Audiobook Review: ‘Red Storm Rising’ (2013 Bolinda Audio Edition)

(C) 2013 Bolinda Publishing Pty. Ltd. Original novel (C) 1986 Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd. and Larry Bond

The Coming “Red Storm”

Reviewer’s Note: This review is not about Tom Clancy’s novel Red Storm Rising; it’s about the audiobook edition of that 1986 book. For an in-depth look at one of the 1980s’ runaway best-selling novels, you can read my review here: Book Review: Red Storm Rising.

In the summer of 1986 – 34 years ago to the day – New York-based G.P. Putnam’s Sons published Tom Clancy’s second novel, Red Storm Rising. Co-written with former U.S. Navy officer and wargame creator Larry Bond – who later went on to write novels, including Red Phoenix and Vortex – Red Storm Rising is a spellbinding look at what a conventional Third World War – and especially a Third Battle of the Atlantic – might have been like with modern, i.e. mid- to late-Eighties, military weapons and technology.

The original hardcover edition.(C) 1986 Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd. and Larry Bond

Like Clancy’s unexpected debut novel The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising came at a pivotal time in world history. Ronald Reagan was in his fifth year as President of the United States, and the ongoing Cold War with the Soviet Union still seemed like it would either be a perpetual geopolitical conflict with no end in sight or – eventually – come to a boiling point and end in a Third World War and nuclear annihilation.

Reagan was elected in 1980 for a variety of reasons, one of which was his promise to restore America’s military to either deter Soviet aggression – a real fear to many people in  the West, who weren’t aware of the decline of the Soviet Empire and only saw the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the public displays of Red Army hardware at the annual military parades in Moscow’s Red Square – or fight (and win) a World War III “toe-to-toe with the Russkies.”[1]    The American armed forces – especially the Army – had been badly affected by the post-Vietnam War cutbacks on defense spending and problems with low morale, racial tensions, and indiscipline in the ranks. Reagan, in his first successful campaign for the White House, pledged to change that.

Screenshot from Cold Waters, a computer game inspired by Red Storm Rising. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

“He constantly taps the current world situation for its imminent dangers and spins them into an engrossing tale.” – The New York Times Book Review (1986)

The Hunt for Red October and – especially – Red Storm Rising were influential novels in the Cold War zeitgeist because – unlike many of the popular “action-adventure” novels with Cold War settings – they presented the U.S. military and intelligence communities in a more positive light. Clancy’s novels, particularly the early ones published between 1984 and 1991, were meticulously researched and plotted, even though Clancy – an Irish-American Roman Catholic and lifelong Republican – injected a lot of his conservative world view into his books, especially his popular Jack Ryan series. [2]

Red Storm Rising, therefore, was a huge success when it first hit bookstores in August of 1986, and it was – along with Clear and Present Danger ­– one of the decade’s biggest-selling books. So much so, in fact, that the hardcover edition remained in print well into the late 1990s.[3]

The Audiobook: Abridged…or Unabridged?

Starting in the mid-l980s when Sony Walkman portable cassette players with lightweight headsets took off and everyone and his cousin had one – or seemingly so – the audiobook also became a “thing.”  It was a popular medium by the time I started college in January of 1985; I remember walking into either B. Dalton’s or Waldenbooks and checking out the latest titles on audio.  

Back then, though, most audiobooks – including the first one based on Red Storm Rising – were abridged versions rather than complete editions. Audiotape – like its cousin videotape – has several drawbacks as a storage medium, the biggest one being running time.

For instance, Red Storm Rising, even without minutiae such as the Author’s Note, copyright page, and the Acknowledgment page, has a running time of just over 31 hours. That requires at least 31 one-hour-long cassettes. Such a box set, while not unheard of even in the mid-Eighties (I used to see the box sets for the unabridged BBC Radio readings of The Lord of the Rings whenever I visited Waldenbooks, which In those pre-Amazon days I did quite frequently, but they cost $150) would be prohibitively expensive and unwieldy.

Back in the old audiocassette days of the 1980s and ‘90s, I owned a modest collection of books on tape, including Red Storm Rising and Red Phoenix. They were abridged, of course, but they often featured professional actors that read them – I had two Star Trek novels that featured James Doohan (Mr. Scott) and George Takei (Mr. Sulu) as readers. Most usually featured at least a main title theme or musical transitions, and a few even had a few sound effects added for dramatic effect.

I owned – and listened to – Red Storm Rising’s abridged audiobook, which was read by F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) and had its own musical score and (limited) sound effects. It was, of course, restructured to fit in two cassettes, so to me, the effect was a cross between listening to an audio-drama based on a one-man play and reading a Reader’s Digest Condensed Books edition of Clancy’s novel.

Had I not owned and read the print edition I might have been satisfied with the original audiobook of Red Storm Rising. I bought the audiobook knowing that it was abridged because the long bus rides from my house to Miami-Dade Community College and back were usually mind-numbingly dull and tiring, so listening to music or a book-on-tape on my Walkman was preferable to nothing at all.

