M a r k   E v e r g l a d e

Entropy Angels - Interview with Mark Harritt

"...People are starving around the world with cellphones clutched in hand."
- Mark Harritt
cyberpunk Book cover of Entropy Angels with cyborg female on cover

Entropy Angels is the new cyberpunk thriller by Mark Harritt, author of the Earth Exiles series, centering around Gregor Skotta, a ‘jacker working in the underground. While Mark’s previous writings focused on his own blend of military might meets science fiction, as characters went against otherworldly creatures, the threat in Entropy Angels is much closer to home – a corporate controlled dystopia where wage slaves can barely make enough to get by no matter how hard they struggle and gangs run the show from behind the scenes. From the alleged anarchist group Unite! to the shadow government known as the Guild, to The Razors, a street gang, no one is truly on Gregor’s side, except perhaps Rose, who begins the story as the mental manifestation of a hopeful dream that someone out there actually gives a damn.  

Gregor is a ‘jacker who botches a job purchasing sensitive intel,

No, information doesn’t want to be free. You have to pry it out from behind the firewalls. Corps have it easy when they want to steal. They have politicians and lawyers they can pay to steal it for them. I ‘jack it and sell it, like everybody else but without the bullshit hypocrisy. They pretend they’re doing it for the greater good, but they’re lying to themselves so they can look in the mirror without flinching after pulling their hands out of your pocket.

”I asked Mark, “On cyberpunk forums you often find the question posed, are we in a dystopia right now? Technology has increased our standard of living substantially in terms of various metrics, but not everything can be measured so easily with numbers alone, and society, always in flux, seems to be changing at an accelerated rate. What are your thoughts?"

He replied, “Dystopia is personal depending on the circumstances of the individual you’re asking.  If you’re living under a bridge with no income, you’d probably say yes. If you’re living in a ten million dollar home, you’re most likely going to say no. I can imagine, however, circumstances where those two perspectives could switch. I think that yes, in some layers of society, it is dystopian, high tech, low life. It’s strange to me everyone has access to technology but people are starving around the world with cellphones clutched in hand.  So yeah, I think we’re on the edge of a dystopian world, about to slide down that ramp, as I allude to in the book.”

Entropy Angels immediately puts you in the center of the action as Gregor obtains sensitive intel but botches the job. The first few chapters read like the movie Run Lola Run a few centuries in the future,

People scattered, wondering what the hell could scare a hard case like me. None of them stuck around to find out, the corridor clearing. My legs and arms pumped as I ran in a dead sprint, my lungs on fire, the biotech enhancements now struggling to clear the lactic acid from my body. I would crash very hard, very soon, and I hoped when it happened, I’d be on one side of the maglev door with the synth on the other, because that was the only way I was going to survive this.

I asked Mark, “Is it exhilarating to write scenes like this? Do you write the action scenes at a fast pace, yourself, or do you slowly scribe each word into perfection?”

He replied, “My process is a combination of both.  I’m what writers call a pantser, namely, I write by the seat of my pants. Basically, I write every scene as if I’m describing a movie only I can see. I vomit words onto the page then go back and meticulously clean it up so the mechanics of the scene are correct and it matches the images in my mind.”

The reader never forgets that Gregor’s time is numbered, whether it’s the way he sizes up everyone he meets, or whether he’s directly being hunted,

I tried to blend in as I watched for hunters, CorpSec or independents who might be tracking me. I stopped to talk to the local talent, the hustlers, entropy’s angels, men, women and other, human and synth. The synthetics flashed QR codes across their foreheads as my gaze lingered on the product, the QRC displaying the price to revelers enhanced with augmented reality optics. Tall, thin, exoskeleton clad Martians moved through the crowd, some buying, some selling, depending on how much cash they’d brought...

I asked Mark, In your previous novel Earth Exiles, you had ideas like mech armor that’s neural-controlled, yet it wasn’t a cyberpunk novel, per se. What inspired you to write a pure cyberpunk novel?”

He replied, “I had two reasons actually.  First, I began writing the book because I didn’t think anyone had ever started a novel with a variation of the word ‘fuck.’ I wrote the beginning as a dare to myself and it grew from there.  Second, I’d been reading ‘The Expanse’ series and my favorite character, Miller, a down and out antihero, had been killed and I was a tad pissed. I’d also read a series of books written by Richard Stark, aka Donald Edwin Westlake, about a guy named Parker who was a true antihero with his own code of ethics (Payback is a great movie, based on the first novel). I wanted to write a blend of the two but updated (The Parker novels are technologically outdated). Cyberpunk seemed the best venue for the character.

"Also, I love the movie ‘Dark City,’ and I wanted to place the character in that same kind of confined setting. To me, the habitat New Eden gave off (hopefully) the same kind of claustrophobic vibe, nowhere to run. The habitat itself took on a life of its own as I figured out how it could work. I tried to ensure it set the proper mood to give the story context, and since it’s a cyberpunk story I sometimes had to trade science for ambience.”

In Entropy Angels, Citizens live in a tiered city that is almost the physical manifestation of a caste system, the Grind being the lowest area,

I watched multinational corporation wage slaves, MNCs, slumming from the upper deck, AoS, Cavindish, Nakami, ZhengJohansen, KPP, WuYuBai, coming down to the Mids for entertainment, looking for services provided, mostly flesh, but other diversions as well, gambling, raves, pachinko, drugs.

