The writer as soothsayer

Can a novelist predict events or does he assume by relying on common sense? Tom Clancy's obituary pieces, while paying a tribute to his hugely popular espionage genre, have invariably mentioned his 'predictions'. He had believed so himself when he stated, “I hang my hat on getting as many things right as I can. I’ve made up stuff that’s turned out to be real — that’s the spooky part.”

Getting it right need not always be real. A magician gets things right, too. So, how did the stuff he wrote about become real, if it did?

Time magazine listed out four events that Clancy's book foresaw. Let us see whether imagination preceded reality.

9/11 and the planes

• 'Debt of Honor': "The pilot, driven insane with grief, flies his Boeing 747 into the U.S. capitol during a joint session of Congress."

The story was about Japan and the United States and there was a military conflict. Not terrorism. And not planned. Planes crash and crash into.

Where is the prediction?

2008 Russia-Georgia War

• 'Ghost Recon', a video game: Clancy’s game is strangely on target predicting the war’s start, as the game’s events take place in April 2008, just a few months before the real-world conflict began.

However, the Time piece also mentions that "tensions between Georgia and Russia were likely to escalate into military conflict". In this case, he did predict the year, since the game was released in 2001 but was set in 2008.

The question would be why did he choose 2008? Having done so and war being the natural result it is obvious that he could not possibly place the war at any other time. A video game has an urgency about it.

Getting Osama Bin Laden

• 'Dead or Alive': “The Emir,” the notorious terrorist has evaded the U.S. intelligence authorities, not by hiding out in South Asia, but Las Vegas.

No one in their right mind would believe that Osama would stay holed up in a cave for ten years. This fantasy resulted in terrible consequences for the region. He was found in Abbottabad, which is not Las Vegas, although some Pakistanis might be thrilled with the comparison.

The character being brought to justice has to do with a denouement, and not an ability to foresee. That the book was released a few months before the capture could be coincidence.

Edward Snowden leaks

• 'Clear and Present Danger': The U.S. government tries to stem South American drug trade. The CIA resorts to intercepting mobile phone communications between cartels in South America, to later launch covert military actions.

Tapping phones is not new. The Snowden tapes about NSA are damning because there is not one target and a specific purpose. There are issues of privacy and of superseding diplomatic routes with other countries that may not even have a problem with America.

Clancy wrote about the drug cartel in 1994, and the interception was a device to move the story forward.


These examples and questioning them do not in any manner take away from Tom Clancy's work. The more pressing concern here is about seeing a writer as someone whose imagination can create reality, so to speak. It somehow takes away from the art.

With cinema, we do debate about whether art imitates reality or reality imitates art. Film is a visual medium and mimicking it would amount to looking into a mirror. A work of fiction, even when it gets close to the bone and sears the soul, is about suspended reality. The characters could well be based on people who seem familiar, events in their lives may be true to our own, but the process is to build a story.

The story is the truth, and not whether we have lived through it.

There is much of futuristic writing that has predicted gizmos, and these are coming true. Should the writer be given patent rights? Was the writing a scientific endeavour?

George Orwell's '1984' is probably one of the most trenchant political treatises that makes sense even today, as it did when it was written. His 'Animal Farm' resonates with the 'kingdom' we live in.

Fables and parables are not predictions and yet they reflect the world we live in at any time. I dip into 'Alice in Wonderland' and it looks like a crystal ball to me. No one will call it real because it does not use a realistic theme or language.

But, then, do we understand the language of those who we see as enemies and do we really comprehend the words of friends? Such reality could well be 'unimagined'.

© Farzana Versey

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