The Inevitable Rise of Startup Fiction

And the importance of being thrilled


Does the world really need the genre of “startup thriller”?

This is the question I asked myself when first opening Eliot Peper’s debut novel Uncommon Stock, which is now the number one free technothriller on Amazon. The seminal book in the series introduces us to protagonist Mara Winkel, a recent dropout of University of Colorado Boulder, who veers from the path of law school to cofound a startup with her genius friend James. A familiar tale these days. Of course, since this is a thriller novel, Mara does not resemble your typical techie. She is a thrill-seeking, ass-kicking, femme fatale CEO whose company inevitably gets caught in a web of well-connected embezzlers, murderous gunman, and a multinational conspiracy with ties to Wall Street.

To the cynical reader, this feels like a familiar formula injected into a trendy topic. I am a cynical reader. After all, I ask such affected questions as, “Does the world need a startup thriller?”

Well. After reading books one and two of Peper’s excellent series, I can say the correct answer to this question (Besides “who cares?”) is yes. We do need startup thrillers. Just as we need law thrillers. ER thrillers. Political thrillers. Even thrillers about marital infidelity. They’re all necessary. They all have a place.

It took me two sittings to fly through the tense second entry of the Uncommon Stock series, and it was somewhere between Mara’s scaling of a gigantic piece of Burning Man scaffolding and her board meeting with a homicidal investor that I realized: “I should start a company.”

Let it be known: I should not start a company. I’m disorganized, easily distracted, and bad with money. But that’s not the point. The point is that Eliot’s books — and many books that people call “page-turners” with subtle hints of dismissal — they inject the reader with a sort of recklessness buzz. An itch for adventure gets scratched. A button gets pressed in your ego that says, “Take risks with me.” It’s obviously fun and thrilling and escapist, but it’s also, without getting too mushy about it, inspiring.

Maybe Eliot’s book didn’t cause me to start my own tech company, but it did cause me to examine myself in a new way: a what-would-Mara-do? sort of way. And who knows? Maybe some aspiring high schooler will pick up this book and be struck by what entrepreneurs call “the bug.”

Living vicariously through a character is one of the many great joys of reading, and whether you’re living through Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, Gillian Flynn’s Amy Dunn, or Eliot Peper’s Mara, you can’t help but feel the need to start your own life’s adventure. A less grisly one, hopefully, but an adventure nonetheless.

So next time you want to steer your friend, spouse, or child towards a certain life path or any life path at all, maybe walk past the self-help section, past the trade magazines, past the whole non-fiction section altogether.

Head to thrillers.

Full disclosure: I liked the Uncommon Stock story so much, I helped Peper launch the sequel, Power Play.