I asked, "Was it difficult to make the transition between writing in the first and third person compared to your previous novels? Did you ever want to take another character’s point of view?”

He replied, “I started the story writing in the third person, but a lot of the personal interactions didn’t make sense unless Skotta was narrating the scene. Humphrey Bogart was my inspiration for Skotta’s attitude in the beginning, and I wanted to give that noir feel to the character, She must have noticed my attention to detail because she slapped me, hard, to define the boundaries of our relationship. I felt the best way to reveal his character was through readers experiencing his fears and frustrations in the frenetic first four chapters.  Plus, I wanted people to see the beauty and the sordidness of New Eden through Skotta’s eyes and let him describe why he feels the way he does about the habitat.”  

Mark’s writing style has changed a lot from previous offerings. The book has a more serious tone, with curt sentences to match the severity of the environment. There’s more action description and less dialogue at first, the first real exchange being in the third chapter, making you feel the protagonist’s isolation. He avoids info-dumping – we learn about the world through Gregor’s interaction with it, and the occasional paragraph explaining a term, the way it should be.

“Your writing has evolved quite a bit. Was it hard switching writing style from a crass band of brothers with a military tone to this writing style?” I asked.

He replied, “I basically go from writing about a boy scout, soldier type to a casual, sociopathic killer.  But while they both have their unique moral codes, either one will kill you if you threaten them or their pack members. The fighting scenes are easy to write because the mechanics are the same. It’s the personal motivations that are sometimes hard to identify. The characters are unique to their settings. If I switched the settings for the two protagonists, they would fail catastrophically. They succeed because they have the correct skills and attitudes to overcome their specific obstacles, which drives their actions. The back story is important to explain the protagonist, how they acquired and use their skills and how their past affects their outlook on the world around them.”  

Mark maintains tone well even when discussing Gregor’s emotions,

The open space gave me solace, made me feel like I was unfolding, expanding; as if the pressure of the confined spaces had crushed me into an emotional singularity, everything trapped inside.

At first we only get glimpses of Gregor’s backstory, I’d grown up down there, an orphan, discarded like garbage. When I was a kid, the upper deck was a dream, a fantasy. As a scab living on the hull, the problem had been basic survival.

Take any sentence from the novel and you know you’re reading cyberpunk,

I accessed maintenance schematics for the area, neurons firing in my visual cortex, wetware overlaying the plans across the reality around me. I walked to an out of the way maintenance hatch, made sure no one was watching, ran a cracker across the lock and slipped in, pulling the hatch shut behind me...

The sensation of Chiba’s sculpting nanotechnology, a hundred thousand nanocytes riding under my skin, changing the bone structure of my face, was like being stabbed with a hundred thousand needles, over and over. Then there was the DNA sculpt, which felt like the worst flu I’d ever had.

Gregor is really an anti-hero in ways, a victim of the underworld and an orphaned upbringing who shows little mercy to the people he deals with – as in his world a moment’s hesitation gets one killed. The author hints at this by giving him the tag, Níðhöggr, the dragon that chews on the tree of life, and a Guild investigator, Jacoby, calls him out on this, too. He does keep innocents out of his fights, avoiding open combat in areas where there might be children – he has his limits,

The mood shifted. The girls, sensing a change in their environment, ran back to their parents. Like ripples on water, heads turned to assess the situation. Hands slipped under jackets and into bags, ready to respond with violence if needed, the parents savvy to life in the Grind, paying close attention to the environment around them. Five teenagers, a BulliBoi razor gang augmented in a canine phenotype, came walking into the area. They raised empty hands, indicating they weren’t going to cause any trouble, just passing through. The parent’s hands became visible again, pulling away from zip guns and razors.

But this is a gritty dog eat dog world where its hard to find any real humanity left, and where Gregor is forced to do things he rather not just to survive,

This was one of those options, probably the only one I had left. I’d had it fabricated in case I needed a no shit exit. It was something I’d never wanted to be in the position to use, but here I was, the noose tightening, no other way out.

To make matters worse, his alliances and agreements are all in flux, with everyone who helps him looking to get something in return,

Radcliffe made good on his promises, giving me back my clothes and equipment, sweetening the deal with masque, chems, and a little walking around money. I didn’t trust him, though. Thugs like the ones who pulled me from the cell were usually kept on a short leash, with someone else yanking the chain.

Anyone who likes modern cyberpunk will find a world they are familiar with in Entropy Angels. Fans of games such as Deus Ex, Fallout, and Shadowrun will find they can immediately picture the environment and factions,

Snake’s hackles went up, ready to fight, not liking the synth ordering him around on his own turf.
“Who the hell are you, clockwork?” Snake asked.

“I’m death if you don’t step off,” she purred. The synth was riled by the slur, unwilling to be diplomatic, ready to rumble.

I asked Mark, “You’ve spent awhile building this world, the various tiers of society, the factions, will this also become a series?”

He replied, “Maybe? Possibly? Hopefully? There are a lot of great (to me) characters in Entropy Angels to explore, plus the habitat is a unique setting.  I wrote it as a standalone because I have other series to finish, plus I have the day job.  But stray thoughts keep bringing me back to what if?  It may take a bit, but yeah, I’ll be back to write more about New Eden, Skotta and his family.”

Entropy Angels is a fast-paced cyberpunk thriller that will leave readers gasping for air. Pick up your copy today! Available on Amazon.