Frequent ÆtherCzar visitors will have picked up on my appreciation for Robert Byrne and his engineering novels. If you’re not familiar with his work, the first post below is a good place to start.
- Engineer as Hero: The Novels of Robert Byrne
- Book Review: Skyscraper by Robert Byrne
- Book Review: The Dam, by Robert Byrne
- Book Review: Thrill by Robert Byrne
Robert Byrne read the ÆtherCzar review of Skyscraper, and has kindly granted permission to share his comments and some additional insights on how the story came to be (below the break):
Very interesting and insightful review. I wish one of the many newspaper reviewers who talked about the book when it came out had been as analytical and perceptive as you.
It has become almost laughably predictable the way thrillers and action movies always have a mano a mano face-off between the main good guy and the main bad guy at the end. You can see the novelist and the screenwriter arranging it far in advance. At least in Skyscraper I avoided that cliche. (Unless you consider the building itself a character that the hero battles at the end.)
A note on why the plot is the way it is.
I first proposed to begin with the skyscraper already collapsed and lying in the street. Having recently interviewed the head of a company called Failure Analysis for the engineering magazine I was editing at the time, I planned to have a guy like that arrive on the scene and try to use logic to figure out why the building failed…rather like a detective faced with a corpse and many possible murderers in an English country estate.
When I explained the idea to a New York editor, she said at once, “Oh, I don’t like that at all. The people we care about most aren’t put at risk.” I thought that over and decided that it was a valuable observation. So I changed the plot to put the hero and his girlfriend at maximum risk: trapped in the penthouse when the building starts to tip over. My job then was to get them in that position without making it look too contrived.
I’m currently reading Byrne’s The Tunnel – a novel apparently so thrilling it gave its first editor a heart attack. More in the forthcoming review.