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High and Low Thrillers

I thought I'd lead off here by talking about something I occasionally bring up on my own blog: Thrillers.

I grew up reading fantasy, thanks to my older sister. Sure, I dabbled in horror and science fiction, but most of the books on my shelves were about dudes with swords taking a long trip. And even though I was completely unconnected with fandom, I managed to pick up a few genre-specific terms anyway, and while I'm sure I don't have to explain "high fantasy" and "low fantasy" to readers here, I'll skim over them for completeness' sake.

High Fantasy: fictional settings, kings, empires, armies, generals, palace wizards, GvE, big magic, monsters and non-human species are commonplace parts of the setting, plots with an epic scope.

Low Fantasy: real/historical settings, common citizens as characters--especially criminals, shopkeepers, beggars and police, small amounts of magic (usually), monsters or non-human species regarded as unusual elements in the setting if they exist at all, plots that may include the fate of the world (just like high fantasy) but which have a much smaller scope.

Now, fantasy novels aren't lag bolts. They're works of art (we can argue whether they're good or bad art, but stories = art), so these aren't strict categories. A book can be comfortably placed in "high fantasy" without checking every box on the list. I say this to forestall discussions of edge cases and "Well, what about [X]?" where [X] is a book that matches every low fantasy indicator except that it has a prince in it or something. Pointing out works of art don't neatly fall into a category doesn't refute the category or demonstrate that the category isn't useful. These are descriptive labels, and we don't have to be strict about them.

Back to thrillers: Wikipedia is nice enough to provide a list of subgenres, but for my own purposes I split them into high thrillers and low thrillers.

A high thriller concerns people in power--not kings, but Presidents, CIA officials, FBI investigators, DEA agents, etc. It's unlikely to be set somewhere fictional the way high fantasy is, but it's very likely to take place in settings that the average reader doesn't/can't visit: Ten Downing Street, A cell in Guantanamo Bay, etc. It has big stakes, recognizable good and bad guys, lots of scope and a major part of the appeal is that it gives a peek into the way the very powerful operate.

Want to know how the president stays in touch while on Airforce One? Want to know how a Mossad agent files reports securely? Want to know how your government secures fissionable material? A high thriller makes an implicit promise to the reader that the writer has researched the book to the degree that, while the characters and the dangers are fictional, the depiction of these people and agencies is as accurate as possible. In fact, that research is at the foundation of the genre's appeal.

In addition, I'd suggest that the resources and authority high thriller characters employ is equivalent to magic in high fantasy: it's how they exert their agency. It's often the source of their problems (especially when it doesn't function correctly or is co-opted from within). It's often arcane in its operation. Finally, it offers readers a sort of wish-fulfillment depiction of the exertion of power.

By contrast, a low thriller avoids powerful people in favor of low-level criminals or regular citizens in danger. While a high thriller might involve an international terrorist plotting an attack on U.S. soil, a low thriller would be an insurance actuary's black sheep brother turning up after 15 years with some pissed off criminals on his trail. Or a low-level mobster who discovers he's been betrayed. Or some oddball criminal types try to pull off one last job, with comically disastrous results.

David Morrell and Donald Westlake wrote these sorts of books, along with many, many others. They can be noirish or comic, the characters are rarely wholly good or bad (although the villains are often Genuinely Awful) and the final confrontation is more likely to take place in a motel or boiler room than the Oval Office or Aswan Dam.

Which isn't to suggest that low thrillers aren't carefully researched, or that the research isn't part of the appeal. But typically, the research isn't there to give the reader a glimpse at the tools and methods of power--you're more likely to find out how an insurance actuary does their job.

Charlie writes high thrillers, by my measure. Halting State deals with high-powered corporate types, law enforcement [spoiler], [spoiler], and [spoiler], too. The way these, er, let's call them something generic like "story elements" operate is extrapolated from his research rather than straight-up researched because it's an sf book, but the effect is similar. The Laundry is, of course, explicitly set within a made-up government agency, and you don't get more high thriller than that.

Me, I write low thrillers. The setting is generally commonplace and localized, most of the characters are regular folks, and the plot is played out through the exercise of personal agency rather than cultural or organizational power. In fact, one of the most persistent criticisms of my books has been that they don't have a high thriller insider's view of the Twenty Palace Society.

What can I say? I have preferences.

Obviously, this model could cover all sorts of thrillers. Is the lawyer protagonist of this courtroom thriller making his case before the Supreme Court or working out of an understaffed public defender's office? Is the hapless schmo ensnared in this erotic thriller the Prime Minister or a beach bum drop out?

I guess it takes a lifelong reader of fantasy--a genre obsessed with questions of power and the political exercise of it--to separate thrillers this way, but that's what I do.

What do you think? Is this a sensible way to examine thrillers? Is it a useful tool for looking at other genres?



Hmm, useful I think. But if we're subdividing I'd like more than one dimension: High stakes/Low stakes; Corporate/Personal; Global/Local.

So a Tom Clancy doorstopper would be high on all counts: Missing nukes and all that is decidedly high stakes; we drop into lots of secret agent, military and political people all acting as board pieces in the story; and we're moving all over the world.

A Donald Westlake Dortmunder and Kelp story would be low on all counts.

Police procedurals like Ed McBain or Shöwall and Wahlöö would be low stakes and local, but corporate as much as personal, as we follow an entire group of officers working different aspects of a case.

Our hosts Laundry stories would be opposite: High stakes, Personal, Global.


You make "high thrillers" sound an awful lot like police procedurals. I guess "Day of the Jackal" was both ?


I think it answers the question, "Where does this book take me?" which is useful, since we look for different kinds of escapism at different times.

However, even thrillers have additional tags: is this "procedural", "bleak", "caper", "distopian"...?

And the same goes for Fantasy. Conan tends to be Low but has a very different vibe from [low fantasies I couldn't be bothered completing so have forgotten].

So it's useful, I think, but only half the story.


Can I propose to add a 3rd sub-genre, "techno-thriller", for the ones that have "stuff that sounds cool but doesn't actually work in real life like in the books"? Or would you prefer to make those a sub-genre of fantasy, say "techno-fantasy", since that's what they are, fantasies with a gloss of "familiar technology"?


It's a shame that in the modern publishing era classic stuff like Ian Flaming and Raymond Chandler wouldn't stand much of a chance. Slim novels packed with excellent imagery don't garner sales the way fat tomes of technobabble do as far as the average editor seems to be concerned.


And yet I own more Ian Fleming than all of Dan Tertiary_colour, Thomass (sic) Clancy and their ilk combined.


Robin, I'd argue that Robert B Parker when he wanted to could do the Chandler noir beautifully, and most of his books were a) quite short and b) sold extremely well.


Re #4, I'm not sure that Technothrillers are playing in the real world in the same way as the other genres.

