where the writers are
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

8 Comment count
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As I read your piece and

As I read your piece and before you mentioned Orwell, I thought of Orwell. And I tend to not dwell on the comprehension of the words of 'friends' because as I found out more often than not that the words are merely an echo of a dream, an Alice scenario, a dark hole without anything to gain - and so I let it go and decided to write my own script. mx

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Dark hole

Orwell seems to never get dated, and since you mention Alice, one can read Orwell too again and again and find new meanings. 

M, writing one's own script seems to be the only way in which one can comprehend a reality that others do not manufacture. That dark hole can end up being quicksand. 


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Artist as creator


As you may know, literary/aesthetic theory supports your view of the artist's and art 's revelatory prophetic function and beyond that, even the capacity to create or "open up" to us new worlds or realities that we would otherwise never have experienced.

For example, in Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West,"  the narrator  describes a seaside singer in role or image of an artist, as being "the single artificer of the world in which she sang, and when she sang, the sea, whatever self it had, became the self that was her song, for she was the MAKER" [boldface mine]. Elsewhere, Stevens, musing from the artist's point of view, states, "I am the necessary angel of earth, since in my sight you see the earth again."

Literary theorist M. H. Abrams [THE MIRROR AND THE LAMP, 1953] similarly developed his thesis of  art as more than just "mirroring" or representing a reality already known but functioning beyond that as a lamp to illuminate and reveal new realities hitherto hidden in darkness.

A most "illuminating" blog worth reading, Farzana.

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While I agree that art and literature can extend our worldview, I am not sure if they must. That is what the Clancy enthusiasts have been talking about to the exclusion, almost, of story and its telling. 

To take your quote from Wallace Stevens:

"I am the necessary angel of earth, since in my sight you see the earth again."

Is not 'again' the operative word here? Therefore, the earth's reality remains unchanged. So, too, one might surmise that of an angel, although the nature of 'necessity' could be disputed. This would amount to a superimposition of a certain kind of reality over another. 

Abrams too alludes to perception. Would that not be as much about the reading as the writing? 

Of course, some writers do illuminate and enlighten and do not merely 'mirror' what is known, but then again if I were to read about the Aborigines, just their mirrored reality would be a revelation for me. 

Having said that, I do believe that true art transcends the obvious. It need not be prophetic, though. (But, then, the prophetic over a period of time becomes the obvious!)

Thanks, as always, Brenden, for your insights.


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art and physics

Dear Farzana:

I am reminded of Dr. Leonard Shlain, who proposed in ART & PHYSICS that "the visionary artist is the first member of a culture to see the world in a new way.  Then, nearly simultaneously, a revolutionary physicist discovers a new way to think about the world."

ART & PHYSICS is subtitled "parallel visions in space, time & light."  Shlain "juxtaposes the specific art works of famous artists alongside the world-changing ideas of great thinkers."

He also wrote THE ALPHABET vs THE GODDESS (the conflict between word and image), as well as  SEX, TIME AND POWER (how women's sexuality shaped human evolution).

He earned his medical degree at the same university where I later did my undergraduate work.  I met him years ago at an alumni event.   He died in 2009.  Shlain's last book was published after his death:  LEONARDO'S BRAIN.


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Physical art


It is just so fascinating to compare the artist and the physicist. Thank you for introducing me to Dr. Leonard Shlain's work. 

His quote makes a subtle difference between the two: 

"the visionary artist is the first member of a culture to see the world in a new way.  Then, nearly simultaneously, a revolutionary physicist discovers a new way to think about the world."

Seeing vs. Thinking. While the artist would recreate his vision, the physicist might affect reality by thinking about it differently and acting upon it.

An artiste is a thinker, too, therefore what the juxtaposition of art with ideas of thinkers throws up would not be surprising, especially in the more physical form of art.  

I must try and read up on, and by, Shlain. 


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Things happen before they happen.

Or so my experience has been. And so many of my friends have been presicent, particularly science fiction writers and most particularly (Sir) Arthur C. Clarke. I loved this, Farzana. And I owe you an email. ~ Hx

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On 'knowing'

Glad you mentioned science fiction, for one would assume that these writers have some knowledge of the subject and are not writing with only the tools of imagination. (For the purpose here, I am applying a broad brushstroke and ignoring the research involved in other forms of writing.) Some possibilities are in the realm of prior understanding, and of course one cannot dismiss the power of intuition, which I consider to be a highly evolved form of intellect.

Always good to hear your views, Harrison, and thank you.

PS: I do look forward to the email. Much to share.