Now, of course, advances in audio technology have made it possible for publishers to release unabridged editions of books either on compact disc – a format that is slowly but surely being phased out – or as digital files.

Bolinda Audio’s ‘Red Storm Rising’

(C) 2013 Bolinda Audio. Red Storm Rising (C) 1986 Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd. and Larry Bond

In 2013, Australia’s Bolinda Audio released Red Storm Rising in an unabridged edition on two MP3-ready compact discs. This CD format allows users to transfer the files onto an iPod or similar digital device quickly and easily, as well as a home or car CD player, provided that it’s MP3-compatible.

When Moslem fundamentalists blow a key Soviet oil complex, making an already critical oil shortage calamitous, the Russians figure they are going to have to take things into their own hands. They plan to seize the Persian Gulf, and more ambitiously, to neutralize NATO.

Thus begins Red Storm, an audacious gamble that uses diplomatic maneuvers to cloak a crash military build-up. When Soviet tanks begin to roll, the West is caught off guard. What looks like a thrust turns into an all-out shooting war, possibly the climactic battle for control of the globe. – Audiobook back cover blurb, Red Storm Rising (Bolinda Audio edition)

Michael Pritchard. Photo Credit: Pacific Resident Theater

This unabridged reading of Clancy’s novel is performed by Michael Pritchard and is almost identical to Amazon Audible’s digital-only version. Here, Bolinda Audio omits several non-plot related sections from the print edition, including the Author’s Note that explains how Clancy and Larry Bond met and decided to join forces to write the novel, and the Acknowledgments page in which Clancy thanks various individuals – including the officers and crew of the Perry-class frigate USS Gallery (which the author mentions solely by her pennant number – FFG-26.

A port bow view of the Oliver Hazard Perry class guided missile frigate USS GALLERY (FFG 26) underway off the coast of Maine. US Navy Photo

Aside from these minor divergences from both the 1986 print edition and the Audible digital version – which does include the Author’s Note – the MP3 CD edition is a nicely-done reading of one of Clancy’s best early works.

Michael Pritchard first trained as a singer – he has a pleasant and sonorous voice from that – but although he has done some acting in live regional theater, his forte is reading audiobooks, and he has won severable industry awards for it, including the Audie Award for best history book narration in 2010.

Although Pritchard’s reading of Red Storm Rising is not as dramatic as F. Murray Abraham’s – his presentation of character voices is not as hammy as the Oscar-winning actor’s, for instance, it is solid and confident, much like Clancy (and to some extent, Bond’s) writing. Like any experienced actor and audiobook reader, Pritchard delivers the material in a pleasant, I’m-just-telling-a-story tone, avoiding overdoing the drama unless he’s doing dialogue,

Here, Pritchard is at his best. You can tell when he is the omniscient narrator standing in for Tom Clancy, and when he is delivering “the lines” spoken by Red Storm Rising’s multinational and predominantly male cast of characters. (I have not yet reached any parts when Major Amy “Buns” Nakamura, USAF appears, so it’ll be interesting how he “reads” her in the audiobook.)

Red Storm Rising probably will never be adapted into a film or miniseries; there was no Third World War in the late 1980s after all, and even if it were presented as an alternate history tale, it’s too massive and complicated to adapt into a dramatized version. It might work well as a radio drama, but such a project isn’t likely to be made, either.

Though the game Cold Waters is not directly based on Clancy’s 1986 book, its designers were inspired by MicroProse’s 1988 Red Storm Rising. In Quick Missions, players can even set up single missions that replicate scenes from the novel. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

The next best thing to a Red Storm Rising film, of course, is a good audiobook, especially an unabridged edition. And luckily, there are two: the Amazon Audible version, which I added to my Kindle edition purchase recently, and this Bolinda Audio edition on CD.

[1] One of my favorite lines from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

[2] Red Storm Rising is, along with SSN, one of the two major “Tom Clancy” novels that are not set in the late author’s long-running “Ryanverse.” Before his death of heart failure in November of 2013, Clancy wrote or co-wrote 14 novels that featured John Patrick Ryan, Sr either as a main character, a supporting character or as an off-screen presence (Rainbow Six and The Teeth of the Tiger are examples of the latter). Putnam, in an arrangement with Clancy’s estate, continues publishing “Tom Clancy” novels set in the Ryanverse that are written by other writers, including his last two co-authors, Grant Blackwood and Mark Greaney.    

[3] A boon for me, because I literally wore out two hardcovers and three paperback copies because I re-read them so often! I’m not careless or rough with my books, but I think I often fell asleep in bed reading, and the book would often fall off the bed or I’d sleepily just leave it open and facing down next to me, which put a lot of stress on the spine. My late 1990s edition is in better condition, although the dust jacket shows a bit of wear and tear if you examine it too closely.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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