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Adventure Fiction: The Machinery of the Dark

Adventure fiction is vigorously alive. Although virtually ignored by critics outside specialist newsletters, the genre has long been a dominant force both in bookstores and in Hollywood. Such adventure films as Die Hard, Jaws, and the Indiana Jones epics draw millions of viewers. Tom Clancy's technological thrillers and Robert Ludlum's volumes of struggle and terror reach best-seller lists with predictable regularity. And in bookstores of any size, lines of paperback adventure novels, glowing with ferocity, pack the shelves.

Whether movie or novel, each adventure story contrives, in its own way, to reflect the anxieties of our times and the preoccupations of our culture. On page and screen certain subjects are mercilessly reiterated: the dangerous cities. Cold War teeterings at the brink of thermonuclear war, ethnic violence, drug violence, gun violence, the terrorist assault, and theft of the singular technological secret that will expose the nation to humiliating defeat. Central to the fiction are problems of evil, ethical conduct, and moral obligation. Coupled with these is an obsessive interest in high technology and weapons, spilling difficult acronyms across the page. And there is, as well, a decided emphasis on characters accomplished in violence, who deal directly and savagely with contemporary problems.

The narrative action may be driven by the poisoned subtleties of the Cold...

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