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Paperback Debut For Citizen Zero In 2017

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Are we citizens or zeros?

 Seven years of austerity sets the scene for novel’s dystopian vision

New edition out from Inspired Quill 

SCIENCE fiction and social realism combine to disturbing effect in Citizen Zero with its vision of a post-austerity Britain built on rampant inequality.

Citizen Zero, released in August 2017, is the second work by Mark Cantrell to be published by Inspired Quill, following the success of his previous title, Silas Morlock.

This time, Mark's storytelling hits us with a frighteningly familiar – yet subtly altered – world. It presents a society where artificial intelligence (AI) has devastated jobs, and what remains of the Welfare State has become an integral part of an unforgiving system of government surveillance.

Drawing upon such disparate themes as austerity and welfare reform, social inequality and poverty, security versus civil liberty, Citizen Zero throws into the mix our often-blind faith in new technology, to offer a powerful critique of the here and now seen through the lens of an intense science fiction thriller.

Told with an uncompromising voice through the eyes of characters from wildly different social strata, Citizen Zero asks some disturbing questions about where we’re headed.

In this version of the future, Britain is a seemingly prosperous consumer society under the strong and stable leadership of Prime Minister Alex Carlisle. But appearances can be deceiving.

This is a society bitterly divided between rich and poor, where an excluded underclass known as ‘zeros’ eke out an existence any way they can. The threats of crime and terrorism are used to justify the pervasive system of high-tech surveillance.

The novel's protagonist, unemployed David Mills, languishes on the verge of becoming a zero himself, but then he’s ordered to take part in the government JobNet recruitment scheme. Within its advanced virtual reality world, David is offered the chance to build a worthwhile future and rejoin society. Of course, you know it’s just too good to be true.

David becomes an unwitting pawn in a conspiracy to topple the Government when he’s used to infiltrate an intelligent virus into the system. JobNet is the weakest link, David the ideal carrier, for an attack intended to unravel the AI networks that underpin the surveillance machine, and set the zeros free.

When the virus strikes, chaos ensues. The zeros rise. Britain falls into anarchy as the Government begins to lose control. The Prime Minister’s grip on power comes to depend on the life or death of a single zero – that would be David.

So begins a desperate manhunt across two worlds – the real and the virtual – to find him before it’s too late.

David, meanwhile, is trapped inside a corrupted reality. Tormented, alone, he searches a nightmare landscape for a means to escape back into the real world. It seems hopeless, but there’s something waiting for him in the heart of JobNet: an inhuman secret that will change everything.

“Dystopias are always more about the world we live in today than the alternative realities they present, and that's just as true of Citizen Zero,” Mark says. “We've had seven years of austerity, living standards have stagnated, social mobility has stalled, inequality has risen, and there's a growing sense of discontent with the way things are going. In many respects, we’re already living through dystopian times. Often, it's felt as if we're living through the novel's real-life prequel. Citizen Zero taps into all of that. The aim is to give readers an entertaining scare – but I hope the novel provokes a little thought too.”


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Moving With The Times

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

A new beginning...

SINCE launching this blog, I can't remember how many years ago, things have moved somewhat with my writing, so my online presence has moved to pastures new.

Later this year, my second novel SILAS MORLOCK will be published by the independent publisher Inspired Quill (IQ). In preparation for that, I have established a new domained website and associated blog called, simply enough, 'Mark Cantrell, