The end of the Cold War created a problem for espionage thriller writers and moviemakers. They faced loss of a built-in backstory needing no explanation, a whole set of strong but realistic motivations for extreme behavior, a pre-fab cast of bad guys, and weighty, global stakes underlying all the action. Perestroika left a generation of writers searching for new conflicts and settings and plot devices.
Today I think the growth of surveillance technology will increasingly create a similar problem for fiction writers. It’s a staple of thrillers and science fiction to have the hero on the run—hounded by the government, evading the police—either because the hero is mistaken as someone bad or because the government is evil. And the government baddies use every technology at their disposal to locate and track their target, while the hero uses tricks and hacks to escape detection.
But the whole cat and mouse game is starting to look kind of problematic, because it’s getting harder to sustain a plausible “man on the run” scenario in the face of surveillance technology. I like a good airport thriller or science fiction read, and for several years I’ve noticed this problem cropping up: it’s the near future (or later), the hero or heroine is on the run, and I find myself thinking, oh please, if they really had all the advanced technologies featured in this story, they’d certainly have more impressive surveillance capability! We may have more than that ourselves in couple years the way things are going.