There's a big overlap between technothrillers and SF, very obvious when you look at their historical origins. Around the end of the 19th century there was a big vogue for future war stories, all of them technothrillers to some extent. Many of them introduced "new" technology which the authors expected to see in the next few years - improved ships, guns, and submarines, and occasionally aviation in one form or another, even space travel. Gradually this became a genre in its own right, but even today's technothrillers have more in common with SF than other types of thriller - unfortunately the tropes of the genre, again in common with some SF, include an obsession with technological solutions to problems that might often be solved by e.g. diplomacy, occasional bad science (especially from authors whose initials might be DB or TC), and implausible politics.


A technothriller is what you get when hard SF collapses into the moment of the present. It's probably worth noting that technothrillers are almost inevitably politically hawkish and right-wing -- not merely the current crop of American technothrillers, but the 19th century British equivalent -- the execrable William Le Queux, for example, in The Terror of the Air (not on Project Gutenberg yet, alas) from 1919 portrays giant unobtanium-powered German pirate seaplanes looting trans-Atlantic British seaplane-airliners of the treasure and plotting to poison gas-bomb London in revenge for the Kaiser's defeat. It's high-thriller, yes, but it also has large chunks of the technothriller weltanschauung, combined with SFnal elements.


It's probably worth noting that technothrillers are almost inevitably politically hawkish and right-wing

True, because the opinion "advanced military tech is really fun and also very important" tends to go along with "therefore we should spend more on it!"

Honourable exception: HG Wells, "The War in the Air" and "The Land Ironclads" - though given that both of these use non-existent tech, they're probably more SF, as is "The Terror of the Air". CS Forester and Alistair Maclean and Nicholas Monsarrat wrote novels in which the details of then-existing technology are well-described and very important to the plot - "The Ship", "The Cruel Sea" and so on. None are particularly hawkish.


1984 may be an example of a left-wing technothriller.


You almost certainly guessed this, but the sort of thing I had in mind was "stick a sharp nose on a B-52 and it suddenly becomes capable of M1.5".


Absolutely not. 1984 isn't about the tech, or the thriller -- it's a dystopian warning in the tradition of "Darkness at Noon", and it's warning against totalitarianism in general, not just Stalinism.

(A key point of technothrillers is that they're concerned with the tech, not the social consequences of its deployment, and require it to be plausible. Orwell invented tech that served his social purposes; his telescreens and voicetypers weren't actually plausible at the time he was writing.)


Albert Robida (1848-1926) , in before Le Queux! Flying machines that look like icthyosaurs, rolling dreadnoughts, women doing men's jobs (and smoking), and other absurdities, all drawn with a jaundiced colored pencil. Robida was more interested in using the future as a device for satirizing the present (see also "Vie dans le XXe Siecle" and "La Vie Electrique"

And speaking of antecedents, I've always had a soft spot for Kamus of Kadizhar, hero of a series of comic sci-fi/fantasy homages to Chandler, created by J. Michael Reaves. I first heard of him in the anthology Weird Heroes edited by Preiss and Reese. He reappeared in 1988 in "The Black Hole of Carcosa," written by John Shirley. Bonus points for Church of the Subgenius references. And all this before Cast A Deadly Spell (which I still haven't seen yet).

But I wonder if the dichotomies are as useful as they once were. The arcane details about MI5/MI6, the criminal underworld, supercavitating torpedos, etc. that high and low thrillers have flavored their stories with are now just a google search away, if they doesn't already have their own Wikipedia page. It's all of a muchness. And the post-Cold War has no shortage of doomsday scenarios.

Nowadays you can assume a lot of knowledge on the part of thriller readers and instead play with the implications of a milieu or genre or combinations of them. Like drug-dealing travelers between alternate Americas, spell-throwing gumshoes or computer hackers investigating human traffickers.


For more comtemporary examples I'd suggest that some of Ken MacLeod's stuff (notably The Execuition Channel and The Night Sessions) as having something of the Technothriller and more than a little of a leftward leaning agenda about them[1].

Doesn't invalidate the general thrust of Charlies point though, the genre does seem to hold a certain attraction for the hawkish right..

[1] They're damned fine books and well worth a read too though I doubt many people will have reached this site without becoming aware of KMcC's talent!


Speaking of Ken MacLeod, what about Iain Banks? "The Business" as well as his latest non-SF book ("Transition", IIRC) come to mind as examples of thrillers. Hm, they are "high thriller" insofar as the arena where everything is happening is high finance resp. a world controlling entitiy - but aren't they "low" because of the POV of the prots?


I've always had a preference for low genre title vs high genre title. Go ahead and construct your elaborate fictional world, but then zoom in and follow what the janitor is doing(Ray could be considered a janitor of sorts).

As for getting in deep and spending alot of time on an insider's view of the Twenty Palaces society itself... Well, that's how we lost [interest in] the Jedi, isn't it?


Harry: I like the high/low division, which certainly reflected my tastes as a thriller reader for a long time. (I had a strong preference for "high" over "low.")

Pows4thought: I also read a lot of technothrillers, a subject on which I get my two cents here (all right, more than that):

Incidentally, the article does start with the 19th century invasion story and Edisonade, to which I devoted another article here:

The politics do tend to be right-wing, though I can see how MacLeod's novels use some of the elements (as with the Star Fraction, where international politics, large-scale warfare and high-tech combat are prominent in the storyline).

bjacques: I'm agreed about the research issue, though this does to some extent afflict all fiction making use of research now. (Personally, I can remember what it was like researching a novel before the Internet.)

Robin: I absolutely agree about the impossibility of publishing slim thrillers now. Frankly, I think one of the problems for the contemporary thriller is that the conventions and formulas developed in an era of 60,000-80,000 word novels (the Fleming, the Chandler, the Eric Ambler novels were in this range), and that these now have to be stretched to fill Clancy-length works.

Quantity has tended to come at the price of quality, though I think other issues are involved. I think of the way the new IT makes the plots harder to turn into dramatic stories. (I often find myself thinking of how if Our Man in Havana were written today, MI6 could just use Google Earth to figure out there was no doomsday weapon in Cuba. And how it's no longer a challenge for the hero to get a message back to his allies. And so forth.) And of course, as Charlie said it himself, the Golden Age of Spying really did end in 1991.


I'm still fine with Jedi; what I'm not fine with is things like I'maPain Skywalker, the EmoJedi.


Shouldn't the genre categorization be driven by the technical constraint? That's where the skill comes in -- telling an interesting story, a pretty painting, whatever -- in spite of the high wire act you build.

So hard SF is characterized by consistency with science, fantasy is characterized by a consistent and complete world-creation and so on. Bad constraints, crappy cheap art (a lot of soft sf, since they're often hard-sf with a net).

So, I see the constraint in "high-thriller" -- it's consistency with actual history and the real functioning of geopolitical governmental entities. What's the "low-thriller" constraint -- psychological truth? But isn't that a universal constraint for literature? What makes writing a "low-thriller" technically hard?


Noir, which I consider very close to what Harry writes, is almost always "Low". It spotlights class consciousness, and how the powerful treat the powerless.


Police procedurals are an odd duck and I left them out because I was nearing a thousand words and still haven't figured out the way to put in a cut on MT.

