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View Full Version : Technothriller Grudge Match



Ordinary_Guy
07-15-2006, 08:05 AM
Okay, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense readers... for you folk that are fans of the "technothriller" subgenre, who rules the roost:

Tom Clancy
Michael Crichton

Most importantly: why?
Alternately: do you know somebody who is better?

Gillhoughly
07-15-2006, 08:41 AM
For me they're neck and neck for "I'll pass on those writers."

Clancy--Too fond of data dumps, repeats same scene from different POVs but fails to add anything new, tons of info about, but no real depth to characters, and--according to a Navy SEAL I know--some of his tech stuff is wrong, the intent being disinformation to bad guys or his sources aren't all that great from the start. It's too easy to flip over a dozen pages of deadwood filler to get to a plot point. Red October is still his best--because they weren't afraid to EDIT him then.

Creighton--Any revealed-an-inch-at-a-time plot is bogged down by details (he tol' not show'd). Three to five page chapters are the norm, not one memorable character, they're mere cyphers to the storyline. I've started several of his most popular titles and have yet to get past page 20. Managed to finish ONE book through, but only by skimming. (He made ONE good statement that I liked. Something about the planet has been here for X billion years and is not in need of saving--WE are what's endangered.)

Both do well as "airport books." They'll get you through a boring business trip when you've exhausted the airline magazine. Combine with an in-flight martini and you've got a cure for insomnia.

Techno thrillers are usually plot-driven, and I prefer character-driven stories. However, they could still both improve with a decent edit job and some workshopping. :tongue

In other words, there are far better writers I go to for learning the craft. Adam Hall was one of them. Excellent characters and suspense. When I have that I don't care about the tech being included or not. I'm caught up in the MC's struggle, not how he describes/plays with his toys.

LloydBrown
07-15-2006, 09:15 AM
Okay, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense readers... for you folk that are fans of the "technothriller" subgenre, who rules the roost:

Tom Clancy
Michael CrichtonMost importantly: why?
Alternately: do you know somebody who is better?

I ate up Clancy's Without Remorse and Red October as two great stories, but I think Crichton shows greater range. Loved Congo and Jurassic Park. Clancy's better at characterization, I think.

asorum
07-15-2006, 09:37 AM
I like Clancy better than Crichton. Clancy covers material more in line with what I associate with technothillers, but I don't like the way he repeats things. Dale Brown writes a good techno...

Ordinary_Guy
07-15-2006, 12:32 PM
...some of his tech stuff is wrong, the intent being disinformation to bad guys...
The "heartbeat detector" pops to mind. It was supposedly based on some real tech in development when he wrote it but it wound up never making it to reality. Funny thing: equivalent tech has since caught up and passed what he was aiming for back when he wrote it.

I can appreciate being a bit "speculative" in a technothriller you want to stay ahead of the curve... but it's embarrassing when you make a prediction and you're wrong. OTOH, he did a heckuva job predicting the use of airliners as weapons of mass destruction.

Both do well as "airport books."
I was a fan once, and I still hold a good deal of respect for them for what they've accomplished as writers... but I can't even bring myself to read them in the airport. You're right: neither one gets edited much and it hurts their product.

[Personal Disclosure: air travel is a natural sedative for me. I have the hardest time staying awake on a plane. Can't really say why, though it does mean I don't bother trying to read on a plane anymore...]

When I was young[er] guy, both were formative in my writing style. I did the short chapter thing a few times... then I jam packed a long chapter with ultra-short sections. It gave a real sense of plot motion and it almost kinda worked. Almost. My style really developed as a mish-mash of the two of them. Over the next 10 years or so, that combined style was a good springboard to evolve into something new (and, I'm hoping, something very marketable).

Ordinary_Guy
07-15-2006, 01:06 PM
I ate up Clancy's Without Remorse and Red October as two great stories, but I think Crichton shows greater range. Loved Congo and Jurassic Park. Clancy's better at characterization, I think.
I'd have to agree (at least from what I remember). Clark, Ding and Ryan were all likable characters. OTOH, Clark, Ding and Ryan were always in a politically-staked military theme... and while I admit I have an appreciation for the theme, it gets old (experimenting between WMD methods doesn't really qualify as "range"). Crichton has done viruses, robots, monkeys, aliens and dinosaurs. That's just a whole lotta fun!

