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Chaos Ensues

Greaney’s Gray Man tackles a new foe: artificial intelligence

Whoever controls the use of artificial intelligence for weapons will control the world. That simple premise is all you really need to know when you pick up Mark Greaney’s The Chaos Agent. The 13th entry in Greaney’s high-voltage, ripped-from-the-headlines action/espionage series poses the very real question of how AI will influence future wars and the global balance of power.

Artificial intelligence has exploded into the zeitgeist over the last year, a looming factor in everything from computer search engines to writing and drawing programs. So it makes sense that the threat of an AI-enhanced weapons system — “machines that think like humans, albeit better, faster, and utterly without remorse” — would be a natural lure for Greaney, who has a tendency to weave current events into his novels. The scary threat of The Terminator’s rogue Skynet AI system suddenly seems hauntingly real.

Not that Greaney’s ex-CIA operative/man on the run Court Gentry, better known as the Gray Man, is looking for trouble in his latest outing, mind you. “Trouble finds us. We don’t have to go looking for it,” he admits to former Russian adversary-turned-lover Zoya Zakharova early in the novel. “Half the planet wants me dead. And at least one country wants you dead. … Something’s coming. It’s closer every day.”

True to course, it’s not long before Gentry and Zoya are swept up in the latest crisis. While hiding out in a Guatemalan village, Zoya is approached by her former Russian handler, known as “Uncle Slava,” who seeks her help in abducting a Russian engineer involved in the development of an artificial intelligence system.

As Slava puts it, the AI weapon, if it were to become a reality, would only need a nanosecond to decide who or what to attack and would work on its own, without human oversight. Whoever gets ahold of the technology first — be it the Russians, the Chinese, the U.S., a corporate giant, or private multimillionaire with nefarious designs — could potentially rule the battlefield and the world itself.

“If both sides have the same tech, it won’t be employed,” Slava states. “The world is made a safer place.”

Gentry wants no part of the mission, but when a hitman – aka Lancer, “one of the most infamous killers for hire on the planet” and second only to the Gray Man in his skills — tracks Zoya as a means of getting to the target, there is no turning back. Before long, both Gentry and Zoya are on a kill list of high-profile scientists and engineers around the world, many of them already assassinated.  

But as any Gray Man fan knows by now, once you poke the bear, you better finish what you started or there will be hell to pay.

“You miss the work,” Zoya tells him at one point. “You miss making an impact. It’s not a bad thing. You do it because you’re honorable. … No. You’re a hero.”

Gentry doesn’t like to use the word hero when it comes to his deeds, but the term fits. He may prefer to operate in the shadows, but his inner quest for justice typically wins out.

The story culminates in an all-out battle royal that will keep readers turning pages long into the night and leave them thirsting for the next installment in the Gray Man series.

Following on the success of last year’s Netflix original movie starring Ryan Gosling, the novel is sure to attract longtime fans and newbies alike. And while The Chaos Agent includes a number of characters from Greaney’s past novels, the book is completely accessible to new readers.

As usual, Greaney — who cut his teeth writing novels in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan universe — also packs the novel with meticulous detail and attention to locales (many of which he has visited firsthand), weapons, and high-octane fight scenes without losing sight of his characters’ personalities and the emotional weight heaped on them.

Chaos Ensues

G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor and has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.