Monday, July 1, 2013

Five Mistakes Thriller Writers Make Number Four, Part Two: Methods of Mayhem.

First we have to do the Reaper Report: Richard Matheson, dead at age 87. Matheson is the writer most famous for his great 1954 novel, I Am Legend. Thriller Guy remembers reading that book, about, essentially, the last man left in a world decimated by a strange plague that has created a race of ravenous vampires. If you don’t know the book, read it. It relates to this post in that just when you think there’s no more to be said about vampires, you can go back sixty years and read a take on the basic story that remains fresh and original after all this time and after the hundreds of vampire books that have been written since. Thriller Guy’s alter ego, Allen Appel, also has a Matheson connection in that he, Matheson, is the author of Bid Time Return, a 1975 book that was the basis of the Christopher Reeve movie, Somewhere in Time, which is almost always said to be based on the Jack Finney novel, Time and Again. The connection is that Appel’s first book, Time After Time, is often listed as being written by Finney. RIP. Richard Matheson.

The last entry in the Thriller Writers Mistakes series (see below) concerned the methods – weapons, machinery, biology -- writers employ to allow their villains to threaten whomever they are threatening, usually the entire world, and how these methods have escalated over the years. TG sat down and read the reviews of the last 50 books he has reviewed and made a chart of the methods of mayhem in these books. This was an interesting chart, but TG seems to have misplaced it, and he’s too lazy to do all of that work again, but the major takeaway was this: eleven of the 50 books used suitcase nukes in some way or another as the weapon of choice.  The basis of the plots involving suitcase nukes hinges on a 1997 claim made by Russian National Security Adviser Aleksandr Lebed that 100 of these devices had been “lost” by Russia and were now spread out around the world with more than twenty of them said to be hidden near important targets in the US. Thriller Guy has railed about these weapons before, the primary beef being that as cool as the premise is, these devices need maintenance to keep them workable and that the fissionable material has degraded by now so that they would be useless as bombs. This has not stopped writers from continuing to drag them out as weapons, though the better of these writers are now acknowledging that the basic operation of the bomb (the exploding part) is not possible but that they are a good source of plutonium that could be used to create “dirty bombs” fueled by regular explosives to spread the nuclear material over a wide area rendering it uninhabitable because of the radioactivity. OK, noted, now it’s been done so all you thriller writers out there, come up with something new. TG knows that it is hard to come up with a new idea, but it is possible.

Case in point: TG recently reviewed a terrific thriller, Skinner, by Charlie Huston. While TG has not read any of Huston’s other books, if this one is any example he’s one of the smartest thriller writers around. His characters are absolutely original, and while TG can’t say much about the book without giving things away, he turns a number of conventions on their ear while putting in plenty of exciting action scenes and in the end creating a thriller that’s pretty much unlike anyone else’s thriller. And as TG has already said, that’s a rare event, but it is possible.

Think hard, think big, remember the past, reinvent the future.

Sit down, shut up and get to work.  

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