For average citizens, there are three occupations that are regularly valorized on TV: lawyers, doctors, and cops. The first two require a lot schooling, study, and tuition. For a regular joe, becoming a police officer is a high status job with low (but not no) barriers to entry. (NB: I knew a guy who was turned away during training because he let a suspect talk too much during a roleplay session)

Being a police officer is most definitely a status job and they do get to see things/go places that regular citizens don't, but it's also the lowest, most commonplace rung on the ladder of sexy authoritative power. Cops work with a lot of average citizens, their co-workers are likely to be other regular joes, and the stakes are usually not that high.

So police procedurals fall into a complicated middle ground and I sorta hate the idea of calling them "Mid Thrillers"


So hard SF is characterized by consistency with science, fantasy is characterized by a consistent and complete world-creation and so on.

I disagree. Hard SF is sometimes characterized by consistency with science ... except when it isn't. Take, for example, Larry Niven's "Protector" -- large scale far future hard SF, where virtually every posited scientific mcguffin was broken or based on a fundamental misapprehension of evolutionary biology. Meanwhile, your fantasy definition just wrote off an entire sub-genre, the dream-quest.

Genre boundaries are almost entirely arbitrary; they're useful as marketing heuristics to tell bookstore clerks where to shelve the product (so the readers can zero in on the kind of stuff they want to read), but that's about all.


Zornhau #3: It's true that this is only part of a full study. It's like classifying nouns as concrete or abstract: useful but not the only way to look at things.

Till #16: I haven't read the work you're referring to, but it's an interesting question (if I understand you correctly): What if it's a high thriller with a low thriller protagonist? Or you can substitute "fantasy" for "thriller". As I mentioned, there's no strict categorization in this game; it would have to depend on how power is being used and what kind it is.

Anura #20: I have to admit that I'm deeply uninterested in "hardness" as a literary value. Consistency and (to a certain degree) realism, sure, but "It doesn't work that way" never ruins the story for me.


I think I get the idea (even the platonic idea) of a high thriller, but not really of the platonic "low" thriller. It feels to me that high-spy/techno-thriller is just one of many basins of attraction, more than one end of linear spectrum.

Are Eric Ambler books for example typical low thrillers? They deal with ordinary Joes, but they are being swept around by The Forces that Be. Such stories form a large category of thrillers.

Or is the typical low thriller something without spies? More about crime? But then presumably the Godfather is more high-crime.

But if there is low and high crime, can there also be low spy stories? Len Deighton perhaps?


Where to you classify the sort of thriller or fantasy work that involves regular-guy-catapulted-to-the-halls-of-power? The canonical example would be, say, Frodo, upper-middle class guy from the sticks who Saves the Kingdom, but it would also be something like a beat cop who winds up having to stop a presidential assassination. Or is that simply a sub-section of high fantasy and thriller?


For what it's worth, I'd put the Ambler books in the "high" category, because ordinary as the protagonist tends to be, the danger comes from his being embroiled in high politics, and because of the kind of research (into the workings of governments, arms manufacturers and so forth) incorporated in a novel like A Coffin for Dimitrios or Cause for Alarm.

As to the matter of cops: in TV procedurals there seems to have been an emphasis in the past decade on more "upmarket" sorts of cops--forensic scientists and the like. Any thoughts regarding their location on the spectrum?


"I often find myself thinking of how if Our Man in Havana were written today, MI6 could just use Google Earth to figure out there was no doomsday weapon in Cuba."

Odd that you would write this on the day the Guardian publishes the story of Curveball. "Suspension of disbelief" - even in the face of evidence to the contrary - is a concept that isn't only applicable to narrative fiction.


I'm the computer nerd sometimes seen yelling back at thriller books, "You jackass, (some computer topic) doesn't work like that--don't you do any research?" And I always wonder if there's an F-22 pilot or missile silo officer doing the same about that field of expertise, or if they have better things to read.

(Halting State fans seeking realistic-sounding technothrillers that don't copy their politics from "24" might enjoy Daniel Suarez or Joseph Finder, by the way.)


I like the division, but if a book is exploring high/low matters, I think it's stronger to explore the range -- a point Samuel Delany makes somewhere in his criticism, using the French naturalistic novelists as an example.

Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October does this: you have a clerk's insight affect the shape of the Cold War. Yes, in the sequels, the clerk is retconned into a self-made millionaire and adviser to British royalty who becomes President, and for all I know, Pope. Originally, though, Ryan was supposed to be an everyman who made a difference, with just enough background to be in a position where he could -- Jimmy Stewart in the CIA. It seems to be why Reagan liked the book.


No, that's space opera, since most of the actual science makes no sense. It's just fairly dark space opera. By comparison, I like the kzin, and the notion that they become less agressive as the agressive ones are all killed off in futile wars with humanity.


The point is taken, but I didn't mean that intelligence officials (and their bosses) have ceased to believe dubious information justifying their agendas--just that the existence of satellites and other such systems makes some things easier to check.

In the novel I mentioned there was a whole plotline about recruiting a local pilot to overfly the site-which was supposed to include a giant, conspicuous machine built up in the open-to take photos. Any attempt to get those same pictures would go differently today.


Zamfir #26: If you wanted an emblematic low thriller, I'd point to the 1950 D.O.A. Yeah, it's a movie instead of a book, but that's helpful since it means more people are likely to have seen it. Any film where an average citizen or low-level criminal suddenly find danger intruding into their everyday world would make a low thriller.

Andrew R #26: I'd classify them according according to where the story takes them.

Nader #27: As for CSI and the like, I'm not sure what to call them. Extraordinarily unrealistic techno-procedurals?


About shelving stuff: even in the SFF bookstore, it's shelved as SFF: Science fiction and fantasy. High fantasy/low fantasy is more about whether you want a Tolkien knock-off or an urban fantasy knock-off (would that count as a Charles de Lint knock-off?). I've never seen a shop that sorts out the high fantasy from the low fantasy. In fact, most of them don't sort of the science fiction from the fantasy, either.

The tricky part of this whole categorization is the association of tech with power. As most of us plebes know, the suits often don't have a clue about how things work. Techs are low class, not high class, and while money and power may buy cool gadgets, there's some poor sod pulling a living wage to keep them working. Oddly enough, that's true with magic as well. While modern-day witches claim (with some accuracy) that today's black magicians all go into political consulting or advertising, you generally find the overt spell-casters in the funky shops, the barrios, and the shacks out in the woods. Or in cult compounds. If you're mixing with the Other Crowd, you're typically out on the fringe somewhere, not in a center of power.

That's the problem with the high vs. low tropes. Tech and magic are divorced from power in modern society, and they have been for a long time (think of the sterility of the average executive office). It's part of the artificiality of both high and low genres, and something that limits them both.


It's an interesting idea, and its takeoff point is a lot like my discussion of high vs. low fantasy in GURPS Fantasy, where I rejected high=invented worlds/low=set in the real world as oversimplified (the descent of the planetary intelligences in That Hideous Strength for a battle for the fate of England is high; Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in the streets of Lankhmar are low). It particularly reminds me of something the GURPS line editor said to me when I was working on GURPS Supers: That in the same way Magery is a talent for using magic, and various power talents enable the use of superpowers, one might look at social position as a talent for the use of social superpower—access to classified files, military command, eminent domain, compulsory legal process are all "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men."

