The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died

Posted on | June 20, 2013 | 45 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

Or, A Lot Of Words And Not Enough Pictures About Technothrillers

A couple of weeks ago we had a nice discussion in the comments about combat SF and the non-PC offerings of science fiction publisher Baen Books, and we were graced with some comments and linkagery by Sarah Hoyt. At the time, I asked where technothrillers fit into this, but I think by that point in the post people were already off and running with the combat SF and Baen Books stuff and completely forgot about the Tom Clancy stuff.

So here we are in the regular shelves of the library, since for some reason technothrillers are regarded as regular literature – despite every one of them (at the time they were written) being set Twenty Minutes Into The Future. Which you would think would make them SF, but then again I’m not a librarian or a publisher so I don’t get a say in these things. Anyway, what defines a technothriller? For our purposes, let’s consider technothrillers to be war stories set in the near future using existing weapons systems (or systems that’ll be deployed Real Soon Now); in addition to the battlefield action – which may in fact be taking place at sea or in the air – there’s usually a healthy helping of politics and/or espionage to provide background or contrast to the action. Arguably, Gen. Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 was the first of the technothrillers, but it was Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October that really got the genre off the ground and into the hands of millions of readers. Clancy was quickly followed by Larry Bond (Red Phoenix), B-52 jock Dale Brown (Flight of the Old Dog) and Harold Coyle, who explicitly based his Team Yankee on Hackett’s novel.

Almost all technothrillers were written from the NATO point of view – there were exceptions, such as Ralph Peters’ Red Army – and with few exceptions, dealt with the apocalyptic struggle between the US (and its NATO allies) and the Soviet Union (and its Warsaw Pact “allies”) in Europe. Which may explain why, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the field seems to have imploded and not transitioned well to the War on Terror or a possible clash with the Chicoms in the Western Pacific. Maybe it’s more a case of me being too lazy to go look for the latest novels by Bond, Brown, Coyle and others to see if they’re just as interesting as they used to be. Tell me what you think in the comments: make recommendations, warn people off horrible dreck and burned-out authors/played-out series, just stay on topic.


45 Responses to “It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died”

  1. MrEvilMatt
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died: – by Wombat-socho Or, A Lot Of Words And Not Enough Pic…

  2. jwbrown1969
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died: – by Wombat-socho Or, A Lot Of Words And Not Enough Pic…

  3. Lockestep1776
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

    It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died: – by Wombat-socho Or, A Lot Of Words And Not Enough Pic…

  4. KingShamus
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

    RT @MrEvilMatt: It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died: – by Wombat-socho Or, A Lot Of Words And Not Enough Pic… http://t.…

  5. preciseBlogs
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

    It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died #news #conservative #culture #books

  6. mnrobot
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

    It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died #tcot #tlot #vrwc

  7. Richard McEnroe
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

    Coyle did a book or several set in conflicts in Latin America. And Tom Kratman has a series going about a private mercenary corporation, the “Countdown” series in such garden spots as Honduras, Venezuela and the lower Phillipines…

    And of course VInce Flynn has sadly passed away.

  8. Kevin Trainor Jr.
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

    Kevin Trainor Jr. liked this on Facebook.

  9. Richard McEnroe
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

    Ooh! Just had a idea for a story about a lazy geek drone operator who finds the war coming home to him…

  10. BobBelvedere
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    RT @smitty_one_each: TOM It Hasn’t Been As Much Fun Since The Bear Up And Died #TCOT

  11. HMSLion
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

    I hate to say it, but Tom Clancy hasn’t written much good since “The Bear and the Dragon”. He seems to have gone into marketing his name on a full-time basis.

    Frankly, I’ve gotten away from technothrillers, gone to Napoleonic-era naval fiction. Dewey Lambdin is outstanding.

  12. DaveO
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

    We went from Hackett and Coyle to Ludlum. The Matarese Circle and The Parsifal Mosaic are extremely timely in today’s world.

  13. HMSLion
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

    Hey! Don’t dis my meal ticket!