Another "ding" on Clancy: he tends to lowball SpecOps training. Heck, I thought "Ding" was a great character but I suspect that he would've gone through a bit more schooling before being assigned to an international (?!) tier-one counterterror team. And "Rainbow"? Are they HQ'd in San Francisco? I'm all for non-prejudicial equality but there are certain loaded associations that simply become a distraction a distraction that the military would be particularly sensitive about.

If Clancy could inject a little Marcinko fiction* into his special operations, I think he might be dangerous again. FWIW, I do think Marcinko qualifies as technothriller over "men's adventure" or "action/adventure" he's got an emphasis on equipment and technique that's just thick enough to nudge him over the threshold.

Now... Crichton... man, I love his subject matter but this guy forgot how to write anything beyond illustrations of the law of unintended consequences. He loses characterization for plot and makes his tension with hysterical sensationalist warnings about scientists-gone-wild. I think he's single-handedly encouraged a Luddite movement around the world (and... I guess this review pretty much counts out getting a cover endorsement from him).

*...Marcinko is excellent on the "feel" of field ops, but Clancy would need to swap some of the trademarked "Sharkman" testosterone attitude for "Quiet Professional" adrenaline.

Just my two rounds, of course.

Ordinary_Guy
07-15-2006, 01:07 PM
Dale Brown writes a good techno...
Don't know him. Any recommendations?

Gillhoughly
07-15-2006, 06:40 PM
Marcinko

If this is the same dude I'm thinking of, then I've got it on good authority that he's 99% show to 1% reality of experience. If that much.

While at a gun show looking for research books to add to my library, I mentioned his books to a couple of hard-bitten guys in the same, shall we say, "line of work," and they burst into laughter. After inquiring about their reaction they let me know he's not too terribly close to their reality and left it at that.

Wish I could have bought them a beer and learned more, but they reminded me of the value of taking things with a big grain of salt! :tongue

BTW--guns shows are a great source for books on firearms and weaponry of all sorts, along with picking the brains of people who have been there, done that.

I always triple check my research on that for the sake of my readers in the military. One of my regular drinkin' buds is a retired army major (turned science teacher) and is the most nit-picky drive-you-up-the-walls detail guys in the world. He must have been hell to serve with and be a tough teacher, but he's perfect as a proofreader!

asorum
07-15-2006, 08:42 PM
Don't know him. Any recommendations? Flight of the Old Dog
Storming Heaven
Sky Masters
http://www.megafortress.com/

Jamesaritchie
07-15-2006, 10:55 PM
Clancy has, I think, written a few very good novels. Hunt for Red October, Without Remorse, Clear and Present Danger, and Patriot games are all, in my opinion, very, very good reads. The rest of his novels are so boring I couldn;t believe it. But these four were very, very good.

I like much of Michael Crichton's work, but I don't really consider him a tecnothriller writer at all. Thriller writer, maybe, but most of his work really falls into science fiction. But he doesn't write much like the real tecnothriller writers out there.

Ordinary_Guy
07-16-2006, 05:30 AM
...I like much of Michael Crichton's work, but I don't really consider him a tecnothriller writer at all. Thriller writer, maybe, but most of his work really falls into science fiction. But he doesn't write much like the real tecnothriller writers out there.
Interesting point you bring up.

I was always under the impression that a "technothriller" was a thriller that placed a high emphasis on technology of one sort or another. Where a traditional thriller was about human tension (mortal-level drama, obviously), a technothriller brings technical process up to the level of a character. The process itself could be anything, from scuba diving to CQB tactics, and the narrative simply gives the process it's due as a dramatic catalyst.

This would be different from simply an emphasis of thriller approach with paramilitary focus otherwise you'd have "Men's Fiction" or "War" genres (which I used to read as a kid). Who here remembers "Mack Bolan"?

Crichton treats his stories as a modern day event sequence that interfaces with a speculative element (like bringing dinosaurs back to life). Dean Koontz, Stephen Coonts, James Rollins... all have books B&N classifies as thriller/technothriller that have a real speculative element to them. I would imagine that the key is simply couching speculation in some sort of real-life framework. Make it "present" enough and (and throw in enough humanism) even "Sphere" can be treated more as thriller/technothriller than science fiction.

Ordinary_Guy
07-16-2006, 05:48 AM
If this is the same dude I'm thinking of, then I've got it on good authority that he's 99% show to 1% reality of experience. If that much.
I've heard plenty of mixed opinions on the guy but I think a lot of that is simply personality (he isn't afraid to step on toes).

