I just started Tom Clancy’s newest book, Locked On. I used to enjoy Clancy’s books more, and I think it’s more because he’s changed than because I have. (Not that I haven’t changed.) I still like the older ones, for one thing; for another, conservatism has obviously changed quite a bit in the last, oh, thirty years, and some conservatives have changed with it. P.J. O’Rourke used to be one of my favourites, but I can hardly read his most recent books. Much smugger now. You didn’t used to get much of a whiff of partisan politics out of Clancy’s books; not true now. I think it used to be a lot easier to be a conservative without being a jerk*, is the underlying point.
But that’s not why I’m writing this. Clancy had a co-writer on this book, chap named Mark Greaney. I wonder if it’s Greaney who’s responsible for something I noticed in the first couple of chapters. At the start of the book, we’re introduced to a character named Israpil Nabiyev. He’s a guerrilla leader in Dagestan, and some Russian soldiers are coming after him. When the narration refers to him, though, sometimes it calls him “Israpil” and sometimes it calls him “Nabiyev”. It’s not confusing, because we know perfectly well it’s the same guy, but it is odd. Usually the author will settle on one name with which to refer to a character, and stick to it. Not here.
Flipping through the rest of the book, he does the same with other characters. Sam Driscoll is both “Sam” and “Driscoll”; Jack Ryan Sr. is “Jack” and “Jack Sr.” and “Ryan”. I say it’s unusual, and I wonder what’s up. Has Clancy been doing this all along and I only just noticed? I suppose I should go check. [Checks.] Actually, yeah. I just opened Executive Orders to a few different places, and he’s “Jack” in some sentences and “Ryan” in others. That’s weird.
One thing you used to get is for male characters to be referred to by their last names, and female characters by their first names. I’m not such a fan of that, but I suppose it’s a convention that still feels normal to most readers.
*Not that it’s impossible now! I know people who’ve managed it, seemingly without effort.