In a sense, romantic fiction tends to portray socially created positions of advantage as if they were innate strengths of the individual. It takes a village to support a knight, but the Arthurian myth says "strength of ten" comes from individual purity or heroic resolve. A high-end superhero might be the equal of a tank or a battleship, but he doesn't need logistics to sustain him. Thriller heroes are romanticized, but not as much. The social machinery that enables their feats is not merely acknowledged but often carefully explored. On the other hand, when you invert the focus and look at the machinery primarily, you've gone from thriller to procedural . . . which I suppose is kind of like going from James Bond to George Smiley.

You do occasionally get magical procedural; James Blish did it in the Black Easter novels. But it's comparatively less common.


I wonder where the Quiller books would fit into this scale. True, Quiller gets involved in high-stakes geopolitical messes and you might think of him as a spy, but he's as far from a person in power as you could get and glamor isn't anywhere within twelve miles of him, let alone the folks that support him in the field, who I suspect would all have been fed into a chipper-shredder in the basement of The Laundry assuming that Angleton found any had been hired by his organization.

I read a number of the books, not because I had any sympathy for Quiller, but because I was mesmerized by how horrible his agency was. (As I remember it, the one he always wanted handling him if things got bad was a guy who looked for insects while walking on the sidewalk so he could crush them just enough to cripple them--because, despite that loathsome little habit, he would do his best to both make sure the mission succeeded and to get his agent the hell out of the mess no matter what or who stood in the way, which meant Quiller knew he might be a pawn but he wouldn't die in an alley just to make sure someone ended up looking good.) I can't get to my copy of "The Atrocity Archive" right now, but didn't the introduction give the impression that Charlie thought the Quiller books were horrid but no major details why?

As far as the CSI types of shows go, I've never been able to warm up to them because I keep remembering Chandler's line in "The Simple Art of Murder" which goes "The boys with their feet on the desks know that the easiest murder case in the world to break is the one somebody tried to get very cute with; the one that really bothers them is the murder somebody only thought of two minutes before he pulled it off."


@ william stoddard, i think you are spot-on about the personification of social positions. There are at least some modern-day equivalents too. The brilliant scientist/inventor is the clearest example of a single person who replaces the system that would do their work in reality. Business owners are also regularly portrayed as the sole creators of their companies. Arguably, many detectives also function as a personification of the police bureaucracy. Although in that case, like George Smiley or hospital series, there seems to be a large market for fiction that portrays the actual organization. TV detectives usually go out of their way to portray murder investigations as team efforts with lots of people doing foot work, even when it is clear that Lynley or Frost will eventually solve the case.

@Harry Connolly: I have to go by the Wikipedia description, but from that DOA sounds a lot like an Eric Ambler story, except with mysterious gangsters instead of mysterious spies as the net in which our ordinary hero gets involved. But at least from the description, the gangsters are not 'ordinary', real life criminals but quasi-mythic gangsters with henchmen and poison etc. Is that the intention? That a 'low' thriller can have Powers in the back ground, as long as the story focusses on normal people?


I always loosely thought of High/Low to be as described (High=government/secret agents/space empires, low=joe blogs and friends) but with the Hard/Soft divide i've always considered it to be a sliding scale of how logically consistent a story is.

for example, a hard-sf could still have FTL, nanomagic and strong AI but would really consider what a world like that may look like. Soft-sf is more like a current narrow view of the world with shiney technobabble bolted on (Asimov's foundation series for example which delt with average western culture kiloyears in the future)


I rather like the distinction -- I have always wondered how to describe Ross Thomas's ( ) work to friends, and I am sorely disappointed that he's not even in the Wikipedia link you mentioned.

From here on out, I will describe his work as low-thriller capers.


It's a long time since I read the Quiller oevre. (I was going to do so for the third Laundry book, and indeed the title should be a clue, but then I discovered Anthony Price.)


zamfir: One of the finest examples of the phenomenon in fiction set in modern times is Atlas Shrugged. We have industrialists who run their huge business enterprises effectively as sole proprietorships; we have a brilliant scientist who not only invents new technologies all by himself, but revolutionizes basic physical theory all by himself on the way to doing so (the Galt Motor looks to be a perpetual motion machine of the second kind); and at the start of part three we have a fully functional industrial economy run by a century or two of competent people, whose withdrawal from the larger economy around them is apparently enough to bring it down.

I don't say this as criticism—Atlas Shrugged is a pulp novel, and that kind of personification is native to the form—but I think it's striking that Rand is writing something akin to an Arthurian romance of capital. Attempts to read it and criticize it by the standards of realistic fiction may be missing the point.


If anything, I had Iron Man in mind. But I guess Atlas Shrugged and Iron Man were both based on Howard Hughes.


Perhaps it might be more useful to categorize based on the focus and implicit assumptions in the novels at hand? Historically speaking, the high versus low distinction might be more important -- we get all our ideas about cold war espionage (more or less) from spy lit (Fleming's version of cold war espionage can be argued to be an extrapolation of his firsthand experience with the hot war espionage of world war two); now, much of the material that is classified is fairly well known and the information-wielding-and-circulating capability of non-state actors is comparable to that of state actors, and so when a novelist writes some nonsense about Air Force One a quick search can prove that he was talking out of his ass.

On the other hand, we have novels that focus primarily on the tech (real or fictional), novels that focus primarily on the politics (with varying degrees of verisimilitude -- and while I consider politics a technology, I distinguish it here because it's typically not treated that way in novels of this type), and novels that focus primarily on a particular character or character type (James Bond films are more about James Bond than they are about anything he does or anything he is involved in, though this is less true of the novels; there are certainly some cult-of-personality-franchise novel series). They can also be classified by those ideas treated as axiomatic, and in what categories they fall in the above: some novels bend science in order to preserve politics (or bend both science and politics to preserve characterization).

On occasion there are novels that are difficult to classify in this way. Gibson's recent Bigend Trilogy seems this way to me: the only character that is completely constant is Hubertus Bigend (who has a fairly small personal role in the first two), and while the structure in each is very similar (Bigend hires woman who feels like a has-been to perform some incongruous task), there doesn't seem to be an underlying guiding ideology. Everything is bent at some point, and this is probably a side effect of the way he goes about writing his novels (he refuses to plan, and so they are the result of a kind of highly-refined stream-of-consciousness ground from rough ashlar to smooth after the fact).


Do thrillers come in two types: detective stories where the reader is as ignorant as the protagonist, and intringue, where the bad guys deeds are told in real time?


Michael, I would say that detectiveness is a somewhat orthogonal effect. It is possible for a thriller to be a detective, just as a thriller can at the same time also be a love story, or a historical novel, or all of them together.


If you liked Macleod's stuff (I wish I could get the Night Sessions over here in the US easily), I'll suggest Daemon and Freedom(TM). Both are technothriller books with a left lean, and some implications of the technologies unleashed.