While at a gun show looking for research books to add to my library, I mentioned his books to a couple of hard-bitten guys in the same, shall we say, "line of work," and they burst into laughter. After inquiring about their reaction they let me know he's not too terribly close to their reality and left it at that.
I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. As soon as you say "books", you're inviting some loaded responses.

He's got one book that I'd trust as reasonably accurate: his autobiography. After that, it's all fiction and it seems a lot of folk take his fiction as extensions of his autobiography,*then get miffed that he's plays to the audience with outrageous antics.

A lack of separation in voice doesn't help Marcinko's cause there, but he sold a series, paid legal costs and built himself a small cult of personality.

Wish I could have bought them a beer and learned more, but they reminded me of the value of taking things with a big grain of salt! :tongue
I'd be interested (as carefully and subtly as possible) to find out if they realized everything after the first one was "fiction."

BTW--guns shows are a great source for books on firearms and weaponry of all sorts, along with picking the brains of people who have been there, done that.

I always triple check my research on that for the sake of my readers in the military. One of my regular drinkin' buds is a retired army major (turned science teacher) and is the most nit-picky drive-you-up-the-walls detail guys in the world. He must have been hell to serve with and be a tough teacher, but he's perfect as a proofreader!
Yeah... I've been to a few "shows." Personally, I'm a lover (not a fighter) but I have found a few interesting stories from folks, sometimes in the least likely of places.

Linda Adams
07-16-2006, 02:54 PM
Interesting point you bring up.

I was always under the impression that a "technothriller" was a thriller that placed a high emphasis on technology of one sort or another. Where a traditional thriller was about human tension (mortal-level drama, obviously), a technothriller brings technical process up to the level of a character. The process itself could be anything, from scuba diving to CQB tactics, and the narrative simply gives the process it's due as a dramatic catalyst.



I've always thought a technothriller was this, too. I grew up reading SF, and I think that if I read Crichton's books thinking they were supposed to be SF, I would be disappointed that there weren't more of the other elements of SF in them. A lot depends on where the focus of the story is, and in Crichton's technilogy drives the plot (which is how Trish Skilman defines Technothriller in her book on the genre). Thriller is still a genre lacking a defintion, and having one would help with confusion like this.

By the way, Trish Skilman counts Patricia Cornwell's forensic series as a technothriller, too.

Ordinary_Guy
07-16-2006, 09:11 PM
...By the way, Trish Skilman counts Patricia Cornwell's forensic series as a technothriller, too.
That would make sense.

In fact, the CSI/forensics thing could easily fall into genre overlap between technothriller and crime novel. I'd probably lean it toward "crime" simply because the nature of the genre and what fans are looking for but you could easily argue that a higher action, higher tension crime novel could lean thriller/technothriller simply based on what has the weight in the plot.

Jamesaritchie
07-16-2006, 11:16 PM
You aren't supposed to read Crichton and think he's SF. You aren't supposed to think he's thriller, either. You're supposed to think he's mainstream. This, at least, is the goal of his publisher.

You can, in truth, classify darned near anything as thriller, or as technothriller, and bookstores often do. But for me, at least, real technothrillers use real technology, or at least technology that is currently feasible, if not in active use. At the outside, it uses technology that could be built right now, if we wanted to do so. Clancy does this. So do all the techno-writers I read. Crichton usually does not.

Crichton uses speculative technology. His novels pretend the technology is real, or currently feasible, but most of it isn't. Most of it lies firmly in the future, and a good bit of it will probably never be real.

Many hard SF writers do use the same techniques Crichton uses, and their novels are indistinguishable from his.

The only element necessary to make something SF is that the story itself be speculative, and makes use of technology that is also speculative. With Clancy, we read about technology that is, with Crichton, we read about technology that might, or might not, someday be. This is the hallmark of science fiction. As opposed to sci-fi, of course.

The only Crichton novel I've read that I'd classify as techno-thriller is The Andomeda Strain.

Dawno
07-17-2006, 02:11 AM
Interesting conversation - I enjoy thrillers - I prefer political/international intrigue types. Just finished The Camel Club by Baldacci and The Broker by Grisham. Neither are techno - both got *meh* reactions from me. I'm really hoping someone with a fresh take on the genre comes along soon.

Good Word
07-17-2006, 02:27 AM
Hey! I like this thread! Thanks for starting it, Ordinary Guy.

I have read some of both, and enjoyed and was disappointed by both, too.

I thought Sphere was awful--like he wrote a rough draft and it was published. But Crichton is a pretty interesting guy. I read somewhere that he wrote novels to put himself through med school. Can you believe that?