Mark Laporta’s 2018 novel, Probability Shadow, led readers into a new universe, where a critical mineral shortage pit imperious humans against scheming androids, skulking symbiotes, a moralistic caucus of sentient crustaceans, and the reemergence of an ancient evil known as the Quishiks. In the new sequel, Entropy Refraction, that evil is on the rise and threatens all sentient life in the universe. To defeat the Quishiks, Ambassador Ungent Draaf and his unlikely human and symbiote allies must first overcome the evil in themselves.
Probability Shadow was acclaimed both in the mainstream press as well as the SF blogosphere. Booklist called Shadow, “an engrossing far-future reality of galaxy-spanning civilizations,” Publishers Weekly wrote, “the characters are solid and appealing, the time-displaced enemy is a constant looming shadow, and the common mistrust and its deadly consequences are frustratingly believable,” and Fanbase Press praised “an entertaining adventure that leaves something a little heavier to dwell on after the last enemy space ship has exploded into the vacuum.”
Recently, Laporta spoke to Audere about his new novel, which will be published by Chickadee Prince Books in March.
Audere: Set the scene. How does Entropy Refraction pick up from Probability Shadow?
Laporta: At the end of Probability Shadow, Ungent Draaf, the newly retired Grashardi Ambassador, embarks on a galaxy-spanning quest to find the elusive Ootray, aboard the Odela, an ancient Ootray star ship. Traveling with him are Yaldrint, his biomechanoid assistant and Shol, a teenage Krezovic and former street denizen, whom Ungent has promised to tutor. Entropy Refraction begins six months into their journey. By then, Ungent is frustrated by their lack of progress. And while Yaldrint remains rational and optimistic as always, Shol is desperately bored. Out of the blue, an unlikely call from a human resident of Quarfor, a Terran Protectorate “reservation world,” sets them on a path of discovery with unexpected consequences.
Will we meet new characters?
Entropy Refraction will introduce you to several new characters.
Kunal Mishra, the human who contacts Ungent and the leader of a fledging resistance movement. He seeks to overturn the Terran Protectorate’s systematic religious discrimination against any group that will not accept its corrupt, state-sponsored sect of Christianity.
Eldrinaj Kaklyadar, a trader and first-rate grifter. She insinuates herself into Ungent’s orbit just long enough to suit her ends. As an Olfdranyi, she belongs to a species of empathic, sentient avians, known for their quiet intellect and largely apolitical posture. Her sparring business relationship with Nevruleth, a murderous, shape-shifting Skryntali trader, has consequences that will spill over into Book 3 of the series.
Mlelodrur, a lonely “Pardalshik,” abandoned by the Ootray when they departed normal space. She guards the last remaining Ootray defensive outposts against the Quishiks. Like the Quishiks, the Pardalshiks were genomically remapped by the Ootray from an existing species — but with special care to avoid the viral infections that induced rapid, uncontrollable mutations in the Quishiks.
And Challendrur, a young Ootray female who has a major impact on Shol, from the moment he purchases her video diary from a lizard-like holographic merchant on Quarfor.
What does the series title Against the Glare of Darkness mean?
The title derives from the epic struggle against arrogance, an evil paradoxically spawned from the loftiest ambitions. Hence the theocratic fascism of the Terran Protectorate, whose rise to power was based, initially, on the humans’ aptitude for innovation, its dogged pursuit of knowledge and thirst for exploration. In a similar way, the Ootray refuse to deal with the Quishik menace that they inadvertently created. Instead, they hide behind a hypocritical belief in “the right to life of all species.” Shot through the series are also the petty rivalries between the dominant political players that, up to the last minute, keep them from uniting — even to prevent the fall of interstellar civilization.
The series describes several different cultures. How do you map out these worlds?
My starting points for these cultures are the attributes of the characters I portray. For example, the slug-like symbiotes of the Kaldhex Assembly have a self-centered view of their place in the universe. Secretive, manipulative, they also pride themselves on amassing a peerless collection of scientific knowledge and intellectual property — stolen from the minds of their hosts. By contrast, the crustaceous Grashardi, like Ungent himself, are a philosophical species, who combine a high ethical standard with a genuine interest in all sentient beings. Meanwhile, though the tall, furry Dralein value warmth and community, their history is driven by successive waves of “mental molting,” brought on by a mysterious natural process known as the sceraun.
Since the early days of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, science fiction has split off into many subgenres, that stretch the boundaries of the category. Is there any one definition of “science fiction” that you adhere to?
When it comes to literature or any artistic form, I shy away from categories, definitions and labels. Though they might be a practical way to orient young students, they do more harm than good, by boxing in a reader’s imagination. Besides, in what other area of life do phenomena fall into tidy categories? As I see it, writers are at their best when they bring vivid characters and situations to life. My novels grow out of my characters’ flaws, strengths and the societal forces that shape them. Genre definitions never enter into my thinking.
The series is set in the “forty-eighth century,” in which it’s easy to contemplate advancements in science and technology that are only hinted at today. What is the line between “real science” and “fantasy science” in your work?
By setting Against the Glare of Darkness in the far future, I can explore the impact of technology on individuals and societies in broad brushstrokes, unfettered by “realism,” which is itself just a fictional construct. At the same time, I root key aspects of the story in established fact. Does that make the series an eclectic mix of “hard science fiction” and “space opera”? I don’t care.
What matters to me is discovering how different plot elements pull the characters this way and that — toward enlightenment or even their own destruction. Besides, personal experience tells me that today’s wild “fantasy science” can become yesterday’s “museum piece” several times in the same generation. In other terms, back in 1895, when HG Welles’ The Time Machine was published, a fictional fax machine might have been considered a desperate plot-contrivance. Let’s also admit that there’s still no basis for such mainstays of nearly every sci-fi genre as time travel to the future or any form of faster-than-light travel.
Science and technology have been shown to help solve some of the world’s great problems. Do you foresee a future where every global and societal problem has been resolved?
No such future is possible unless human nature undergoes a major transformation. Might a wholesale remapping of the human genome eventually produce a humanoid with a natural bent toward mutual respect, cooperation, empathy, and a predisposition to a scientific worldview? Maybe. But I’m not sure that would “solve” anything. However configured, life is tough, and survival is guaranteed to no one. Besides, would achieving so-called perfection depress the urge to innovate? Would it favor stagnation and societal decline?
Regardless, I’m inclined to believe that organic sentience is bound by its evolutionary past, when competition for resources favored behaviors we like to consider unacceptable. So, whether an alien species has two legs or four, compound eyes or sense organs we can only imagine, its sentience will still float on top of primal anxieties. Though advances in technology, including a true, independent artificial intelligence, may continue to mitigate our built-in negatives, I can easily imagine a sentient, bottle-green insectoid saying, “Do these pants make my thorax look fat?”
Mark Laporta is the acclaimed author of numerous novels and short stories, many published in Audere Magazine, and the new novel, Entropy Refraction, published by Chickadee Prince Books, available to order in paperback at a bookstore near you, from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or on Kindle.
Art by Daniel Middleton, Scribe Freelance