Having already put us through a deadly flu outbreak in his novel The Extinction Agenda, writer Michael Laurence is now setting a psychotic nerve agent-lover against us in the sequel, The Annihilation Protocol (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview about it, Laurence discusses how these stories connect and where his hero might go next…assuming the dogs don’t get in the way.
Photo Credit: Bryan Grant
I find it best to start with an overview of a book’s plot. So, what is The Annihilation Protocol about, and how does in connect, both narratively and chronologically, to your previous novel, The Extinction Agenda?
The Annihilation Protocol takes place immediately following the events of The Extinction Agenda. After revealing the existence of a secretive cabal known as the Thirteen, and derailing a conspiracy to release a deadly flu virus, FBI Special Agent James Mason discovers another plot to cull the global population waiting in the wings. Aided by his longtime friends, Ramses Donovan and Gunnar Backstrom, he finds himself pitted against a sadistic mass murderer called the Scarecrow, who has a penchant for inflicting suffering, access to thousands of gallons of a lethal nerve agent, and a burning desire to use it. The key to saving millions of lives lies buried in the past, and it’s only by delving into the history of the nefarious Unit 731 and a family of Nazi sympathizers that they’re able to unravel the threads leading to the identification of the Scarecrow and the member of the Thirteen responsible for the chemical weapon threat.
When in the process of writing The Extinction Agenda did you come up with the idea for The Annihilation Protocol, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this second novel?
The Annihilation Protocol is really a natural extension of The Extinction Agenda. I didn’t necessarily plot it so much as I just let the storylines from the first book continue playing out, which allowed me to expand upon a lot of the fun elements from the first book and explore the characters in greater detail. The idea for the Scarecrow came early on in the process, and it was a blast writing a lot of its nastier scenes, but it was digging deeper into guys like Johan, who was meant to be a bit player, that I found most gratifying. (I love his moral ambiguity.) The character of Anomaly was late to the party and required additional plotlines that needed to be written after the fact, which led to a different (more explosive) ending than I’d initially devised.
Your description of the Scarecrow sounds like the Scarecrow from Batman. Aside from being an “it” and not a “he,” how else is your Scarecrow different from the comic book character?
I’m not familiar with the comic book character outside of the role played by Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins, but I can say that my Scarecrow is a hollow shell of a person, having cast aside all semblance of humanity. It draws its identity from Kuebiko, the all-seeing Shinto deity, first described in Kojiki, the oldest surviving book in the Japanese language.
I hesitate to say much more as part of the fun is figuring out who the Scarecrow is and why it kills its victims in such a sadistic manner.
The Annihilation Protocol is a thriller. Says so right on the cover. But are there any other genres at work in this story, or that would describe it even better?
Thriller’s a great category because it encompasses so many different subgenres. The main requirement is that the story causes your pulse to race and the pages to fly by at a blistering pace. The Annihilation Protocol has all of the car chases, death-defying scenes, and explosions you’ve come to expect in a modern thriller, but it also leans heavily on elements of horror, mystery, and suspense. If I were to slot it into the narrowest possible subgenre, I’d call it a dark conspiracy thriller and include a disclaimer that the reader had better be prepared to think, because all of the historical details in the book are based on actual events.
Are there any writers, or maybe stories, that had a big influence on The Annihilation Protocol but not on The Extinction Agenda?
I finished The Extinction Agenda and went right into The Annihilation Protocol, so there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity for unique influences to exert themselves. At the time I was big into James Rollins’ Sigma Force books and James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux series, which is probably reflected in some of the character dynamics, especially when it comes to the antagonists. I also left the job I’d worked for nearly a decade in the middle of the process, so that probably contributed a fair amount of angst.
How about non-literary influences; was The Annihilation Protocol influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
You could probably make a case for shows like 24 and Alias exerting some measure of influence, especially in regard to the pacing. Both did a great job of keeping their main characters grounded in the moment, battling through the present danger while the overarching menace simmered in the background. And you can’t possibly deny the appeal of a character like Jack Bauer. (Did you ever notice that once Jack slapped his handcuffs on someone, they disappeared from the show?)
No…no I did not. Anyway, in doing my due diligence for this interview, I went to your website, where I learned that before you were a writer, you worked as “an x-ray / CT / MRI technologist.” But the real question is, what influence did your “crazy Labrador Retrievers” have on The Annihilation Protocol?
Ha! I have an office in my basement, so the dogs will come down to remind me that I’m not paying nearly enough attention to them. (I can set my watch by the 11:00AM “feed me” visit.) My kids tried to teach Penny to shake, which, over time, evolved into punching. So whenever she wants water or thinks it’s time to eat, she’ll sit beside me and punch me until she gets what she wants. Daisy’s a whole lot kinder; she’ll just nuzzle me with that cold nose of hers until I do her bidding. Needless to say, I was often forced to take breaks during the writing process.
Daisy (right), Penny (left)
As we’ve been discussing, The Annihilation Protocol is the sequel to The Extinction Agenda. Is there more to this story? Like, are you next going to write a third book, maybe call it The Aftermath PowerPoint?
The third book in the series is called The Elimination Threat. It’s slated for release in August of 2021. I’m currently deep into the editing process and working to really ramp up the tension. My plan is to take the series to its natural conclusion, bringing down each of the members of the Thirteen, one by one, and working toward a revelation that I hope will knock the reader’s socks off. I can’t specify how many books that will take, as there are many factors outside of my control, though I will say that every major character has a role to play in the endgame and not all of them will enjoy the journey, but the final scene will make everything worth it.
Earlier I asked about what influence, if any, movies, TV shows, and games had on The Annihilation Protocol. Has there been interest in adapting The Annihilation Protocol — and, of course, The Extinction Agenda — into a movie, show, or game?
My film agent is currently in negotiations with an up-and-coming screenwriter / producer who’s interested in turning the books into a TV series. His might not be a household name, but you’ve definitely heard of his work. I look forward to sharing the news, once there’s actual news to share.
If that happens, who would you want them to cast as Mason and the other main characters?
I love the ten-to-thirteen-episode TV series model. To me, it’s the perfect length to explore a story and the characters without any unnecessary filler episodes. Shows like The Killing, The Expanse, and The Last Kingdom are pitch-perfect examples of the art form. I’d love to see my series produced in that fashion, with someone like [Altered Carbon‘s] Joel Kinnaman as Mason, Bill Skarsgård [It] as Gunnar, [Vikings‘] Clive Standen as Ramses, Megan Fox [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles] as Special Agent Jessica Layne, and Linus Roache [Homeland ] as Mason’s dad. Kinnaman’s a scene-stealer, simultaneously tough and vulnerable; Skarsgård’s a chameleon who can bring life to a character with just a facial expression; Standen has swagger to spare; Fox is strong and smart; and Roache’s King Ecbert is in many ways how I view the senator.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Extinction Agenda and The Annihilation Protocol, what similarly thrilling novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read?
I can’t narrow it down to just one. John Connolly’s Charlie Parker supernatural crime series checks all of the boxes: fun characters, thrilling plots, and iconic bad guys. Michael Marshall’s Straw Men series is dark and gritty, and delves into a conspiracy that will stay with you for a long, long time. Preston & Child’s Pendergast books will thrill you if you enjoyed puzzling through the twists and turns in my books. James Lee Burke’s Robichaeux books are simply the most beautifully written mysteries and classic examples of worldbuilding in the modern era. And I can’t forget Michael McBride’s Unit 51 series, which takes some of my favorite conspiracy elements in a more sci-fi/horror direction.