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What is a Techno Thriller


The techno thriller genre contains action-oriented books that explore in great detail the use of military technology to solve complex domestic and foreign threats within in a suspenseful plot. They have more military action and battles than the spy thriller does. The main characters are almost always men with a special-ops background who are either military or ex-military. If you want to write in this genre, remember that realism and technical accuracy are a must.

Author Tom Clancy is usually regarded as the founder of this genre. Back when he was first writing it in the 1980s, the plots were much more unambiguously good-versus-evil to reflect the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nowadays, techno thrillers have much more shades of gray than their black-and-white predecessors. A common theme in today's techno thriller is the United States government being too concerned with diplomacy and political correctness to do the right thing and stand by its troops; therefore, when the hero can't get a risky but necessary mission approved, he "goes off the reservation" and handles things himself while his sympathetic supervisor covers up for him. Often the hero is tempered by something tragic in his past such as having been the sole survivor of a platoon massacre or having had his family wiped out by terrorists. There is a strong theme of military service and patriotism in these books, especially the early ones. Mercenaries are rare, and while a hero might working as a mercenary, his actions are always motivated by a higher moral principle than just money.

The typical techno thriller hero is a square-jawed regular guy with a special-ops background. He could be military or ex-military as in U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets), U.S. Army Airborne Rangers, U.S. Navy SEALs, or U.S. Marine Corps Force Recon. He might now be assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) or the National Security Agency (NSA). He is almost always generically white, of no particular religion, and divorced. His spouse, who often has her own high-powered career, usually has grown apart from him because of his frequent absences while on the job. Though techno thrillers have almost no place for romance, the heroes of techno thrillers frequently meet women whom they grow to care about and with whom they come together in sex scenes that are typically fade-to-black or awkwardly and minimally described. This is to humanize the hero so he doesn't come across as a total robot obsessed with military hardware.

Sometimes the main character is a woman but her role must be represented with realism. Therefore, while she might be a pilot or captain of a ship, she is not going to be, say, a Navy SEAL because that wouldn't be allowed in real life. The treatment of female characters is almost always evenhanded and realistic without the sexism and exploitation that prevails in the men's adventure genre. The hero usually has a friend who is a brilliant hacker to lend computer help, and a sidekick who is almost as accomplished as he is but not quite. The sidekick assists him and sometimes needs a rescue to ratchet up the suspense. Meanwhile, the villain, while more realistic than a James Bond baddie, often has a weird quirk to show how twisted he is for example, he might like to hunt humans on his own personal range.

The readership for techno thrillers is probably ninety percent male to ten percent female and is made up of older, ex-military, conservative types and younger computer geeks who will never join the military but like to fantasize about weapons and technology. They like extended descriptions of hardware but will get impatient with too much geo-political theorizing or characters such as economists and diplomats standing around, explaining the plot to each other. Again, the genre demands realism and description of technology that is detailed, up-to-date, and accurate. Readers want to know about all the armor, radios, computers, ships, tanks, missiles, helicopters, planes, side arms, bombs, and guided weapons systems. The need for realism extends to character actions. For example, one of Dale Brown's recent novels had an American president who behaved like a dictator; this undercut the entire story's credibility for some readers. If you would like to write techno thrillers, you should line up some technical advisors and read extensively in the genre, starting with early Tom Clancy, early Dale Brown, and Brad Thor.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Val Kovalin. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Val Kovalin. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Val Kovalin for details.

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