Most writers and readers know the difference between a thriller and a mystery. A mystery is a whodunit. While we know a crime has been committed, the culprit and methodology is not revealed until near the end of the story. That’s the mystery. With a thriller, we know fairly soon who committed the offense or was behind an event. A thriller has one important difference. A thriller is built around how the main character, the protagonist, finds a way to defeat the bad guy, the antagonist, usually against seemingly impossible odds.
What sets a technothriller apart from a standard thriller is what I call “speculative fiction.” The story is built around some aspect of theoretical science that becomes a reality in the story. This has to feel real even if it’s not currently scientifically possible.
The best classic example of a technothriller is Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. Early on, the story convinces us that it is possible to extract DNA from insects who fed on dinosaurs 150 million years ago and then became entrapped in tree sap that turned into amber. From there, the extracted DNA is used to clone dinosaurs to be used to create the world’s greatest theme park. Although theoretically possible, it’s not currently scientifically possible because DNA breaks down over time. No DNA has ever been found that lasted one million years, let alone 150 to 200 million. Nonetheless, the possibility creates a wonderfully entertaining story.
Technothriller readers generally want to learn something new and interesting while reading the story. Jurassic Park not only teaches us about DNA theory, we also experience how dinosaurs may have lived. The dinosaurs become real. We learn about friendly dinosaurs and those we should fear. A T-Rex becomes a character we feel sorry for when she is kidnapped and transported to the USA. Velociraptors are not just overgrown lizards, but are very intelligent and family-oriented (their family, not yours).
The various human characters, although exaggerated in the movie versions, are eccentric. All of this ads to the entertainment value that keeps a reader involved in the story.
And there is a recurring mantra that repeats during the stories: “Life will find a way.” That makes everything more possible, because once the genie is let out of the bottle with the first generation of dinosaur clones, there is an unintended consequence making it impossible to stop them from multiplying. That’s all part of the thrill of a technothriller. It’s not just a story; it’s an adventure.