Query to the masses -

Harry Dresden as Magic Procedural, or High Magic?


zamfir #37: I remember the gangsters as normal movie characters.


I'd say Dresden is mostly a Magic Procedural. However, the later books are more High Magic. (A change in focus in the later books. Also, my opinion of Turn Coat can't be expressed in polite company.)

(Another Magic Procedural would be Glen Cook's Garrett books. And Heinlein's Magic, Inc. And the two tv movies Cast a Deadly Spell and Witch Hunt.)


Also, the magic/fantasy modern alternate category - not our world (Harry Dresden setting makes pains to keep the rest of the world in the dark), but one such as Sookie Stackhouse books, Mercy Thompson shapeshifters/vampires/magic/elves in the Northwest, Anita Blake, Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan books - It started out "our world" and about now, but something changed and there are monsters/magic/whatever out in the open.

These mostly are Low or Procedural, though there are specific instances of High in them.


I will rant and rave about Kim Harrison's world-building. Anyone interested can find it in google.


Having just reread the entire Dresden files I felt like saying something.

Harry Dresden certainly starts out in the early books as quite 'low' but he gradually becomes more and more powerful. In Dead Beat he's saving the world and the first political machinations are appearing. By Chnages he's completely changing the face of the world. So there's a slow journey across the novels from low to high which is probably one of the reasons the books do so well, they're not static like a soap opera.

Wether to classify as 'procedural' I'm not sure. Certainly there's a lot if technical explanation of how magic works in that world and it seems internally consistent but it doesn't seem to be the focus of the books to me. To me they're more about the characters and their emotions.


The first books are procedurals because he's working on specific cases, in addition to other things going on (usually things which end up tied to his case, either through coincidence or divine or semi-divine machinations).

While I have issues with some of the particular plot elements he's used, Butcher's writing has improved, and the books are far more complex and better-plotted as the series develops.


As long as we're speaking of taxonomies, as well as mentioning Gibson and Suarez, I'd like to digress and mention that I've bundled them, as well as OGH's Halting State as Web 3.14 novels (from the term in Halting State*), or Hard SF for the Software Set. To their number we can add the first third of OGH's Accelerando, as well as Walter Jon Williams' This Is Not A Game (and the newly released Deep State), Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End at the outer edge, and Marc Stiegler's Earthweb in the alternate history branch (the ebook is available for free from Baen, and it reads like it may well have been serialized in Wited ca. 1995). If you squint real hard, you might be able to spot Rudy Rucker on the gonzo branch. But you have to really, really squint.


However, in the two most recent Harry Dresden books I nearly had a throw-book-at-wall (and don't come back) moment. Which echoes ENKI-2's point about research: Jim decided to riddle the underpinnings of my home city with tunnels, and seems not to have bothered to do the necessary research to get them right.

(It is possible to plausibly invoke a network of tunnels under Edinburgh; you use the buried city under the steep slopes of the Old Town -- google on "Mary King's Close". What you don't do is have a huge network of caverns under the castle -- because the castle rock is a solid lump of very hard volcanic basalt standing high above the surrounding landscape and it's not big enough to hold such a network, even if anyone was crazy enough to try digging one through solid granite.)

File this one under "failure of willing suspension of disbelief (subtype: local knowledge fail)".


Ok, I've never read the Dresden novels (any of them) but this isn't even a particular "local knowledge" fail so much as a "basic geology" fail. Basalt plugs from extinct volcanos aren't that rare.

Incidentally, it's too far from Embra to make a fun day out for you, but check out the turbine hall at Cruachan power station; that's dug out of solid granite, as are the access tunnels and water pipes that serve it.


I would argue that Dresden started as a sort of Magic Procedural but has become High Magic save the world fantasy over the course of the series.

I would also argue that it has become less interesting as result.


The Business" as well as his latest non-SF book ("Transition", IIRC) come to mind as examples of thrillers. Hm, they are "high thriller" insofar as the arena where everything is happening is high finance resp. a world controlling entitiy - but aren't they "low" because of the POV of the prots?

IIRC both books have high-status protagonists. One of them is a fairly high-ranking Business executive, the other one is an senior employee of the Concern. Both are high thrillers, I'd say.

Complicity is rather clever because it starts off with the narrator believing he's in a High Thriller - to do with international skulduggery and nuclear secrets - and he finds out he's in a Low Thriller after all.


Pet subject / hobby-horse time for an army brat...

For average citizens, there are three occupations that are regularly valorized on TV

I wonder about the popular level of knowledge required before $AUTHOR decides to get serious advice; we know that the police doesn't really address crime by relying on "gruff understanding boss gives maverick detective 24hrs to solve crime" or "enthusiastic and inspired amateur relies on $PLOTHOOKSKILL to beat more plodding peers", but we're willing to suspend disbelief within limits (e.g. having British policemen driving panda tanks, carrying rifles, and saluting each other).

It does seem that much of the "I researched this and..." stuff was generated by pub experts or a quick flick through hastily-written "non-fiction". It's one of the things that I remember noting in the first Laundry novel - Charlie had written a decent set of heavies from the Artists' Rifles, and it was unusual enough that I suspected he knew a member of them or their more northern brothers.

File this one under "failure of willing suspension of disbelief (subtype: local knowledge fail)"

Unfortunately, "local knowledge fail" is beaten by "convenient meme for lazy plotting". See any number of books/films where the military are used as a vehicle to explore concepts of "doing what you're told" versus "free will". You would be unlikely to hear the words "that's an order" in any real army, and said armies are unlikely to harbour dreams of "ultimate soldiers because they obey without question".

I really enjoy Ken Macleod's books; his politics differ from mine, and I know that the state doesn't work that way; but so what - they make me think, make me look at things from a different perspective. For true, wild, teeth-grinding, bite-hard-ignore-them-and-concentrate-on-the-plot inaccuracies, you have to read Matthew Reilly.

Mention of Walter Jon Williams "Deep State" is interesting - I suspect that there is at least some cursing going on there, and that he'd have liked at least three or four more months before his plot premise appeared on the BBC and CNN...


WJW speaks of this in an entry under The Big Idea tag over in Scalzi's blog:

Failed Area Knowledge(Local) rolls are the leading cause of Suspension of Disbelief failures today. Please give to the Lazy Writer's Research Fund so that readers will no longer be injured when their suspension fails.


"local knowledge fail" is beaten by "convenient meme for lazy plotting"

Very true, however the convenient meme is useful as a plot tool to explore or convey something in a way the audience will understand. But if you know that the meme is bullshit it will annoy you even more to see it cropping up over and over, if the story is built on that meme the suspension of disbelief fails.


"local knowledge fail" is beaten by "convenient meme for lazy plotting"

True as far as it goes. OTOH CVFLP can (not will, just can) result in great hilarity for those "in the know"; witness the Tv series "Ultimate Farce" (sic), which is still one of the best comedies ITV have ever made. LKF, particularly if it's as obvious as "there just isn't that much space in there" is just plain annoying every time though.


i would suggest that mobster films qualify as "high thrillers", especially since they concern people in power, an elite few. a "low thriller" would make me think of films like "hand that rocks the cradle" or "sleeping with the enemy", the sort of story that could happen to anyone. "the lookout" would also qualify as a "low thriller" from my perspective.


