Thursday, 22 August 2013

Guest Post and Giveaway! - Colin F. Barnes: Top 5 Techno Thrillers for a Beginner

We've got Colin F. Barnes with us today for a guest post about Techno Thrillers! A while ago I reviewed Colin's book Artificial Evil, the first in the Techxorcist series, which I loved. Artificial Evil is a great genre-mixing techno-thriller-dystopian-cyberpunk-science-fiction-adventure, and it's a lot of fun!

And... you can win a copy! Enter the GIVEAWAY (open INT) at the bottom of this post for a chance to win a paperback copy of Artificial Evil.

So what's a techno thriller and where do we start? Over to Colin!


What is a Techno Thriller?

You’ll likely find a wide spectrum of titles that are considered to be among this genre, however, they all share a few things in common, such as: a propensity for technology as a central element to the story and a large proportion of technical detail within the narrative, whether that be military, science, or even politics.

The genre doesn’t tend to go into the future as the lines blur into science fiction. There’s a large crossover between a techno thriller and action/adventure, as the plots tend to have high stakes, world-endangering catastrophes, and larger-than-life characters.

Techno thrillers are one of the few genres that manage to bring speculative fiction to contemporary settings, and it’s that key component that makes it stand apart. In science fiction, one of the big drivers is the ‘what if’ game. It speculates on the outcome if ‘this’ or ‘that’ happened. This can also be seen in fantasy and especially alternate history: what if Hitler won the war being a common example.

With regards to science fiction, there is a slight blurring of lines when it comes to near-future fiction. They are, in my mind, the same thing across a spectrum of time. The further into the future you go the more ‘SF’ it becomes. There’s a crossover somewhere in the middle where technology is being developed now that will continue to exist and evolve into the science fiction of the future.

I write in that blurred area. I tend to write my fiction either now, or within a hundred or so years. That’s what I consider near future, and thus my work straddles the line of contemporary techno thrillers and near-future science fiction. It’s a fertile ground to work within as it can blend the best of both worlds.

So now you know what a Techno thriller is, I’ll run down my favourite five to give you a kick-start in the genre. These are what I consider either cornerstones of the genre, or particularly fine examples for someone new to the techno thriller.

No.1 Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

Crichton is the boss of this genre. His body of work serves to illustrate the genre at its finest, combining both the technological aspects with real thrills. It’s no surprise that a number of his titles made it to the big screen.

Jurassic Park, and the follow up The Lost World, primarily covers the technological aspects of cloning, chaos theory, and evolution. The thriller aspect is delivered by freaking huge dinosaurs chasing humans around the island for a meaty snack. Not to mention the sneaky, clever raptors. If you’re new to this genre, start here. You’ll most likely be familiar with the film, but like most translations, the source material is far superior.

No. 2 The Hunt for Red October – Tom Clancy

Here we have another film adaption, which is no surprise really. Techno thrillers lend themselves perfectly to film what with their high stakes, action, suspense and cool technological gadgetry. Many will remember the film for Sean Connery’s shpectacularly Scottish Russian accshent. Nishe job, Sean.

For those who have not seen the film, it’s a taut suspenseful story of a stolen Russian nuclear submarine. This one blends technology with both the military and politics, giving a well-rounded account of the main tropes of the genre. It’s also, in my opinion, one of Clancy’s best books, written before he took the James Patterson style of farming out his work to ghost writers.

No.3 James Rollins - Sandstorm

Rollins heads up the action-adventure corner of the genre. He also manages to interweave historical elements and mysteries with the technology, using the latter often as a way of explaining the mystery. It’s a great formula, and Rollins does it brilliantly. As an aside, he once mentioned that he used Jurassic Park as manual on how to write a thriller. And it shows, not in that he’s copied Crichton’s work, but has developed an accomplished style to bring the thrills and the technology together in an exciting adventure.

