Interview: Robert Reed on "Five Thrillers"
Robert Reed–author of “Five Thrillers,” which appears in our April 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story concerns five slices of a famous man’s life. "Joe Carroway is smart and strong, brave to the brink of fearless, and oh, he’s also a psychopath with zero empathy for anyone but himself," Reed said. "Armed with these tools, the man is destined for great things, and a long historic life too."
The story was inspired by Reed’s watching of "a lot" of violent television. "For many reasons, one of my favorite programs has been 24," he said. "When the program is working, one damned thing follows another, and I’m caught up in the flow, trying to guess what happens next."
But of course, 24‘s protagonist, Jack Bauer, is not a real human–no person can do what he does, suffer as he suffers, and inflict his family and lovers with his world, Reed said. "The only way that I can see him being flesh-and-blood is to make him a soulless psychopath and a great actor," he said. "His grief for his dead wife and estranged daughter is what the world expects, and so he shows it to the world. But one day in this man’s life would crush any normal soul."
So Reed asked himself: "What kind of hero could I borrow from this template?"
Reed’s original plan was to have four stories that were interlocking. "Each needed to tell its own tale, setting up a problem and delivering a suitable answer," he said. "The Rebirths are my enemy of choice—people that can play significant roles in each chapter, though their purpose shifts according to my needs. I tried to make each tale interesting, at least to me. I wanted to lend each a different method. One thriller is self-contained, another happens at the end of a much longer adventure. And so on. The fifth thriller carries the psychopath’s logic to its natural end: What if the universe thought and acted like Joe?"
Reed is rather fond of "Five Thrillers"–so much so that he even bragged about it publicly at a convention he attended last year, a rarity for him. "I like its grimness and its lack of sentimentality, and I enjoyed writing it, if only to find out what would happen next," he said. "Most of my work holds elements of personal emotion and anguish. This is just a bet that I made to myself: Can I keep all of these balls in the air?"
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