Oh, Really Charlie! ... Levels of Reality and Alternative World Layers as against a Single ONE TIME ONE PLACE TARGET for the Bad Guys .. OF course the H.Q. of the Good Guys Beneath Edinburgh is Multi Layered and Multi Doored to various realities and thus not limited to a given Geographical SPACE.. Oh Come Now, would You Submit YOUR Secret HQ to Attack as being in ONE Location - Cold War " Beneath The city streets "

sort of thing .... and at ONE Time and Place?

POOT! Shame on You. Failure of Imagination .... I Never Thought that I'd have the opportunity to say that to You of all people!


...(It is possible to plausibly invoke a network of tunnels under Edinburgh; you use the buried city under the steep slopes of the Old Town -- google on "Mary King's Close". What you don't do is have a huge network of caverns under the castle -- because the castle rock is a solid lump of very hard volcanic basalt standing high above the surrounding landscape and it's not big enough to hold such a network, even if anyone was crazy enough to try digging one through solid granite.)

In Butcher's defense, a world in which people can both functionally teleport and can make fire hot enough to melt stone come out of a stick or their hands (or simply disintegrate or vaporize things) has a lot less trouble making new secret caves under cities.

You may have to start with a fissure or pre-existing mine or hole of some sort, but once you have an "in", it's just time and energy.

I'm working up a near-future mostly hard science science fiction story with the sole macguffin of a sufficiently cheap device that with little energy input turns rock it's touching to dust, and the implications thereof. Most magic universes have some variation on this.


Ah, Yes, ..and to which I would add that Wonderfully Comic Series, SAS are you tough enough..


It probably says something Very Terrible about me that I consider that ' films like "hand that rocks the cradle" or "sleeping with the enemy", ' are in fact variations on a Theme of ' Romantic Comedy '


Charlie --

My question/statement was Shouldn't the genre categorization be driven by the technical constraint? -- not how genre are used for marketing, but how they could best be used to actually discuss the literature.

The two are unlikely to overlap. In fact, marketing genres are ways to categorize authors more than their writing so that consumers can quickly find them in a bookstore or online. I see no reason that such should be used as critical tools.



Do you mean "hardness" as in "it's technically difficult"? Or "hardness" as in super-science geekosity?

The first seems to be pretty much the only universal critique of an art form that is at the root of everything else -- whether they managed to juggle 20 balls while riding a unicycle and singing The Illiad in Homeric Greek.

It's entertaining, funny, sad or whatever because the artist managed to do that "thing" with a certain technical virtuosity -- but not too much for me to actually recognize it.


I'm not about to claim to be able to reference the location of Source Material, BUT, years ago, I do remember watching an Academic/Musician on British T.V. trying to recreate how a Saga would have sounded before the days of written literature and in the Days of the Bard, when Stories would have been passed on Word of Mouth and Memorized and you had to accompany yourself with a harp. It was Wonderfully convincing in .... Welsh I think. I do remember that it was in a Children's TV program and I suspect that you NEED to have a Harp, or its equivalent, as part of the recital of The ... Name Your Own Ancient Ballad.

Flicking through google I did come upon this ....

" The tablet h.6 contains the lyrics for a hymn to Nikkal, a Semitic goddess of orchards, and instructions for a singer accompanied by a nine-stringed sammûm, a type of harp or, much more likely, a lyre.[6] One or more of the tablets also contains instructions for tuning the harp.[7] "

It's just GOT to be source material for the Music Played upon the Bone Violin in the Annals of The Laundry... and it does occur to me that repeated use of the Bone Violin must be about as dangerous to the Musicians health as would be, say, clamping a radioactive source to your head; worse even than wielding Elric of Melniboné s Sword Stormbringer.


George @65:

I seem to remember Larry Niven used a fictional device with a similar turn stone to dust capability in one of his stories. It looked like a sawed-off double barreled shotgun with two triggers. Pull one trigger and a beam would shoot out and suppress the charge of electrons on any surface it touched, thus breaking chemical bonds and causing the fragmented material to repel into dust fragments. Pull the other trigger and a similar effect would be had, only this time by suppressing the charge on the protons. Pull both triggers and you get a rather large boom.

I like the topic of high & low thrillers and high and low fantasy. It is a useful tool. I can think of a number of stories, mostly TV shows, that could be classified as either low or high thrillers. One thriller that I have watched for the last few years, "Burn Notice", seems to combine overlapping low and high thriller storylines. The low thrillers seem to be week-to-week side stories and the high thrillers are the full season story arch which they make a bit of progress on in each episode.


What of Cory Doctrow's latest young adult novels, 'Little Brother' and 'For The Win'? On one hand, small scale protagonist finds danger intruding on their hometown, on the other hand,many dealings with governments and large corporations, discussions of economics and geopolitics etc.

Of course, Cory has clearly written the books as handy guides to a)How to bring down your government without really trying, and b)Class Warfare 101. Polemic (even good polemic, such as this) generally pays little attention to genre convention.


No, it's not a sensible way to look at thrillers, IMO. It's not a sensible way to look at fantasy either and never has been. The designation of high and low fantasy was largely constructed by those who wanted to say that their supposedly Tolkeinesque war epics were ever so different from those war epics that were related to D&D or seemed D&D like to them. It was an attempt to build yet another artificial social class system within the sub-field of alternate world fantasy, and as someone rather against those things to the point of scolding steampunk for imperialism, do you really want to buy into it?

Thrillers in particular do not stick to one social class. They generally involve people in authority -- law enforcement, politics, courts -- ordinary people, criminals, maybe some mentally disturbed individuals. They may involve war or big doings in the White House, which is why they are called war or political thrillers, which denotes their content perfectly clearly. They may involve a mystery (mystery thriller,) or an adventure (adventure thriller.) They may involve the issue of mental problems (psychological thriller) or a horrifying situation (horror thriller.) They may be about a court case (legal thriller) or an unexpected romance in a dangerous situation (romantic thriller)or a serial killer (serial killer thriller.) They may have a very narrow focus behind closed doors or there may be big explosions in front of large crowds. That doesn't change their designation as thrillers -- a main character at risk for high stakes.

You don't write low thrillers. You write SF thrillers. Good ones too.


I think you have confused Charlie and Harry.


Sean #49, I wouldn't call the early Dresden books "procedurals" since that generally refers to police procedures (iow, it follows the investigative procedures of real police officers, giving readers a glimpse into that world). They were low thrillers and also detective novels.

I agree that his recent books are high thrillers.

Sooz #63: I don't have an argument with how you want to categorize mobster stories. Everyone would draws the line in a different place.

