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Technothriller- Sci Fi?

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message 1: by Tastykimchi (new)

Tastykimchi | 112 comments So I was reviewing my book list and, like many of you, i see mostly sci fi and fantasy. I also have a bunch of tom clancy (the older stuff up to rainbow six) and while based very much in reality (as opposed to books like... the name of the wind) there are usually some near future tech that is included in the book. Red October has the catepillar drive, Rainbow Six revolves around a genetically modified virus. The techno thriller also includes jurassic park which has many sci fi ish concepts.
Would you all consider those books sci fi? how much science is necessary for that?


message 2: by terpkristin (new)

terpkristin | 4102 comments I bet that everybody in this group has a different opinion on this. I personally don't consider those "typical" sci-fi (neither do I consider Daemon or Freedom (TM) to be sci-fi, FWIW), but I also don't think Star Wars is really "sci-fi." It was written in the form of the classic myth and as such is much more "fantasy" with science-y parts...

I don't think it's so much "how much science is necessary" as the form of the story and what it tries to do. Science fiction, at least as I typically think of it (such as 1984), to me seems to be more making societal statements or give warnings about trends in society, using typical sci-fi mechanisms (dystopian settings, technology allowing laziness, technology leading to overabundance or overpopulation or...)...


message 3: by Geoff (new)

Geoff (geoffgreer) I contemplated this very topic in regards to Michael Crichton books. Some of his books are undoubtedly close to sci-fi (including my fave Crichton book - Sphere) but I've never really thought of them as sci-fi books but as thrillers (technothrillers if you like to be specific, which I don't).


message 4: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Science fiction is about how a new technology or scientific advance affects society. Most technothrillers are the opposite of that -- Hunt for Red October and Cardinal of the Kremlin are about depriving the Soviets of some cool new piece of tech, and Jurassic Park is all about how There Are Some Things Man Is Not Meant To Know.


message 5: by Tastykimchi (new)

Tastykimchi | 112 comments i think those are good points, but ignore a lot of sci fi. Lots of sci fi doesn't ask the big questions. I would state the Honor Harrington series isn't about the sci fi, or how it affects society. It is more of a retelling of an old story (age of sail and horatio hornblower) in a future setting. I would argue that the Hunt For Red October is about how new technology affects society (changing the balance of power) and Jurassic Park with it's message seems to go along the themes that old school sci fi touches.


message 6: by Trike (new)

Trike | 7944 comments Technothrillers are sci-fi. No question at all.

The hardest of hard-line definitions of Science Fiction is, "If you take out the science, the story collapses." So little SF actually measures up to that standard that I don't find it very useful except for defining "pure" examples of the genre.

That said, The Hunt for Red October perfectly fits the definition. If you take away the Red October, you have no story. The sub was as science fictional a vehicle as Verne's Nautilus, because the tech didn't exist at the time.

Science Fiction is not limited by milieu. It can take place at any time and in any place. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away or next Tuesday in Toledo. Doesn't matter. All it requires is extrapolation on something scientific or technological. So a space war between planets or a Cold War between nations are fair game for sci-fi. As long as there's one bit of "techno" in the technothriller, it's sci-fi.


message 7: by Phil (last edited Jun 11, 2013 09:15PM) (new)

Phil | 1126 comments I tend to agree with Trike. If there's any science or technology in the story that didn't exist when it was written then I would call it science fiction. It actually kind of bugs me when something like Jurassic Park isn't listed as science fiction but it's a marketing decision. Some people won't read science fiction because it's "too juvenile or weird" but will read every Michael Crichton or Dan Brown book. Kurt Vonnegut didn't like his books labelled as science fiction beacause he knew they sold better if they weren't.


message 8: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Preiman | 347 comments I agree with Trike too, and that feels a little strange.


message 9: by Darren (new)

Darren I also hate to say that I agree with Trike.

