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Cause of death - science fiction vs thrillers

I've recently written a thriller. Not my usual supernatural or sci-fi thrillers, but a straight-up murder mystery. For causes of death in this murder mystery novel, I turned to my trusty ‘Encyclopedia of Forensic Science’ written by Brian Lane. I bought this book many years ago, 2004 from the date on the front cover, and I have been dying (excuse the pun) to use it. 

They call it Forensic Science for a reason. Because the rules of death are grounded in absolutes. If too much blood is lost, a person dies. If too many internal organs are damaged, a person dies. If there is no oxygen, a person dies. In thrillers and mysteries, unless there is a supernatural element, writers rarely have scope for miraculous recoveries. People may survive gunshot wounds, but they cannot dodge bullets. People may survive being held underwater for a period of time, but they cannot breathe underwater. 

In the natural world of thrillers and mysteries, the cause of death is typical of the real world, such as the examples below:


There are three proximate causes for death, a failure of one of the organ essential to life.  

Coma is a failure of the brain – such as bludgeoning in the case of homicide, narcotics, hemorrhage.

Syncope is a failure of the heart – such as natural failure or homicidal as a result of poisoning or extensive injury.

Asphyxia is a failure of the lung – such as drowning or strangulation, poisoning, paralysis of the lungs due to electric shock.

The benefit of writing Science Fiction is that it can sometimes have has its own set of rules when it comes to death, because there are often robots and aliens in science fiction, but there is also one aspect of death that is abundant in science fiction stories more so than a regular mystery or thrillers - mass destruction or mass death.

When you begin to look at the common tropes for science fiction, one thing becomes clear. Writers like to write about ways in which the entire human race meets its demise, not just a couple of characters. We also like to write about what comes after. When you look at a few methods of mass death that are prevalent in science fiction, it’s easy to see how these types of books accurate our heart rates.

  • Space station or space ship loses the integrity of the hull and everyone without an oxygen tanks dies, and anyone with an oxygen tank dies unless that oxygen is replenished.  
  • A meteor hits earth, causing an ice age, wiping out most of humanity while the rest struggle to survive in freezing conditions.
  • Nuclear Armageddon wipes out most of humanity while the rest struggle to survive in toxic conditions.
  • A pandemic virus mutates most of humanity and the rest try to hold onto their humanity while battling mutants who may or may not be flesh-eating zombies.
  • Robots uprise against their makers and decide humanity is a threat, and humans struggle against the unstoppable machines.
  • Climate change brings drought and floods, destroying structures and agriculture, and humanity struggles to survive while fighting each other to the death for meager resources and supplies.
  • Aliens invade earth and destroy humanity so they can claim the planet for their own.

There are more ways the entire human race can be annihilated, and the popularity of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction proves that readers love reading about our possible futures. But I think the real joy of apocalyptic fiction is that it can be a guidebook to how to change humanity for the better.

I write about aliens occupying our planet in the Earth Quarantined series. The first book explores the peaceful world the aliens gave us when they saved us from a pandemic virus, but in book 2, that peace falls apart as we see the true reason for their arrival. 

Earth Arrested is out in February 2021, so be sure to sign up to my newsletter to be kept up to date on all my new releases. You can sign up here. Plus receive a free sci-fi word search sampler.


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