Anura #69: I mean "hardness" as in "Is this hard science fiction?" and in various attempts by some writers to figure out a way to have "hard fantasy." I'm not interested in arguments over whether, to choose one example, satellites can draw breathable air from the atmosphere below through trailing air hoses w/ fans; I was honestly astonished to see a drawn-out, acrimonious discussion on the subject. If I were reading that book, that would be the least interesting thing you could ask me about it. Other people care about that very much, but not me.

Mardonius #72: Sorry but I haven't read Doctorow's work. The answer would probably depend on how much page space the high and low elements were given, the same way you'd decide if a romance was a subplot or the main plot.

KatG #73: I write supernatural thrillers, not sf thrillers. I should mention that the labels "high" and "low" aren't meant to replace other genre labels. It's just another descriptor that I find useful.


Well, see, that's what happened in the early Dresden novels: he hunted for clues to solve a case. His methods involved drawing circles and waving a wand around, rather than taking samples to the DNA lab, but he generally used a specific set of -- wait for it -- procedures. And then spent a lot of time investigating.

I think this shows up most in SUMMER KNIGHT.

The books also had a quest associated with them, for varying reasons; while the quest started taking more page time, he did have a reason for it (namely, Harry as a character grows, and so do his responsibilities).


Harry: I mean "hardness" as in "Is this hard science fiction?" and in various attempts by some writers to figure out a way to have "hard fantasy." I'm not interested in arguments over whether, to choose one example, satellites can draw breathable air from the atmosphere below through trailing air hoses w/ fans; I was honestly astonished to see a drawn-out, acrimonious discussion on the subject. If I were reading that book, that would be the least interesting thing you could ask me about it. Other people care about that very much, but not me.

Well -- to each his own, of course. I don't like watching ballet -- but I do recognize that the beauty of ballet isn't in the "narrative", but in the combination of technically difficult moves to communicate the excuse of a narrative or transmit a subjective experience. I lack the expertise, though, to really see it.

Hard SF is entertaining when it's actually hard to do -- when other literary values are advanced despite staying consistent with science. In comedy, telling jokes is easy -- compared with doing it with meta-constraints of internal consistency across the entire act. That's where the big laughs come from.


LOL, yes I did confuse Harry and Charlie. I forgot that Charlie is dealing with family issues and that people are guesting on his blog and I didn't look at the byline. Sorry about that, Mr. Connolly. But my argument about high-low still stands. They are terms with too much baggage and not enough relevance for me. Most thrillers, from supernatural to political, involve too many social classes to make the cut efficient. And big, epic political and global thrillers -- what's wrong with calling them political and global thrillers? It communicates the same thing and more accurately.


Charlie is currently en route to Boskone - or possibly there by now. I was seeing tweets from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport earlier today.


Entering the conversation late, so apologies if I'm re-iterating somebody elses point.

I'm not certain that 'High'/'Low' is ever a good descriptor. Useful, perhaps but no better than any other vast over-generalisation. But in any event I disagree with making the distinction as to the context of conflict rather than the results of the conflict.

If you look at a lot of, for instance, le Carre's thrillers. While they're explicitly about the secret services and their arcane mechanisisms, the protaganist's motivations are largely mundane. His classic, 'The Spy who Came in From the Cold' turns on a romantic motivation, not victory or defeat in some world spanning conflict. The resolution of the story is personnel and mundane not world-shattering. This focus in le Carre's work places him in a 'Low' Thriller genre, despite the characters working in what are traditionally 'High' fields.


KatG #78: Thrillers do cut across the social layers, but just including a person in a high status position doesn't mean the story will have high thriller hallmarks of the exercise of cultural/political power. Same for a low status character.

I'll admit that I'm not much worried about the baggage, because I'm not really aware of it. That's probably a function of not being part of fandom.



Thank you for giving Harry the chance to guest blog here.

Harry, Read the sample chapters and just bought both books. Very impressed.


People eventually stopped using the terms high fantasy versus low or high versus sword & sorcery because it just wasn't easy to distinguish them by power, etc. So they just started using epic a lot, which came with its own confusions. In mimetic thrillers, that power dynamic is actually clearer, since you aren't dealing with magic or the supernatural and so your characters are not saving the world even though they are just a farmer or an actress, whereas in fantasy, they may well be. CIA agents obviously are broader in scope and more important usually than a cop dealing with a crime spree. Unless the CIA agent is just trying to get away from one local bad guy and the cop finds the crime goes up to the governor's office. And then you'd have to switch them. Some thrillers are definitely about power, but it becomes more about broad in scope versus narrow than high society versus low.

You and Charlie write SFF, so putting you in the straight thriller dynamic just doesn't work too well. Charlie writes stories broad in scope often because he's writing SF. His Merchant Princes was kind of broad in scope, across universes, but also was about a bunch of merchants. :) Your fantasy series -- well, it's not really that narrow in scope. You've got your Twenty Palaces sorcery society that is controlling the world's magic. Sure, your main character is a minor cog in the bigger machine of power, but he's still caught up, in one instance for example, in dealing with a predator who can destroy all life on earth -- you can't get more powerful than that -- and his boss is not exactly a non-power person on the Earth. So are you really low? Or are you writing about an almost ordinary person who is involved in extraordinary, fantastic circumstances of world critical import? Which would make you writing high. The stakes get complicated. So high, low, doesn't work for me, especially when it's SFF.

Also, you're a published writer, so you're involved in fandom whether you like it or not. :)


Jim, thanks very much. I hope you enjoy them.


KatG, I've been pressganged! Actually, I'm planning to attend a convention or two in the future. We'll see how that goes.

Also, the way power is judged in sticking on a "high/low thriller" label is separate from the sort of magic it has. You could have a high thriller set in the White House with a "low fantasy" sort of magic--say, a single ring of invisibility, or a special potion.

My Twenty Palaces books are low thrillers not because they have modest amounts of magic--each book actually has a bit more than the one before--and not because Ray himself has only a little magic. It's because the plot is not worked out through the exercise of governmental, cultural, or organizational power.

Annalise can pinch someone's head off or burn them down to their bones in a couple of seconds, but she's not in a high thriller because she's not operating with the backing of, say, a massive federal agency.

BTW, I totally understand if this isn't a particularly useful way to looking at these stories for you or anyone else. This is how I see them, and it has a powerful influence on my reading tastes.


Of course it does ! ..any writer has his Influences. Just as of this evening I've been reading .. whilst Multi Tasking - Jezz the kids think that this is a new Multi-verse/IT based concept? interesting series that is based in SanFran Frissky Urban Magic that springs from Chandler just as Harry is Influenced by Hammet ... but merely INFLUENCED as our Gracious Host is Influenced by the fiction of the Cold War without being FROZEN by that same literature.

Hereafter ... Dog Days

Sorry, Gracious Host Charlie .. but there are a few Cats in this Series.

On Reading Taste, Harry? Reflecting upon the, Dracula ? Thread, and departing upon Books That Would work as being Movies in the Spirit of the Victorian Literature of Days Gone By that, would - in my 'umble opinion -work as a Movie?

My own Choice would be Barbra Hambly s " IMMORTAL BLOOD " ...