Sandstorm is the first of his Sigma Force series of novels. They are a group of specialists working for a governmental department to solve technological mysteries and prevent the bad guys from getting hold of them. A regular cast of characters feature throughout the series. This particular story combines ancient lost cities, museum curators, archeologists, ninjas, assassins, and a potentially deadly source of antimatter, which is at the heart of the story.

It’s a fun read, appealing to the Dan Brown fans, but IMHO is far better written in almost every aspect and nails the adventure part of the techno thriller. It has echoes of Indiana Jones if it were set in modern times.

No.4 Daemon + Freedom TM – Daniel Suarez

Here I’m mentioning both books because frankly, I’m sure they were one story. The ending to the first book is so abrupt you’ll likely throw it against a wall, but don’t fear. Have the second book ready to go straight away and you’ll love this story.

Suarez brings us right up to contemporary times with this story centered on computer technology, hacking, and automation of computer networks. It presents a terrifying, but plausible (to a degree), ‘what if.’ A leader computer programmer is found dead. However, his will lives on within a computer network running a number of automated tasks programmed ahead of time. This makes the detective’s job increasingly difficult, as it seems he’s one step ahead of them, and all the while, this automated post-human program is organizing an army of followers.

Suarez’s writing is excellent. He tackles what could be quite a dry, technical subject and turns into a ‘can’t stop turning the damn pages’ thriller that will grip you until the end. He weaves in a deep mystery that keeps you guessing, and his ideas are innovative and creative. Definitely one for the computer nerds out there, but it’s still accessible enough for the average reader.

This particular book was one of my main influences when I started to write my Techxorcist series of novels, which cover computing, artificial intelligences and uploaded consciousness. Although Suarez’s books are set in contemporary times, it’s easy to extrapolate those into a near future story such as my series.

No.5 The Bourne series – Robert Ludlum

I’ve chosen these as a series rather than focusing on an individual book, because together they cover the complete arc of the story. Another film adaption, again, showing the great visual potential that a techno thriller has, the Bourne books are slightly less technical in terms of technology, but cover the thriller aspects of sciences such as mind control, memory manipulation and social and personal conditioning.

Like The Hunt for Red October, it takes a governmental/political look at the genre with Jason Bourne at times being hunted and taking the role of the hunter as he seeks to find the truth of the secret program that made him what he is.

Lots of thrills and intrigue, layers of mystery and subterfuge. They make great books and great films. What’s not to love?

So there we have a very brief look at the techno thriller genre, and I hope with these examples you’ll be tempted to dive in if you haven’t already. It’s a wide genre covering a lot of diverse topics. There’s something for everyone: action, adventure, politics, science, and history. For me, it’s the most fertile contemporary genre around and the boundaries are wide enough to never get bored.

Give one a try today, I’m sure you’ll love the experience.

For more recommendations, Wikipedia have an excellent list here.



Enter the rafflecopter form below to win a paperback copy of Colin's techno-thriller novel, Artificial Evil. Open INT and no following required (though certainly appreciated, if you want to!). :-)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


About Colin F. Barnes

Colin F. Barnes is a publisher and full-time writer of horror and techno thrillers and a member of both the British Fantasy Society and the British Science Fiction Association. He honed his craft with the London School of Journalism and the Open University (BA, English).

Colin has run a number of tech-based businesses, worked in rat-infested workshops, and scoured the back streets of London looking for characters and stories—which he found in abundance. He has a number of publishing credits with stories alongside authors such as: Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, and Graham Masterton.

Colin’s Books:

ARTIFICIAL EVIL: Book 1 of The Techxorcist.

For more information, Colin can be found on:
His Website


  1. Not a favorite Techno thriller as such but definitely a favorite author - Michael Crichton, have read & loved most of his books! I've also read Sandstorm by James Rollins, really should pick up the next one :)

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  2. For techno-thriller, I'd go with Halting State & Rule 34, by Charles Stross

  3. This is one of my favorite (sub)genres. I've read a ton of Crichton (though not Jurassic Park... yet), and James Rollins is my favorite author. The Bourne Identity is great as well. Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

    1. I strictly read fantasy but variety is the spice of life so here's hoping I win.