The 5 Best Techno-thrillers
Defining books as techno-thrillers can sometimes be difficult. As a genre, techno-thrillers often draw subject matter from a variety of sources, whether it’s science fiction, war, or espionage. But techno-thrillers often have in common fast-paced thriller writing and a focus on the inner workings of technology.
When I wrote my novel, I pulled dozens of books off the shelf to inspire me or just to get the juices flowing. Here’s my list of the five best techno-thrillers out there, and how they influenced my writing.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Jurassic Park is one of those books that even people who never read know all about. The blockbuster movie didn’t hurt, though I’m convinced that it’s partly because this Michael Crichton classic is one of the few novels that really speaks to our time. We’re a society that reveres technology. Worships it. But in the back of our minds, we all know that it could go horribly wrong.
The same fundamental premise exists in All Systems Down. Technology dominates our lives, and in many ways we’ve become frighteningly dependent on it. Our banks, our dams, our electrical grid, and so many other pieces of critical infrastructure require computer systems to function. What would happen if it all collapsed?
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
“A perfect yarn.” That’s what Ronald Reagan called it, helping to launch Tom Clancy’s career and foster one of the godfathers of the modern techno-thriller. But beyond its commercial success, The Hunt for Red October is the sobering story of two great cultures clashing on the brink of war.
The feeling of impending doom is something I was hoping to capture in my book as well. With the relatively recent battlefield of the online theater, where adversarial nations can take down electrical grids from thousands of miles away, there’s the potential for not just a new Cold War, but a kinetic war. And one that America isn’t prepared for.
The Martian by Andy Weir
The first thing I love about The Martian isn’t actually the book itself. I love that this is the story of an underdog writer. A guy who self-published something he was incredibly passionate about—a zeal that really shows when you’re reading.
The second thing I love about The Martian is the detail. One of the hallmarks of techno-thrillers is that focus on the inner workings of technology that I alluded to earlier. Andy Weir really takes this to the extreme, but with humor and mastery, so that the book is a delight to read.
The Martian probably influenced All Systems Down the most in that both are stories of survival. Both Mark from The Martian and Brendan from All Systems Down are fighting a life-or-death struggle in the face of completely unforeseen circumstances. Both need to take control of their situations or they’ll die. And in Brendan’s case, so will his family.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
To call Cyptonomicon a techno-thriller isn’t exactly right. It’s got escape plots, espionage, treasure hunting, and techno-thriller aspects. But in a way, that’s what makes a good techno-thriller. The mash-up of genres. The fast-paced struggles. And, of course, the technical aspects of the financial elements, like crypto-gold, woven together.
The reason Cryptonomicon is so inspiring is Stephenson’s ability to take dozens of complicated subjects, weave them together, explain them, and keep it all fun. The material is dense but it comes out in a way that’s enjoyable to read.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Dan Brown has been criticized for his awkward sentences and clunky writing, but that’s sort of missing the point. What he’s able to do in Angels & Demons is move a story forward in a page-turning frenzy. In this near-future techno-thriller, we get more of the Illuminati symbolism, ticking-clock thrills, religion, murder, and adventure. It’s a roller coaster. You feel an unearthly compulsion to get to the end.
When readers open All Systems Down, I want them to have the same reaction I have when I dust off a good Dan Brown book. I want those covers to stay glued to a reader’s hands, unable to put the thing down until it’s done. And I want them to be sweating at the finish line.