Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Power of the Thriller

“I’ll be back.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line from the iconic thriller, The Terminator.  The movie was directed by another icon, James Cameron.  The Terminator had all the essential ingredients: good acting, action packed, clever concept, but… it didn’t make sense.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie.  It remains one of my favorites.  However, when I left the theater after seeing it for the first time, I wondered about one minor inconsistency.  Well, it was a major inconsistency, but most people have overlooked it so I guess it didn’t matter too much.  So, okay, maybe a ‘minor’ inconsistency. 

You have this future civilization dominated by machines and run by a supercomputer.  Impressive war machines were slowly killing humans.  Cyborgs, indistinguishable from humans, but vastly more powerful, infiltrated into the human ranks to kill a few humans in one subterranean hovel or another.  With all this evil capability and seemingly endless funds, why didn’t the computer simply develop a pathogen to kill off the remainder of the humans?  Germ warfare, an obvious solution!  It’s doubtful the machine civilization would worry too much about the Geneva Conventions. 

Simply infect a few prisoners and send them back home.  In those ‘caves’ the disease would have spread faster than wild fires in a drought-ridden forest.  There wouldn’t be any disease control in the enclaves to either stop the spread or handle the patients.  Such an attack would have been more thorough, cheaper, quicker, safer… machines aren’t susceptible to biological diseases but they could be shot down by humans.

That this super intelligent machine didn’t realize such a simple solution has always bothered me.  Most thrillers are fun, like a roller-coaster ride.  If you allow your mind to simply ignore the impossible and forgive the implausible, they can be enjoyable. 

The best thrillers are closest to reality.  What made another James Cameron movie, Halloween, such a mega-hit was its believability.  Michael Meyers, the unstoppable serial killer, didn’t have to suspend the natural laws to frighten you and that made the movie all the more frightening.  

My own ‘thriller’ novel, Reap the Whirlwind, falls into the latter category.  In this novel, a young writer’s bank account is deep in the red due to a check he never wrote.  Friends who can help him mysteriously die or disappear.   Someone using a computer is destroying his life.  But, why?  As the story progresses, a threat to all mankind emerges, such that the anguish and fears of one man become the collective fears of an entire species.  What makes this story even more frightening than Halloween is that not only could these events happen, but they may already be happening. 

Hmm… Maybe I’ll contact Cameron and find out if he wants to produce another ‘real’ thriller.

Robert Sells, author of Return of the White Deer and Reap the Whirlwind