Hunt for Red October is absolutely science fiction. I know people who became engineers because of Tom Clancy, and it sure wasn't for his later works.


message 10: by Darren (new)

Darren Sean wrote: "Science fiction is about how a new technology or scientific advance affects society."

I don't agree with this definition at all, but Hunt for Red October does meet it. It meets it in both directions, in truth. The turbine tech of the Red October represents the tip of the spear for Soviet Communism (I capitalize to distinguish it from communism) to extend its sway over the world, or would have done.

Soviet Communism is also shown to affect their own scientific advance. When Ryan finally gets aboard the Red October, a lot of attention is paid to how much of their state of the art submarine is horribly dated in other ways, because of the way the Soviet state controls spending. I haven't read it in years, but I remember a lot of attention paid to the sonar, for example.


message 11: by Gene (new)

Gene Phillips | 32 comments "The hardest of hard-line definitions of Science Fiction is, "If you take out the science, the story collapses."'

The problem I've always had with this definition is that by its logic MARCUS WELBY M.D. and HOUSE become science fiction stories.


message 12: by Joe Informatico (new)

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments I always thought the definition of "technothriller" was a thriller with a lot of rigorous, thorough research into the technical details of the story, whether those details are actually some kind of technology, medical or other emergency services procedures, or the workings of bureaucracy and politics. That definitely applies to early Tom Clancy, but not, IMO, the James Bond fantasies of his later work.

But you also have some authors--Michael Crichton comes to mind--who are writing science fiction, but get labelled as "technothriller" to avoid the stigma of genre fiction. "Science fiction", to many people, is still that genre for teenage boys with spaceships and Jedi and laser guns, while a "technothriller" is a hard-hitting examination of real issues. Or something. Frankly, I find a lot of recent technothrillers the kind of reactionary anti-science fear-mongering I expect from most Hollywood science fiction, not well thought-out explorations of the potential impacts of new technologies.


message 13: by Rick (last edited Jun 12, 2013 02:12PM) (new)

Rick | 2750 comments OK, I'll say it. I don't agree with Trike. Not fully at least.

First, the definition is too broad. Any story with science in it as a central point is thus SF and that feels too broad. SF, I think, needs a speculative component, not merely a scientific or technological one.

To me, SF is fiction that posits a scientific or technological change* and examines the effect of that change on the world. I'd further argue that the change should be non-obvious. For example, a story about a world where Google Fiber is ubiquitous could perhaps be considered an SF story but only of the most mundane, boring kind.

However, take this story about how we might be able to shield things from quantum effects and thus from reality itself and make it real and you might have an interesting story. The difference? One is a mere "this world but a bit more" while the other is "here's a brand new thing we can do".

So, technothrillers CAN be SF, but aren't all necessarily SF. Red October doesn't feel like SF but a political thriller with some character driven subplots. Yes, the captain steals a sub with a new drive design, but that's merely a plot device to enable him to get away and to explain the intense pursuit by the Soviets. It makes the sub hard to find and thus keeps everyone from saying "Oh come on, they'd detect him right off..." but the technology isn't at all front and center and doesn't really alter the world in any meaningful sense.

*This change doesn't have to be in the future though that's the easiest path in most cases. Alternate history stories can be SF too (see many of Harry Turtledove's books) as can what I think of as alternate present day stories (Robert Charles Wilson's Spin is a great example of the latter)


message 14: by Darren (last edited Jun 12, 2013 08:29PM) (new)

Darren Gene wrote: ""The hardest of hard-line definitions of Science Fiction is, "If you take out the science, the story collapses."'

The problem I've always had with this definition is that by its logic MARCUS WELBY..."


They are. Why would medical fiction not be science fiction? Medicine = science!


message 15: by Trike (new)

Trike | 7944 comments Christopher wrote: "I agree with Trike too, and that feels a little strange."

Darren wrote: "I also hate to say that I agree with Trike."

Aw, you guys are making me blush.