" The 20th century is just under way, and somebody is killing the vampires of London. Against the wishes of his fellow undead, Simon Ysidro, oldest of the London vampires, seeks the assistance of Oxford professor James Asher, former spy for the British government. Ysidro gains Asher's cooperation by threatening the life of his beautiful young wife, Lydia.

Unbeknownst to Ysidro, Asher enlists the help of his wife, a physician with a keenly analytical mind. Asher prowls the streets and crypts of London with Ysidro, entering the dark underworld of the undead, as Lydia combs property records and medical journals for clues as to who might have the means and the motive to carry out the slaughter.

Asher's theory is that the killer must be a vampire himself, one able to remain awake and active in the daytime. Lydia develops a theory as to how such a vampire might come to be. Together Asher and Ysidro travel to Paris to seek out the mythical eldest of all vampires, who might be either the killer himself, or the key to the killer's undoing.

But what they discover shocks them all—a horrifying threat to the living as well as the undead."

I suggest that it would make a Terrific Movie .. but thats just the opinion of a man that Hates the entire Sparkly Romantic Vampires theme that has appeared to Haunt the Genre of Fantasy just lately.


You know Very Well, Harry, that it is useful in as much as it does Provoke conversation and suggestions of where to look for Entertainment in the form of Books.

I suggest, out of the spirit of the Gently Genial Mischievious that you Consider another Spring Off from the Genre of Espionage .. the Historical Thiller that is Influenced by the Fiction of the Cold War .. But, Which Cold/Hot War do I hear you say?...

Have a look at the " David Becket and Simon Ames Series "

The third book in the seqence merges into an alternative wold vision of a likly outcome of the Sanish invasion of England ...

" 1587 and the Spanish are preparing to launch the Armada, their Holy Enterprise of England, to rescue the English from heresy and Elizabeth, their Witch-Queen. Ex-soldier David Becket, now responsible for the Queen's Ordnance but struggling to deal with his tortured past, discovers that large quantities of gunpowder are going astray. Can someone in the heart of the English government be selling it to the Spanish? Unaccountably he is plagued by vivid dreams of England invaded, an alternative story where the Armada is victorious. Simon Ames, Becket's old friend, has been captured by the Inquisition in Lisbon as he attempts to elicit vital information for the Queen. His wife, Rebecca; a black slave, Merula, and Becket are permitted to rescue him on one condition. They must also infiltrate the Spanish fleet and unravel the riddle of the Miracle of Beauty. But Simon has been sentenced to work as a galley slave on the Armada and, chained to an oarbench, is now bound for England. Patricia Finney's brilliant reworking of the Armada story is an imaginative tour de force. Thrilling, intricate and inspiring, this is a tale of gods, of courage, of love, and, ultimately, of redemption "

Finney is .. well discover her academic background and then consider her theory of how the Spaniards really did intend that a successfull invasion of England be undertaken.

And then there is Finneys alter ego ' P F Chisholm ' who writes a .. well it's a sort of Police Proceedural /Great Detective with aid of Staunch but Capable Henchman /series.. set in the Borders between Scotland and England in the Late Great Age of Elizabeth the First but with excursions into the Scots and the English Court of the Day....

88: 85 - Ok, he doesn't attend many cons, but Jasper Fforde has said (ok to con-goers like me) just how pleasant and intelligent he finds con-goers. My advice; attend some panels and hang out a bit in a bar or public lounge and talk to people, or lock yourself up in the con games room if exists and then if that's what floats your boat.

What's being discussed high vs low, seems to me a question of perspective, too. perhaps rather than any other concrete differenciating elements. The story unfolding from behind a character's eyes. As opposed to the eagle eye'd view of a situation. The latter, where the reader has information the characters can't from their PoV. Where the characters are more like devices to enable the unfolding idea. Pieces on a board as someone said ^ up there.

Course, these view points are often mixed.


I see what you mean, but I don't think even that's always true. You can give the reader information that $protagonist doesn't have without using $deity_view, by using multiple protagonists who're not in communication with each other, such as in Iain M Banks' Feersun Endjinn, or OGH's Merchant Princes saga for example.


Fandom is not just about conventions. If you are a published author and some people have bought your books and enjoyed them, they're fans and you are subsequently involved in fandom. Should you participate in a group event with authors at a pub for an audience -- that's fandom. People talk about your stuff on the Net and you end up encountering them, that's fandom. You doing these guest blogs for Charlie, talking with us in comments -- that's involvement with fandom. I'm afraid that you're stuck. :)

In your books, the Twenty Palace organization is not simply a group of powerful magicians -- it has authority. It's a shadow government/organization of high power. It's the CIA, essentially, and Ray is a minor cop/agent/consultant for hire in that organization. And the cases he works on with higher powered agents involve world shaking events and threats. That's high power, not low power. That's an authority organization of the highest level. You're writing spy thrillers, not mystery thrillers. Now, Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude -- that would be a low power historical fantasy thriller by your definition. Laura Resnick's comic mystery thriller Unsympathetic Magic is low. But your work, not so much. Which is why I don't think it's necessarily a workable system, especially for fantasy thrillers, or that you and Charlie are that far off the grid from each other. Two box systems tend not to work.

ARCHAEOPTERYX: "the entire Sparkly Romantic Vampires theme that has appeared to Haunt the Genre of Fantasy just lately."

I would argue that this is not actually occurring. There's no need to exaggerate just because you don't like a YA bestseller. (Hambly novels -- most excellent.)

I would argue that this is not actually occurring. There's no need to exaggerate just because you don't like a YA bestseller.

I'm seeing entire displays devoted to 'Supernatural Romance' as a genre in its own right. Perhaps you're not, but I will attest that it's not just the Twilight series of books. In the place that I most often see books for sale, this genre seems to be threatening to take over the Romance shelves. There is a small smattering of F&SF as well, but SR has owned these aisles.

In proper bookshops, I hope it's different.


Paranormal romance is a sub-category of romance. It's not threatening anything and has in fact brought in more readers to horror, historical fantasy, alt world fantasy and contemporary fantasy titles. Categories and sub-categories don't threaten each other. When something gets popular, the field expands as new readers come in and some of them browse further, and the field increases in variety, not contracts. (The popularity of alt world fantasy led to an expansion of potential audience for contemporary fantasy, which helped Harry get a book contract, etc.) This is why fantasy is not killing SF, YA is not killing adult SFF, urban fantasy is not destroying alt world fantasy or horror, and women authors and fans are not destroying male ones. Popularity does not indicate the apocalypse.


Amusingly, I was fairly impressed with Mr Butcher's ability to do research (at least, after the first two or three books -- Harry Dresden's style started out as a mimicry of the kind of stuff you see in regurgitated grimoires but rapidly progressed towards the kind of syncretic and psychologically-bound system used by chaotes), though I can't comment on his ability to research places since I've never been to any of the ones he mentions.

I've been reading the Laundry series recently, and you appear to have some familiarity with the occult (better than J. K. Rowling, certainly). How would you rate The Dresden Files in terms of research in other areas?



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This page contains a single entry by Harry Connolly published on February 15, 2011 7:28 AM.

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