I’m happy for thrillers and all, but what I really want is to be able to reliably track down good adventure fiction. None of this wishy-washy “but thrillers are full of adventure” crap, either. It’s not the same thing. The Scarlet Pimpernel is not a thriller. The Three Musketeers is not a thriller. Michael Crichton could bridge the two genres–Jurassic Park–but mostly thrillers don’t. So-and-so much investigate a crime for some reason before the killer strikes again is not an adventure.
Video games are actually doing better at this than fiction, possibly because the essential nature of a first-person-shooter video game is that it’s an adventure–you have to explore things, find the treasure, loot the bodies, push the big red button marked “don’t touch,” and go on side quests. Thrillers? Have to be more streamlined and more realistic. Remember that moment in the first Tomb Raider where you first see the dinosaurs (in an underground cave, if I remember correctly)? Sure, realism is acceptable in an adventure, but only if it doesn’t get in the way of the adventure. Big blockbuster movies tend to be adventures. Pew pew pew! Boom! Run run run…
Granted, too, that a lot of classic adventure stories have issues. Captain Blood just about made me spit nails; the main character is a “hero” who escapes slavery in the Caribbean…only to look down at the black slaves and say, “But they deserved it.”
I’ve found a lot of lists of classic adventure stories; here’s a particularly good one, but the last entry is 1983. Another one is here. But neither one focuses on recent fiction. Crawling through the Amazon action/adventure lists just makes me think that I need to nail down at least a personal definition for an adventure story, because a lot of those are nopes. The characters stay in one location and investigate a crime. The focus is on the SF/F world, not the characters’ adventures in them. Nothing happens. It’s a completely different genre (paranormal romance, YA coming of age, small-town historical crime fable).
So what makes an adventure story?
At the very least:
- The character explores places.
- It’s all about the character, not the world per se.
- Stuff goes wrong and the character handles it.
- Puzzles, challenges, loot, and violence would be nice.
- Smaller episodes inside a larger episode would be nice.
- Just as the places the character goes are worth going to, the people that the character encounters are worth meeting. (Anybody want a peanut?)
But I’ll have to ponder more on it.
If you liked this post, try my sci-fi adventure novella, Blood in Space: The Icon Mutiny.