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Clancy's clear and present profit

Tom Clancy had come to the National Press Club to meet with the media, but he couldn't stand still. Distracted, he wandered into an adjacent room. He poked around, looking for _ what?

With shifting eyes and his trademark tinted glasses, Clancy looked the part of a secret agent, except that he happened to be carrying a big hunk of poundcake. He inspected every corner of the vacant room, opening cupboards with the quiet intent of a man searching for classified documents.

Finally, the fixture of the New York Times bestseller list completed his mission. He tossed the poundcake (minus one bite) into an empty plastic bin, the kind busboys use to haul dirty dishes. Then he paused and lit a cigarette.

Problem solved.

Having thrown away his breakfast, the best-selling author now could stand still and address the business of the day: the launching of a computer game, board game and paperback, all called Tom Clancy's Politika.

Between drags on his cigarette, he talked proudly about the multimedia venture. Politika begins with the death of Boris Yeltsin. In the board game and computer game, the players then form factions that try to take over Russia.

Each of Clancy's Cold War-era techno-thrillers _ starting with his debut, The Hunt for Red October _ has hit the bestseller list. But Clancy wouldn't predict whether Politika will be as suc

cessful.

"Either the public will like it, or" _ he pointed his index finger at his right temple _ "KAPOW!"

The legacy of Dante

and Magellan?

Don't let him fool you. If Clancy sounded worried about the public's appetites, it was only for a moment.

Soon, he would use a different tone, likening himself to a great explorer who is taking a risky voyage with the Politika project.

Clancy and his hired guns at Red Storm Entertainment, the corporation he formed a year ago, said this is the first of several computer games that will be sold with a Clancy book tie-in.

At the news conference Wednesday, the first speakers sat or stood at the head table, hands folded, and talked placidly about the new game: the use of Java software language, the marketing techniques and the mini-CD that comes with the book.

Not Clancy. When his turn came, he popped up from his chair, roamed the room and talked about storytelling. He looked more like a motivational speaker and less like the mysterious man from the poundcake episode.

Storytelling, he said, "started around campfires or in caves with Neolithic man."

Cavemen? Weren't we talking about computer games?

He continued with a discussion of the printing press, Dante, the daguerreotype and the achievements of Thomas Edison _ all of which, somehow, were precursors to the 45-million books he has sold in North America.

He also cited a major historical event while promoting his company's computer games.

"It's kind of like Magellan crossing the Pacific Ocean," he said. "We're not going to be following anybody. The rest of the world is going to be following us."

"State-of-the-art storyteller'

It's a big task to continue the legacy of Dante and Magellan, but Clancy seems to feel up to it.

"A state-of-the-art storyteller like me," he said at one point, without a hint of modesty or irony.

State of the art? Clancy has had great commercial success with books such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. But it's not as if he's one of the giants of American literature.

Then again . . .

A guy calling himself Tom Clancy recently started an online discussion, hawking the new computer game. He initiated a "chat" _ which allows several Internet users to talk to each other in cyberspace.

Most of the time, people use nicknames during these discussions. So a guy calling himself Tom Clancy couldn't be the Tom Clancy, could he?

"But are you really Tom Clancy?" asked "cooldude" (probably not his real name).

"No, I'm Ernest Hemingway," replied Tom Clancy (the real thing, it turned out).

Boris Yeltsin and capitalism

At Wednesday's news conference, an actor playing _ and even vaguely resembling _ Yeltsin made a guest appearance.

"I am not happy to learn about a game that (predicts) my death," the Yeltsin actor said. "However, I do not worry because I have cheated death many times."

Even though it was just an actor whose affected accent sounded more Chinese than Russian, Clancy still beamed at the visitor. Clancy loves Yeltsin, whom the right-wing author sees as the savior of the formerly communist nation.

Clancy, who started his career writing about Soviet spies and the KGB, has lots of reasons to love capitalism.

With all the books, Harrison Ford movies and, now, a computer game, Clancy regularly ranks among the country's highest-paid entertainers.

"That's the way the system works," he said. "You write a good book, the public likes it, and Shazam!"

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