I'm not the devil. I mean, yes, I'm *a* devil but not THE devil.


message 16: by Trike (new)

Trike | 7944 comments Rick wrote: "So, technothrillers CAN be SF, but aren't all necessarily SF. Red October doesn't feel like SF but a political thriller with some character driven subplots. Yes, the captain steals a sub with a new drive design, but that's merely a plot device to enable him to get away and to explain the intense pursuit by the Soviets. It makes the sub hard to find and thus keeps everyone from saying "Oh come on, they'd detect him right off..." but the technology isn't at all front and center and doesn't really alter the world in any meaningful sense. "

Science Fiction can encompass all the other genres, though. So there's no reason why it can't be a political thriller AND sci-fi.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Martians, Go Home -- Science Fiction Comedy

The Forever War, Starship Troopers -- SF war

The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton, The Caves of Steel -- SF police procedural

Altered Carbon, Flashback -- SF noir

Territory, Wild Wild West -- SF western

...and so on.


message 17: by kvon (new)

kvon | 562 comments I thought part of being within a genre is interaction with other works in the genre, which is why it can be weird when a mainstream writer tries to do an sf novel. I like the term sfnal to describe things that have sf elements, but aren't part of the tradition of sf. I suspect Clancy fits into that category (I haven't read him) as well as Gabaldon's Outlander series (also not read).


message 18: by Rick (last edited Jun 15, 2013 03:17PM) (new)

Rick | 2750 comments Trike wrote: "Science Fiction can encompass all the other genres, though."
This makes the genre meaningless. It then becomes "if there's science or technology in the story, it's SF.

Categories are only meaningful if they include and exclude things. "This is SF... that is not SF". "X is in this category, Y is not". When you cannot make those distinctions the category isn't doing its job which is to help organize.

Can books mix genres? Sure. But it doesn't follow that because some books do this any book that has tech or science in it is SF.


message 19: by Trike (new)

Trike | 7944 comments Rick wrote: "Trike wrote: "Science Fiction can encompass all the other genres, though."
This makes the genre meaningless. It then becomes "if there's science or technology in the story, it's SF.

Categories are only meaningful if they include and exclude things. "This is SF... that is not SF". "X is in this category, Y is not". When you cannot make those distinctions the category isn't doing its job which is to help organize.

Can books mix genres? Sure. But it doesn't follow that because some books do this any book that has tech or science in it is SF. "


Anything with *speculative* or *extrapolative* science or technology IS science fiction.

That doesn't make SF meaningless, it makes it powerful. The only genre that trumps SF in this regard is Fantasy.

So the genres go like this:

Fantasy
Science Fiction
Everything else

Fantasy is the literature of the impossible. If the story has something in it that can't happen, ever, or is clearly supernatural, then it is Fantasy. The impossible aspect of Fantasy and the extrapolative nature of Science Fiction are the elements which make them exclusive. Many other genres are exclusionary because of milieu, whereas F & SF are that way because of their core ideas.

This is why you can have a Fantasy Western like Zeppelins West or Science Fiction Western like Cowboys and Aliens but you can't have a Samurai Western. Samurai stories have to occur in medieval Japan while Westerns have to take place in the American West. You can tell a similar story in each setting, which is why The Seven Samurai can be turned into the The Magnificent Seven, but they can't coexist.


message 20: by Trike (new)

Trike | 7944 comments In one of those moments of serendipity that the universe tosses out, I re-watched Looper tonight and just finished listening to the commentary track. At the end of the film, there's this:

"Science Fiction is such a - I mean it's one of my favorite genres, but calling it a genre is almost deceiving because it's really something that always pairs with something else, or it usually does. The way that Blade Runner is a scI-fi noir or Alien is a sci-fi monster movie or Star Wars is a sci-fi-and-a-lot-of-stuff mixed together. I love sci-fi so much but you really have to kind of talk about genre/sub-genres when you start getting into talking about sci-fi." -- Rian Johnson, writer/director of Looper


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