Monday, January 26, 2009

Just slightly ahead of our time

Last week's SF and Nonsense chat (thanks to everyone who dropped by!) visited several topics. Tropes in SF occupied much of the back-and-forth, and what makes a fictional alien interesting, and whether tropes are good or bad things, and what fraction of SF readers welcome -- or shun -- scientific rigor. Large swathes of the nominally SF section of bookstores are alternate history, or scientific fantasy, or high fantasy, or oaters in space, or ... darn near anything but SCIENCE fiction.

Which led briefly to a related literary form: the techno-thriller. Arguably the techno-thriller is science fiction -- the type of SF with its science/tech front and center. No fantasy, no hand waving, no magic -- just stuff that works or very plausibly can be extrapolated from what we already know to work. Think Michael Crichton, (some) Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, Stephen Coonts, Robin Cook ....

By most definitions of science fiction, science must be, somehow, integral to the story. That said, science's role may be metaphorical or tangential or stage setting.

As with so-called hard SF (hard meaning scientifically rigorous), tech -- and lots of it -- is integral to the techno-thriller. The techno-thriller reader grooves on technical description. Techno-thrillers can (to some tastes) overdo the digression into neat techno-toys, but description is expected. Perhaps because these stories are grounded in today's cutting-edge tech, techno-thrillers are generally -- I want to say always, but someone will surely cite an exception -- near future. (See, there is meaning to this post's subject. I merely took longer than usual to get there.)

By their content, techno-thrillers could be considered SF. By marketing and convention (and location at the bookstore), techno-thrillers are positioned as a separate genre. And yet hard SF and techno-thrillers logically speak to similar readers.

Much of my writing straddles the fence. In fact, I have declared myself a "perpetrator of science fiction and techno-thrillers."

What say you? Are techno-thrillers SF marketed differently? Or are techno-thrillers a genre all their own?

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