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Copyright © 2005, TDPI

TAC DOCTRINE: What's a techno-thriller author's responsibility to society?

For all you folks who have written me over the years and never received a reply and were miffed about it, you might--or might not--be amused to learn that last month I had some sort of glitch with an e-mail server, and before I knew it Outlook was downloading almost SIX THOUSAND unopened e-mails to my Inbox!

I'm in the process of sorting through them all (easily ninety percent of them are junk mail), but one in particular, written in April of 2005, got my attention:

Subject: The Tin Man

Dear Mr. Brown:

I have just listened to a brief portion of the excerpt from The Tin Man following the full length reading of a book by another author.

Your disclaimer that the inclusion of directions for the manufacture of methamphetamine serves the purpose of authenticity makes it apparent that those directions are, and are intended to be, accurate. The following questions spring to mind immediately:

  • 1) What difference would it make to most of us, who have no clue how the stuff is made, if the process was not accurately portrayed? We wouldn't even know it.
  • 2) Who is most at risk by being handed the recipe? Not the hardened user who already knows how or doesn't need to because he has an established source, and not the socially and economically stable adult. Most at risk is the teen and preteen who is either hurting, a social misfit, misguided (or suffers from lack of guidance) or is just plain bored one day and thinks, as all teens do, that he's smart enough to be careful and can't imagine anything really bad happening to him anyway (the immortality syndrome.)
  • 3) How would you feel if one of those teens were a child of yours?
  • 4) What were you thinking when you not only portrayed an accurate process but then advertised it as such in your disclaimer, leaving no room for doubt in the mind of one who might try it except the he doubted it would be a true representation?
  • 5) What kind of example are you setting with this lack of social responsibility?
  • 6) How hard would it have been to choose another path with a disclaimer along these lines: The process for manufacturing methamphetamine is accurate in broad terms but has been altered enough that a viable product will not result?
  • Ironically, one of your other books was next on my list, but since the power of the purse is the only substantive avenue the public has to convey its disapproval, I have no choice but to neither purchase nor read anything you have written or will write in the future.

    Ouch!

    This eight month-old e-mail really got me thinking: what responsibility, if any, do we "techno-thriller" authors have to society? Our stock in trade is carefully researching especially dangerous topics and then writing stories about them with the purpose of using the truth to provide realism and authenticity in order to keep the reader engaged in the story. But what if writing that truth empowers or in some way prompts someone to do something really nasty using that information?

    In my July 1994 novel "Storming Heaven," a terrorist flies an unmanned Cessna laden with explosives into the White House. On September 11, 1994, student pilot Frank Corder steals a Cessna C-150 from a Maryland airport and crashes it into the White House.

    The conspiracy theorists went crazy with this for a long time (check out http://thewebfairy.com/killtown/oddities.html as an example). I also had a few interesting (and scary) interviews with the Secret Service on whether Corder had ever been in contact with me, and where I had received the detailed information on the geographic coordinates of the White House.

    I often joke about the Secret Service opening the door of Corder's stolen plane and fifty copies of "Storming Heaven" come tumbling out. But what if he actually got the idea to do this from my book? How would I feel about that? What is my responsibility if such an incident were to occur?

    My response to the reader is this: my task and approach as a novelist is to do a lot of research on a topic and then integrate that information into a narrative that uses realism and authenticity to make it an enjoyable and entertaining story. I don't apologize for doing my homework and putting a lot of references to real-world facts and information in my work.

    What if that information gives someone the idea to do harm to others?

    Frankly, if that were to happen, I believe that person already had that urge, idea, or desire to harm someone to begin with--he was going to do it somehow, some way, either with my information or with someone else's. NOT putting that information in a novel probably wouldn't have stopped him from carrying out his deed--he just would've found the information somewhere else. That's not hard to do, especially in this day and age of rapidly-expanding and even-faster access to all sorts of information.

    I don't doubt the influence of media on our personalities. Be honest: how did you feel walking out of the movie theater the first time you saw "Saturday Night Fever," "Rocky," "Top Gun," or "Dirty Harry"? I remember a lot of guys strutting, flexing, and squinting in the parking lot. We've all heard the stories about kids who listen to acid rock or rap lyrics and end up shooting or hurting someone, or kids who emulate stunts from TV shows like "Jackass" or pro wrestling. My son Hunter can perform moves with a toy lightsaber like a real Jedi Knight--not because he took lessons, but because he's seen the "Star Wars" movies dozens of times.

    Seeing or reading the image certainly makes it real to some, but I believe the image has to exist there first for it to be manifested in the real world. Hypnosis only works if the mind is ready to accept the suggestion being given. If you don't like guns, watching "Magnum Force" or "Death Wish" a hundred times won't turn you into a gunslinging vigilante.

    It's a "chicken or the egg" argument, and I believe the egg--the thought or attitude--was there first. Maybe the external images reinforce the attitude and allow it to bubble to the surface, but it still already existed long before my writing brought it to life.

    The e-mail made me think about it--but it won't make me change my writing style. Good writing is supposed to elicit an emotional response. It's unfortunate that the response might harm someone, and I would certainly tear myself up if it happened to someone close to me or someone I knew. But I still wouldn't change my style of writing.

    Click here for more on Act Of War

    [AMAZON.COM]
    Get Act Of War At Amazon.Com!

    Act Of War (June 2005)

    ACT OF WAR introduces a whole new hero and a new conflict to techno-thriller fans around the world.

    A series of deadly terrorist attacks in the United States and South America--including a nuclear attack near Houston, Texas--has the entire world on red alert. The attacks appear to be targeting an American energy company, but the terror group that calls itself GAMMA seems to be more than the anti-globalization, pro-environmental activists it claims to be.

    Enter U.S. Army Major Jason Richter and his partner, Dr. Ariadna Vega of the Army Research Lab's Infantry Transformational BattleLab. These two young engineers have designed and built a land combat system designed to replace an entire motorized infantry squad: CID, or Cybernetic Infantry Device, a piloted robot with the speed and firepower of a weaponized Humvee, the strength of a bulldozer, and the agility of a special ops commando.

    The hard-charging National Security Adviser, Robert Chamberlain, pairs Richter and Vega up with an FBI intelligence expert, Special Agent Kelsey DeLaine, and a veteran special ops expert, Command Sergeant Major Ray Jefferson, to form Task Force TALON, the first joint military-FBI unit charged with hunting down and stopping terrorists anywhere in the world. With CID's speed, power, weaponry, and amazing capabilities, combined with the talents of the U.S. Army and the investigative skills of the world's greatest detective agency, TALON is designed to put terrorists on the run around the globe.

    But putting conflicting and single-minded personalities like Richter and DeLaine together is like mixing oxygen and gasoline: do it right and it produces horsepower--do it wrong, and it creates an explosion. Even the National Security Adviser can't seem to control his team. Can Task Force TALON survive long enough to hunt down GAMMA and its secret puppetmaster, the shadowy Consortium, before the next deadly attack?

    "The novels of Dale Brown brim with violent action, detailed descriptions of sophisticated weaponry and political intrigue... His ability to bring technical weaponry to life is amazing."
    --San Francisco Chronicle

    Contact Information:

    Rights:
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    Trident Media Group
    (212) 262-4810

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    bparker@parkerinfo.com

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