Our heroes, stuck on a boat with a ten-ton nuclear bomb, have only seconds to live. Using one air tank and a chair, they dive into the ocean and sink to one hundred feet. The nuclear device explodes above them. Horror! But wait, the heroes are not harmed by the explosion because, you know, the water absorbed the blast. They rise to the surface, float for hours in radioactive water, are rescued at the point of hypothermia, and go on to complete their mission to save the world. No bends, no radiation poisoning, no vaporization, no being crushed to the size of peanuts by the pressure wave, or parboiled by the roasting heat.
You think I’m making this up? No, another author did, in a book I won’t name for fear of embarrassing the writer.
Watch TV lately? In a forty-two-minute television show, more evidence is mishandled, more suspect’s rights violated, and more logic is leaped than in all the precincts in all the cities in the world. Hey. It’s television. We get it. Jamming your gun up a suspect’s nose and getting answers is much better for ratings than typing out a warrant and explaining probable cause.
As viewers, we’ve come to expect a suspension of disbelief over the Grand Canyon of special effects and splashy, outlandish action. Incredible stunts. Visually stunning exploits.
Should books be any different? The trend would suggest the answer is no. In a mindless competition with visual media, we thriller writers seem compelled to be more extreme, more intense, and unfortunately, more stupid than our visual partners in crime.
Stretching reality is fine. It’s make believe, right? But when does stretching dissolve into farce?
With a thriller set in the real world, the author has a duty to get it right. Readers expect some logic. Physics that resemble the real world. Guns that don’t run out of cartridges. Should we subject our characters to some extraordinary trials? Absolutely. Stretch the truth at times? Sure. Invent some technology? Yep, as long as it conforms to a reasonable extrapolation of current science. But, technology can’t be used as magic. CSI people can’t link a tiny fleck of paint to a 1962 Dodge Dart with a dent in the left front fender. Video cameras can’t zoom in on a nostril hair from a reflection in a rear-view mirror six blocks away. Ducking behind a handy wall will not save you from a nuclear blast, and Rocky can’t really get pounded to ground beef for six movies and not drool while playing with Crayons.
Big explosions are fun. They light up the screen and get the heart pumping. But authors have an audience with different expectations, and by the act of reading is mentally engaged with the story. There are no commercials in a book. No time limits. No requirement to wrap up the crime before next week’s episode.
In other words, no excuse not to get it right.