    Actually, there are some damned good stories. Hollywood has a plot line…

    The situation is dire. A formidable foe is at the gates. All conventional weapons have proven useless. In this hour of greatest need, the powers-that-be turn to the test team and the Experimental Gizmo. And Our Flight Test Heroes man up to do Heroic Single Combat with the enemy. Winning the day – and the undying affections of unreasonably attractive members of the opposite sex.

    It’s pure Hollywood hokum. Unless you test UAVs.

    Then you get to do it for real.

    And that’s NOT fiction…

  14. Julie Pascal
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

    Even Crichton books which seem very sci-fi-ish (like Jurrasic Park and Sphere – I think the only books of his that I’ve actually read were Sphere and possibly Congo) have an… attitude… that doesn’t seem like SF and I *think* (because I’ve thought about this and actually tried to figure it out) that the difference is that the world re-sets at the end of the book.

    This doesn’t explain Urban Fantasy, but UF is the only exception that I can think of off the top of my head where the world can be *this* world and story about something that doesn’t really change anything. I recall getting to the end of Sphere and being entirely pissed off that the plot MADE IT NEVER HAPPEN. As I said… re-set. Un-do.

    Science fiction tends to give us a different world and explore what would happen if certain changes were made… if magic was real, if we lived on Mars, if Grantville was transported to 1632 Germany…

    James Bond can have a super futuristic gadget but the world stays the same… In fact, in a lot of the “thriller” genre the whole plot is about the hero stopping change from happening… the villain doesn’t take over the world after all, the nuclear bomb doesn’t go off, etc.,

  15. SPQR9
    June 20th, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

    Alexander Kent and Patrick O’Brien are better, as of course is C.S. Forester.

  16. Julie Pascal
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

    A thriller has people who need to escape an island with velocoraptors… and some of them make it and go back to their normal life. SF asks how people would rearrange their lives to accommodate the presence of velocoraptors as a new urban reality and commuting hassle.

  17. Wombat_socho
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

    The Teeth of the Tiger wasn’t bad.

  18. Wombat_socho
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:17 pm

    Or how they would go about destroying them. One of the recurring themes in Drake & Stirling’s Raj Whitehall series is the necessity of civilization remaining intact enough to keep the sicklefeet and other dangerous sauroids “shot out” so that farmers and ranchers can get on with their lives without worrying about being eaten.

  19. Wombat_socho
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

    I think The Matarese Circle was the first spy novel I ever read where the CIA and KGB were working together…okay, the hero was from State’s “Consular Operations”, but you know what I mean.

  20. Wombat_socho
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

    Forester is the yardstick by which all his disciples in the naval historical fiction genre are measured. 🙂

  21. Wombat_socho
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

    This sounds like The Flight of the Old Dog, frankly.

  22. Wombat_socho
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

    Oddly, while I’ve read all Kratman’s SF, I have yet to pick up any of the “Countdown” series, probably for the same reason I haven’t read any of Drake’s (non-Lovecraftian) fantasy, i.e., none.

  23. Mike G.
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

    You forgot Stephen Coonts, Who has written a story or two about conflict in the Asian sphere, as well as a book about terrorism. The hero is the same guy in all his books, but it basically follows his career from Ensign through Admiral.

  24. Quartermaster
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

    I’ve been more into the Military Science Fiction than any other stream. Tom Clancy seems to have played out (I still like Red Storm Rising and Hunt for Red October). Jerry Pournelle’s Mercenary series is quite good. I like Weber’s Honor Harrington Series, although I am disturbed by the mutilation of a woman. Weber’s Safehold series is also good. It’s up to 5 novels at this point with the next due out this fall.

  25. Mike G.
    June 20th, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

    Oh…and W.E.B. Griffin has some good ones, too.

  26. Richard McEnroe
    June 20th, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

    Basically the Countdown series is crabby grownups trying to pick up the pieces the kids dropped.

  27. Luke
    June 20th, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

    You evidently haven’t met Joel C. Rosenberg yet. Highly recommend.

    I’ve heard good things about Brad Thor recently, but haven’t reached him in my backlog of “things to read”.

    Rich Lowry did a surprisingly good job on “Banquo’s Ghosts”.

