WASHINGTON - Before Tom Clancy became an international publishing phenomenon, he was just another insurance salesman, working out of Baltimore and dreaming of a life as an author. With the arrival of his debut novel, "The Hunt for Red October," in 1984, that dream suddenly became a reality, establishing the man with the aviator sunglasses and the navy baseball hats as a perpetual presence on best-seller lists.
Drawing on his vast trove of technical military information, Clancy singlehandedly coined a new genre: the "techno-thriller." In Clancy's novels, the reader becomes acquainted with such things as forward-looking infrared scanners and magnetic anomaly detectors (good for finding submarines), vertical temperature gradients and downwind toxic vapour hazards (for studying the effect of chemical weapons), and Russian T-80Us and Chinese M-90s (various types of tanks).
Clancy's enthusiasm for the endless advance of technology in warfare was only matched (or nearly matched, anyway) by the outrageous plots he dreamed up. But as Clancy's novels have receded in the rear-view mirror of publishing history, those same plots have taken on an eerie quality, providing yet another spin on that old cliche: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
On Wednesday, Clancy died at the age of 66.
With his death, we look back on how the master spy novelist managed to predict some of the most far-fetched, surprising developments in geopolitics of the last two decades.