Monday, June 6, 2011

Even action heroes can teach us something new

The action hero/thriller genre has grown in leaps and bounds (no pun intended but I guess it's there anyway), propelled by popular authors such as Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Matthew Reilly, Clive Cussler and others.

I'm reading Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline" and it's one of the best - the first in a series featuring Sam Capra, CIA agent who loses everything dear to him in one horrifying moment; finds himself framed for a terrorist act and on the run; then working for a mysterious international organisation against an equally-as-mysterious and powerful enemy.

In the electrifying opening scene, told in the first-person, lead character Capra gives a blow-by-blow description as he runs through a deserted carpark and building site, up and down gangways, across rooftops, every spin and bounce and landing like a jolt to the senses of the reader.

Capra gives the term "Parkour" to this breathtaking exercise regime. I have to admit I had never heard of it. Well, I have now.

The action in this opening scene sounded to me like something I had heard of - freerunning. Most of us have heard about- and seen - freerunning. Who could forget that opening in the movie "Casino Royale"? Daniel Craig (as James Bond) pursuing a freerunner across an urban landscape.

But what was "Parkour"?

I googled Parkour and learned instantly that it is the original term applied to a free-form, non-competitive discipline, French in origin, in which participants run along a route, navigating obstacles by jumping, climbing, vaulting, rolling, swinging and wall-scaling, mostly practiced at high speed in dense urban areas.

Sebastien Foucan, one of the co-founders of Parkour - (and he's the guy doing that running in the Casino Royale movie) - disagreed with the other originators of Parkour. He wanted to evolve it to include visual "tricks" such as spins and aerial rotations, and for it to become a competitive sport. It was this "breakaway" movement that become known as "freerunning."

Fiction is elevated to a whole new level when it introduces us to something we didn't know, and encourages us to find out more.

There are many and varied examples of this, and just one is Howard Gordon's newly published action novel, 'Gideon's War,' in which the "24" producer-turned-novelist shows us aspects of the construction, layout and operations of a state-of-the-art oil rig, deftly woven into the fast-moving plot. Another example: John J Nance's avaiation thrillers, which take us into the cockpit and behind the controls of major aircraft, and just two of which are 'Pandora's Clock," and 'Medusa's Child."

Back to Jeff Abbott's "Adrenaline." I found myself seeking out articles on Parkour, tracing its origins back to World War 1 naval officer Georges Hebert who, inspired by the flexible movements of tribesmen in Africa, was prompted to develop sports and training regimens that encouraged individual physical skills and dexterity.

Fast forward 80-90 years and you have the development of Parkour and freerunning. There are film doco's like 'Jump," featuring Sebastien Foucan in full flight, and there are articles telling the stories of contemporary runners, such as Johnny Budden. He has trained the Royal Marines in freerunning skills, and advised film producers who have featured the sport.

As for me, I won't be going out any time soon performing aerial spins, jumps and vaults, but like most people I could watch it for hours. Tracking down videos of freerunners on YouTube delivers some fascinating viewing. And the history of this skill, and the stories of the young- and not-so-young - who perform it, is so engrossing it is like a whole collection of fictional tales that have morphed into real life.

Jeff Abbott's electrifying prose brings the sport of Parkour to life on the page. He makes it just as exciting to read about, and intriguing enough to want to learn more.

Even action heroes can teach us something new, and thriller fiction has a whole new dimension added to it when it gives us a glimpse of a fascinating new subject.

1 comment:

  1. This is why I love science thrillers like those written by Michael Crichton--always something to learn amidst the heat of the action. Also love thrillers with plenty of history in them for the same reason.