Entry updated 14 September 2015. Tagged: Theme.
A common term, used in this encyclopedia to designate a tale which, though it often makes use of sf devices, in fact occupies an undisplaced, essentially mundane narrative world, one that – during the years when technothrillers were most popular, from the 1950s to the 1970s – was commonly seen through a Cold War lens. Though usually taking place in the present day, technothrillers may be set in the Near Future and invoke Technologies beyond the capacities of the present moment, but they differ from sf in two important respects. First, like the unknown in Horror novels, science in the technothriller is either inherently threatening or worshipfully (and fetishistically) exploited. Second, a typical technothriller plot evokes a technological scenario whose world-transforming implications are left unexamined or evaded, often through the use of plots in which a potential sf Novum is reduced to a McGuffin. Thus the sf element, though common enough, tends not to be presented in a sophisticated or analytic way. A new Invention, often a Weapon, menaces world peace, or conversely promises a better world; in either case, Villains – whether radical, conservative or merely greedy – attempt to build, capture, subvert or destroy it; the only transformation of the world permitted is the End of the World, which almost never happens. Any novel in which future developments in science play a central role is not a technothriller at all: it is sf.
Examples of technothrillers by sf writers are Frank M Robinson's and Thomas N Scortia's successful collaborations from The Glass Inferno (1974) to Blow Out! (1987), Robin Cook's tales of Medicine gone awry, and many of the films loosely based on Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. The latter are examples of the most common variety – the political thriller in which the artefacts of science serve as gear (or fetish) and as a target for the Paranoias of our era. [JC/PN/DRL]
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