    Larry Correia and Mike Kupari verge a bit into pulp, but their ongoning trilogy (starting with “Dead Six”) is worth a look.

  28. bobbymike34
    June 20th, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

    I highly recommend former Delta Force Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan thrillers 3rd one coming out in July
    Brad Thor
    Ben Coes is good
    Larry Bond
    Stephen Coonts
    Andy McNabb – former SAS commander of Bravo Two Zero his Nick Stone are his best
    Chris Ryan – former SAS part of BTZ lots of books part of the ‘Strike Back’ series made into TV program
    Gerald Seymour – British author good writer
    Stephen Leather – British writer Dan ‘Spider’ Shepard series excellent
    Colin Forbes – British wirter can get repetitive but good story teller group within the British SIS
    VInce Flynn – great writer RIP
    Missing a few will post later

  29. Richard McEnroe
    June 20th, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with a velociraptor that a .375 Holland and Holland can’t fix.

  30. BLBeamer
    June 20th, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

    I always enjoy anything from George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series. It’s techno, but 19th Century techno.

  31. slp
    June 20th, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

    The prose in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels has improved since he hired co-authors to write his plots.

    One of the plots in Threat Vector is about the Chinese cyberwar center in Shanghai.

    I was impressed because I read the book around the time that the photographs of the Shanghai were published.

  32. Garym
    June 20th, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

    I think Crichton would be labeled more techno-thriller with solid sci-fi attributes. He wrote sci-fi into his books that seemed plausible. Also, I wish other authors would pace their stories like Crichton did. Fast paced and couldn’t put it down until the end.

  33. Wombat_socho
    June 21st, 2013 @ 12:04 am

    I think the standard Armory rifle was 10mm, which fits the bill…

  34. Wombat_socho
    June 21st, 2013 @ 12:06 am

    I get Joel C. Rosenberg confused with the other Joel Rosenberg, the SF writer and RKBA activist who died a couple years ago.

  35. Wombat_socho
    June 21st, 2013 @ 12:07 am

    I like Flashman myself, but those are all historical novels and not even remotely technothrillers.

  36. Wombat_socho
    June 21st, 2013 @ 12:09 am

    Didn’t forget either of those gentlemen. I thought they were writing more contemporary fiction about the military (see also former Marine and Senator James Webb) and not technothrillers.

  37. Wombat_socho
    June 21st, 2013 @ 12:11 am

    Crichton’s novels have no military content that I’m aware of. You may want to re-read the post, because I’m certain-sure you and Julie missed something on the first pass.

  38. Garym
    June 21st, 2013 @ 12:19 am

    Sorry Wombat, just replying to her comment. Not much of a military fiction reader myself. ; )

  39. SDN
    June 21st, 2013 @ 1:02 am

    And of course David Weber’s Honor Harrington series is Horatio Hornblower in starships.

  40. SDN
    June 21st, 2013 @ 1:03 am

    11mm, actually; which IIRC is about .45… .50 cal being 12.7mm

  41. jakee308
    June 21st, 2013 @ 2:46 am

    I would think that one of the first Techno Thrillers was “Andromeda Strain”. (the “60’s right?)

    Definitely made a lot of people sit up and take notice about a technology that had(s) the potential for species suicide. And was done in a docu drama-ish kind of way to lend some starkness and realism to the fear.

    Most SciFi these days is really future future fiction in that they don’t try to predict the tech but apply it’s usage and ubiquity to social/cultural/civilizational situations and use the future as the setting. (the future is a convenient place to set speculative fiction because, hey, you can make shit up without worrying about pesky history.)

  42. Richard McEnroe
    June 21st, 2013 @ 10:35 am

    HA! Wrong! Weber was doing Horatio Nelson, right down to the wounds he inflicts on his heroine…

  43. Richard McEnroe
    June 21st, 2013 @ 10:35 am

    Pacific Rim.

  44. Richard McEnroe
    June 21st, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    Or Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters

  45. rmnixondeceased
    June 21st, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

    Two of my favorite historical novels. The movies were not bad either.