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Fighting the Robot Apocalypse

The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Mark Greaney

By R.G. Belsky

Book Cover: THE CHAOS AGENTMark Greaney’s iconic Gray Man faces a scarily different kind of unhuman enemy in THE CHAOS AGENT: Artificial Intelligence.

In this 13th book of the best-selling Gray Man series, someone is trying to use the controversial AI technology to rule the world. And even more terrifying is the possibility that this AI—once set in motion—could develop ideas on its own for global domination of the human race.

“An author like myself is always trying to find something different,” Greaney says when we asked him how he came up with the idea for using artificial intelligence as the basis for this book. “There’s only so many enemies America normally faces. This started out as an attempt to do something I hadn’t done before. But I wanted to keep it well-grounded too, and not turn it into science fiction.”

That’s the most thought-provoking and chilling aspect of this novel: Greaney warns that all of the things happening with AI in THE CHAOS AGENT could really come true in the near future.

Author Photo: Mark Greaney

Mark Greaney

“As far as I know, that’s not happening, but I know it’s all being worked on. I don’t think we’re more than two years away from it existing. But that doesn’t mean the average citizen is going to know about it. I’m pretty pessimistic about where we’re going. I do think we’re building something that might decide humans are the enemy.”

THE CHAOS AGENT begins with The Gray Man, a/k/a Court Gentry, and his lover, Zoya, hiding out in Central America—until they are inadvertently drawn back into action after the discovery that someone is killing the world’s leading experts on robotics and artificial intelligence in a sinister operation to eliminate any competition.

They know that the first nation to control AI technology for mass-destruction weapons will be “the deadliest battlefield game-changer since the creation of gunpowder.”

The full extent of the threat they face becomes apparent to Gentry and Zoya during their first confrontation with the AI-controlled robots—because that’s when they see their ideas of conventional warfare won’t work against this new enemy.

“I’m going to shoot it,” Gentry tells Zoya. “They’re not bulletproof.”

He fires a perfect shot at an attacking robot between two cameras that look like eyes—and nothing happens. The robot keeps coming at them with weapons firing.

“I take that back,” he shrugs. “They might be bulletproof.”

“We need a plan, Court,” Zoya says.

It’s a terrific moment that sets the tone for the book—as well as the Gentry/Zoya working relationship. Greaney says it was one of the first scenes he wrote when he started working on the book. “I felt like I wanted to bring the reader into that moment when they realize what they’re up against. There’s not a bigger moment. Because they really have no plan.”

Greaney is famous for doing a tremendous amount of travel and military research for his Gray Man books, but his preparation for this one was a bit different. “I read a couple of non-fiction books about AI and lots of articles and features. It’s such a fast-moving topic. I wrote this book six months ago, and if I looked now there’d be a host of new information—it’s impossible to stay completely current on. But I devoured everything that was available.”

And, despite the emphasis on robots and other artificial AI foes, there are some real-life adversaries that Court Gentry, as the Gray Man, must confront too. The most formidable is a hired assassin known as Lancer.

“Lancer is an American contract killer who is a former U.S. military man with a bent moral code. He is narcissistic and definitely wants to be the best in the world at what he does. He has no remorse. I tried to create him as a human form of these robots they were fighting. Just as cold-blooded and ruthless as any of the mechanical enemies.”

The Gray Man’s own moral code is a complicated one, according to Greaney.

“Gentry is a version of a hero. The way he looks at himself is he was created by the CIA as a weapon, and his moral code tells him he needs to use these powers for good. He’ll work with an evil person to combat even worse evil. I think of him a bit like John McClane from Die Hard. He’s stuck in these situations, and he doesn’t want to go through them. He’s compelled to always do what he thinks is right.”

Gentry’s romantic relationship with Zoya—a former Russian intelligence agent—is also complicated.

“It’s as normal as two assassins’s relationship could ever be,” Greaney laughs. “I recognize it’s a hard sell. But this book finds them very much in love at the beginning. He definitely loves Zoya, and she definitely loves him. But they’re very different people in some ways, and that shows up in different parts of the story.”

Next up for Greaney is Sentinel, the second book in his Armored series featuring Josh Duffy, a wounded veteran who now works as a high-risk security officer, which comes out in June. It’s also being developed for TV, and there are also plans in the works for another Gray Man movie, like the one starring Ryan Gosling on Netflix.

A new Gray Man book is scheduled for 2025.

One of the unusual things about THE CHAOS AGENT is that Greaney leaves some things open-ended, even after Gentry deals with the AI plot. So, part of the story will pick up again.

“I didn’t want to leave it on a cliffhanger for that plot,” Greaney says. “The plot is resolved, at least to the extent it’s resolved. But in the last few pages, there’s a new wrinkle. So, the reader will know exactly what Court Gentry is doing at the beginning when the next Gray Man book comes out!”


The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Mark Greaney

R.G. Belsky
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