that in was in homage of the book, in which the dog plays a significant role. But it doesn’t make sense in the movie in any way.

But that being said there are a few things this movie does right. It treats the VR element with a level of conservatism the book did not use. In the movie VR is used for visiting certain websites. You would go to the website through a standard web browser, then click on a link to get into the VR version of the site. It is used to visit chat rooms, view special content, and even visit some adult sites. It is much more practical treatment of the technology.

It also is worth noting, the movie departed drastically from the book. While the book depicted a Russian hacker enacting a plot to gain control of several governments, the movie depicted a software magnate attempting to activate the spyware he loaded in his popular commercial web browser. The only thing connecting the two is the death of NetForce Commander, Steve Day, the promotion of Alex Michaels to NetForce Commander, replacing Day, the four main characters, Michaels, Fiorella, Gridley and Howard, and the appearance of the Selkie, an assassin who is also a master of disguise. Beyond that, there is nothing connecting the two. Calling the movie an adaptation of the book would be very generous. But the question is: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s a good thing, one can enjoy both the book and the movie without getting spoiled for each, and they are both enjoyable. If you can get past the bad acting the movie is definitely worth two hours and the book is most certainly worth a read, especially for those into military fiction, because it handles that a lot better than the sci-fi. Which makes sense considering it belongs to Tom Clancy.

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