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What Is a Techno-Thriller? Examples and Types of Techno-Thrillers

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Last updated: Dec 10, 2019 • 4 min read

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If you’ve ever found yourself enthralled by a Cold War spy thriller or a science fiction action-adventure tale set in the near future, chances are you’re a fan of the techno-thriller genre. techno-thrillers are detail-oriented action-adventure novels set in the contemporary world, often combining elements of sci-fi and espionage into their narratives. techno-thrillers are incredibly popular, and learning to appreciate the genre can unlock fertile creative ground for you as a writer.

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Dan Brown Teaches Writing ThrillersDan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers

In his first-ever online class, best-selling author Dan Brown teaches you his step-by-step process for turning ideas into page-turning novels.

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What Is a Techno-Thriller?

Techno-thriller is a hybrid genre that combines elements of various other literary genres including sci-fi, action-adventure, and thriller. Techno-thrillers are some of the most commercially successful bestsellers published in both the United States and globally. These books are often adapted into movies and TV shows.

Writing techno-thrillers requires a fair amount of research on the part of authors and often demands knowledge of science, politics, espionage, and history. Many techno-thriller authors have backgrounds in science, politics, or global intelligence that inform their writing. Techno-thrillers are often full of real-world technical details and delve deep into their subject matter without watering down the high tech specifics that their novels explore.

The History of the Techno-Thriller Genre

Techno-thrillers became popular in the mid-twentieth century. The Cold War gave rise to a number of political thrillers and espionage novels that were precursors to modern day techno-thrillers. Techno-thrillers owe a lot to hard science fiction and political thriller novels that preceded them. Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, and Tom Clancy are some of the most successful techno-thriller authors and paved the way for the modern techno-thriller era in the 1980s and ’90s.

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5 Elements of Every Techno-Thriller

Techno-thrillers explore many different areas but share certain hallmarks regardless. Some of the most common elements found in techno-thrillers include:

  1. A strong protagonist: Most techno-thrillers have memorable protagonists like Jack Ryan (from Tom Clancy’s Ryanverse novels), Robert Langdon (from Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series), and Dirk Pitt (from Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series). Part of what keeps readers returning to a series is an identifiable protagonist who they have grown attached to over multiple books.
  2. Technical details: Whether a techno-thriller is centered around spies in the CIA or genetic scientists attempting to create superhumans, it will plumb the depths of its subject matter. Techno-thriller writers should be well versed in their subject matter, and the best techno-thrillers are detail-oriented, whether it be in regard to the byzantine hierarchy of the NSA or the inner workings of technology.
  3. Real world parallels: Most techno-thrillers are influenced in part by real world events. Part of what makes this genre popular is that readers can easily see parallels between the stories they read and events taking place in the real world.
  4. Global scale: A good techno-thriller novel generally has multiple settings around the country or even the world. Part of what makes these books so cinematic is the scope and reach of their settings. Readers will often find upwards of 10 settings in Tom Clancy’s stories, which span the entire globe.
  5. Action: Regardless of what subgenre a techno-thriller falls into, you will most likely find a fair amount of action and adventure. The shape this takes depends on the world in which the book is operating, but fans of the genre are looking for thrills and adventure on every page.

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5 Types of Techno-thrillers

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One of the most exciting things about the techno-thriller genre is the wide array of settings and subject matters the genre covers. Here are a few broad subcategories that techno-thrillers usually fall into:

  1. Military techno-thrillers: A military thriller generally covers the exploits of a protagonist in the military. Beyond just battle sequences, military techno-thrillers usually take forays into politics and diplomacy. Some notable examples of military techno-thrillers include Clear and Present Danger, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, The Sum of All Fears, and Red Storm Rising—all by Tom Clancy.
  2. Spy techno-thrillers: Most spy fiction falls under the techno-thriller umbrella. Spy techno-thrillers have a lot of crossover with military techno-thrillers and sometimes it can be hard to categorize a book as one or the other. One notable entry in the pantheon of spy techno-thrillers is Digital Fortress by Dan Brown.
  3. Crypto techno-thrillers: Crypto techno-thrillers generally have plots that depend in large part on the Internet, computers, and future technology. Two notable examples of crypto techno-thrillers are Daemon by Daniel Suarez and Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.
  4. Disaster techno-thrillers: Disaster techno-thrillers are set around large scale natural disasters. One famous example of a disaster techno-thriller is Typhoon Fury by Boyd Morrison.
  5. Sci-fi techno-thrillers: Sci-fi techno-thrillers incorporate elements of science and dystopian futures into conventional techno-thriller plots. Famous sci-fi techno-thrillers include Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain by Michael Chricthon, The Martian by Andy Weir, Deception Point by Dan Brown, Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, and Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Want to Learn More About Writing?

Whether you’re writing as an artistic exercise or trying to get the attention of publishing houses, learning how to craft a good mystery takes time and patience. Master of suspense and bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown has spent decades honing his craft. In Dan Brown’s MasterClass on the art of the thriller, he unveils his step-by-step process for turning ideas into gripping narratives and reveals his methods for researching like a pro, crafting characters, and sustaining suspense all the way to a dramatic surprise ending.

Want to become a better writer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons on plot, character development, creating suspense, and more, all taught by literary masters, including Dan Brown, R.L. Stine, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, and more.

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