Let me tell you a secret about spy and secret agent-thrillers… but don’t tell anyone. They’re pretty much all the same, only separated by era.
So in the fifties, sixties and seventies, they were all about lone wolves foiling the Russians deep behind enemy lines. In the eighties and nineties, about how technology could be exploited in the best way against pretty much the same people, plus china. Nowadays, it’s all about teamwork and special forces guys (or ex-special forces guys) coming together to demolish drug dealers or terrorists.
What do you mean, everyone knows this already?
All right… I’ll try to tell you something you didn’t know, then. Even though they might all be built to a similar formula, books in that genre are massively entertaining, and keep people not only turning pages, but buying more books.
Case in point, Tom Clancy’s Dead or Alive, actually written by Grant Blackwood (I assume that this is the case, even though Clancy was still alive when this one was published).
It follows the standard formula to the letter–a formula, I might add that Clancy had an important role in creating. Ex-special forces guys and a clandestine government agency find out where the head honcho of a terrorist organization (a Bin Laden type) is, and move to take him down, racing against the clock because the man has set several terrorist attacks agains the US in motion.
You kinda know how it’s going to end, but you still don’t stop reading.
As a science fiction writer, this embarrasses me. Why? Because, even though science fiction has all of space and time to play with, too much of the modern stuff is boring, navel-gazing, literary tripe. Characters take center stage to the point where they become whiny and neurotic (also, if a character doesn’t have at least five reasons for people to be prejudiced against them, it seems that they can’t play a starring role), pushing aside the setting and situation, which is what makes SF compelling in the first place.
It’s gotten to the point where I steer clear of a lot of new science fiction until I see reviews from people I trust that tell me what I need to know. If the book is described as “uplifting”, “human”, or “beautiful”, all sorts of alarms start flashing.
Fortunately, even the most disposable and interchangeable of spy thrillers guarantees a fun read, so there’s always something on the shelf to take your mind off the anguish that is modern literature in other genres.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His latest book is Ice Station: Death, and he guarantees that you won’t be bored by it.