So, I have an additional theory about the technothriller’s fall. It’s not on the central level that Nader Elhefnawy argued (the fall of the USSR took away the biggest immediate driver), or my own speculation (high technology weapons became so common that they ceased being ‘new and exciting’). This is secondary to those.

The theory is that of a precedent that made it (even) harder to continue the thriller in its post-1991 climate. This is, for lack of a better term, the “high level focus”.

As Elhefnawy describes it:

“Rather than having his protagonist Jack Ryan conveniently turning up in the right place at the right time, every time, so as to dominate the narrative, the story’s action is widely diffused among a large number of organizationally and geographically dispersed viewpoint characters. (11) This includes a large number of minor ones, whose sole connection to one another is their playing some small part in the evolution of a common crisis; and whose sole function in the story is to provide a higher-resolution view of some particularly interesting bit of the larger situation.”

A lot of technothrillers would adopt this high-level focus. While I understand the reasoning behind it, I’ve found that more often than not, it’s detrimental. If I had to describe why, the two biggest reasons would be:

-The perspective-hopping gets in the way of a continual flow, turning it into a “this happened, then this happened, then this happened…” clunker.

-The large number of characters and plots make it harder to develop any specific one in detail.

Those are general critiques that could apply to any genre. Where I think the high-level focus amplifies the problem with the technothriller in general, and the post-1991 one in particular is:

-Going into a genre the author isn’t the best at writing. I’m especially thinking politics here, where it became an increasingly tinny “Stupid politicians getting in our way” at worst and flat at best.

-Most crucially, in terms of threat to the main characters. If there’s a low-level focus and all you need to do is write a challenge to the individuals, that’s fairly easy regardless of how ineffective the threat as a whole is. A single SA-2 battery to a fighter plane, whatever the on-paper threat, is still a guided telephone pole-sized explosive heading straight for it. If on the other hand, one has to go all the way up the chain of command, it becomes harder to present a force with obsolescent equipment as a true threat. And since the conventional threats got harder to find after the Gulf War and fall of the USSR…

This is not to say that a high-level focus can’t be done well, or that a low-level one can’t be done poorly. However, I’ve found low-level works that aren’t the best quality to still be fun (and not in a so-bad-its-good way) that bad high-level ones aren’t.

Before I finish, I should give a recommendation/example: Raven One is a largely low-level work that, while not award-winning, is still a good military thriller.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Perspective That Destroyed The Technothriller

  1. Hi. Nader Elhefnawy here.
    Thanks for your kind words about my article–which, naturally, I’m happy to see people still find interesting.
    Quite a few good ideas here–with this one particularly interesting, and I think, much more of a factor in the genre’s decline than I appreciated when I wrote the piece all those years ago. In fairness, much of what you identify as the problems of the high level focus haven’t been absent from not just entertaining fiction, but some of the greatest literature. (Tolstoy’s War and Peace certainly has the high level focus, problems and all, but manages to be extraordinary for all that.)
    Still, going over the bestseller lists critically, it’s hard to not be struck by how unusual it was for fiction with the high level focus, to attain such commercial heights. Popular fiction, before, during and after the techno-thriller’s heyday really has been dominated by work with the “low level” focus of individual stories, rather than the big picture. And I think that this difference made the genre very vulnerable to changes–whether the political change of the USSR’s fall, people finding new military technology less interesting, and the rest.
    I look forward to reading more of this blog in the future, and wish you luck in your writing endeavors more generally.

    Like

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