A spy flits from shadow to shadow across Oxford-town, pausing at last to study the doorway of the main library, wherein a secret that could threaten all of England may be found. There are two guards there, guns at the ready, and the spy knows that a single misstep could prompt them to open fire and spill his blood onto the cobblestone streets.
In the plus column: The spy is invisible.
In the minus column: The guards are zombies.
Had you there for a minute, I bet. The passage above is a quick-and-dirty summary of a scene in my latest book, THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT. That first paragraph could describe any number of thrillers—the last two lines winnow the matter down considerably.
Let’s go a bit further. What if I told you the guards’ guns were muskets? That the zombies were part of Napoleon’s army in 1809, an army that had successfully invaded England? And that the secret was something guarded by diminutive lizard-men living on Venus? Now we’re talking historical fantasy and space opera. But we’re also still talking about a thriller.
There can be a certain “get your chocolate out of my peanut butter!” mentality when it comes to crossing genres, but that’s never stopped me. Some of the best thrillers I’ve ever read are outright science fiction—particularly the ones dealing with nanoviruses or high-tech perils. More plausible than Napoleon’s zombies? Sure. But not happening in the present day. They’re speculative—and speculation is at the heart of science fiction and fantasy.
I’m a member of both International Thriller Writers and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and as you can imagine from the above description, I rather enjoy crossing genres. I happen to like thriller-style action and, well, thrills in my SF/F. There’s a lot of great stuff out there. Just in the past year, we’ve had:
- Hugo-nominated The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, about an alien invasion set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and the political machinations behind how best to deal with it;
- Lock In, by John Scalzi, a crime/detective thriller set in the near future, with the added twist of robotic “Threeps” allowing catatonic plague victims to interact with society;
- Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, about a meteorite strike in Lagos, Nigeria, and a race to save the city—and the world—from an alien menace, all from a fantastic African perspective;
- City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, in which political thriller and murder mystery meets a distinctly unique fantasy setting;
- Peter Higgins’ Truth and Fear, in which an alternate Russia with fallen angels and a multitude of fantastical elements becomes the setting for murder and intrigue; and
- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, an epic fantasy with plenty of battles, plots, intrigues and twists.
And then there’s my Daedalus series, in which the Napoleonic era’s battles and political machinations play out across a pulp version of our Solar System. Yep—sailing ships in space. And Napoleon has zombies.
I love traditional thrillers – I grew up on a steady diet of James Bond and Tom Clancy alongside J.R.R. Tolkien and Star Wars. I also love historical thrillers, and as you can imagine, the Napoleonic naval adventures of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian have a special place in my heart.
What do you get when you combine all that? In my opinion, something unique—and thrilling.
These are all just a handful of examples of a vibrant, world-spanning genre that’s become far more nuanced and exciting than you’d expect. So the next time you’re on the hunt for a different kind of thriller, head on over to the science fiction and fantasy section. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
Michael J. Martinez is the author of the DAEDALUS trilogy and other bits of thrilling science fiction and fantasy. He lives in New Jersey with his amazing wife, incredible kid and a surprisingly sedate cat.
To learn more about Michael, please visit his website.
- February 24 – March 1: “Crossing genre takes great skill, please discuss stories that have succeeded at it.” - February 23, 2020
- February 17 – 23: “Are broken-hearted villains suspenseful?” - February 16, 2020
- February 10 – 16: “What’s love got to do with it?” - February 9, 2020