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Book details of 'The Bear and the Dragon'

Cover of The Bear and the Dragon
TitleThe Bear and the Dragon
Author(s)Tom Clancy
PublishedAugust 2000
PublisherPutnam Pub Group
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Score: score: 4.5 *****  Vote for this book

The Virtual Bookcase Reviews of 'The Bear and the Dragon':

Reviewer Rob Slade wrote:
Clancy is becoming a bit of a curmudgeon in his old age. He's still up there with the best when he's writing about shooting or dropping bombs on people, but he's started padding out the books with a lot more preaching (in some cases literally), and that's a lot less fun in anybody's book. Clancy may know military hardware, but he doesn't show any evidence of being familiar with any other technology. Binary code, while it is the object code that computers actually use, isn't measured in lines. He fundamentally misunderstands the concept of a computer virus. Digital telephone switches weren't around in the 1950s, and trap doors tend to get found, particularly when people poke at them for thirty years. Yes, a proper operating system can improve the performance of a piece of hardware (just ask any Linux devotee), but it can't work miracles. Ghost is a disk image program, and it does bundle files up, but it's used for backup or replication, not spying. One of the funniest mistakes in the book is the insistence that Chinese computers would have to store all documents as graphics files. (A word processor that stored material as graphics files would not be much use: the operator would not be able to manipulate the "text" in any way once it had been entered.) There have always been encoding systems for languages other than those that used a Latin alphabet, and most would now use Unicode. Ironically, for all the other mistakes, when we are told about a download of stolen material, the numbers do work out to a reasonable figure for a decade's worth of weekly minutes, provided nothing else was stored on the computer. He tapdances around encryption in this book, and, while he's obviously been told that 256 and 512 are magic numbers, he still doesn't understand what is going on in the field. 512 bits is probably not a safe key length for asymmetric encryption any longer, but it's way more than good enough for symmetric. Nobody could possibly want any key of 256 thousand bits. "Totally random" numbers are the Holy Grail of stream cyphers, but, as the sainted John Louis von Neumann has said, anyone who considers arithmetical methods suitable for producing random numbers is, of course, in a state of sin. (Clancy would be big on the "sin" part.) Details of encryption keys aside, for the moment, we have a pretty good idea of how strong any encryption system is. The NSA may employ more mathematicians than any other entity, but they don't employ all the mathematicians in the world, and they certainly don't employ all the computer scientists. Within a relatively small, but actually rather numerous, community, the strength of any particular algorithm is well known, as well as how many computer cycles it is going to take to break it. For a nice IDEA or triple-DES system, which is only nominally considered commercially secure, there simply aren't that many computers in the world. Yet. The myth that the NSA can break any code is just that, a myth. (And, yes, quantum computing has something to do with parallel processing, but not all that much at the current state of the art.) Given his lack of understanding of technology, and the software development process, it isn't surprising that Clancy is a big fan of the Star Wars missile defence plans. Hey, it's just a matter of making some software, right? Computers can do anything! The complexities are bound to be lost on someone who believes that Echelon can track, and the NSA can decrypt, every interesting phone conversation in the world. But I must admit that Clancy does get it right in the end. No piece of software is going to work flawlessly the first time, and it is usually some hidden assumption that trips you up. copyright Robert M. Slade, 2001

Reviewer wrote:
Power is delightful, and absolute power should be absolutely delightful--but not when you're the most powerful man on earth and the place is ticking like a time bomb. Jack Ryan, CIA warrior turned U.S. president, is the man in the hot seat, and in this vast thriller he's up to his nostrils in crazed Asian warlords, Russian thugs, nukes that won't stay put, and authentic, up-to-the-nanosecond technology as complex as the characters' motives are simple. Quick, do you know how to reprogram the software in an Aegis missile seekerhead? Well, if you're Jack Ryan, you'd better find someone who does, or an incoming ballistic may rain fallout on your parade. Bad for reelection prospects. "You know, I don't really like this job very much," Ryan complains to his aide Arnie van Damm, who replies, "Ain't supposed to be fun, Jack." But you bet The Bear and the Dragon is fun--over 1,000 swift pages' worth. In the opening scene, a hand-launched RPG rocket nearly blows up Russia's intelligence chief in his armored Mercedes, and Ryan's clever spooks report that the guy who got the rocket in his face instead was the hoodlum "Rasputin" Avseyenko, who used to run the KGB's "Sparrow School" of female prostitute spies. Soon after, two apparent assassins are found handcuffed together afloat in St. Petersburg's Neva River, their bloated faces resembling Pokémon toys. The stakes go higher as the mystery deepens: oil and gold are discovered in huge quantities in Siberia, and the evil Chinese Minister Without Portfolio Zhang Han San gazes northward with lust. The laid-off elite of the Soviet Army figure in the brewing troubles, as do the new generation of Tiananmen Square dissidents, Zhang's wily, Danielle Steel-addicted executive secretary Lian Ming, and Chester Nomuri, a hip, Internet-porn-addicted CIA agent posing in China as a Japanese computer salesman. He e-mails his CIA boss, Mary Pat "the Cowgirl" Foley, that he intends to seduce Ming with Dream Angels perfume and scarlet Victoria's Secret lingerie ordered from the catalog--strictly for God and country, of course. Soon Ming is calling him "Master Sausage" instead of "Comrade," but can anybody master Ming? The plot is over the top, with devastating subplots erupting all over the globe and lurid characters scaring the wits out of each other every few pages, but Clancy finds time to insert hard-boiled little lessons on the vileness of Communism, the infuriating intrusions of the press on presidential power, the sexual perversions of Mao, the poor quality of Russian pistol silencers ("garbage, cans loaded with steel wool that self-destructed after less than ten shots"), the folly of cutting a man's throat with a knife ("they flop around and make noise when you do that"), and similar topics. Naturally, the book bristles like a battlefield with intriguingly intricate military hardware. When you've got a Tom Clancy novel in hand, who needs action movies?

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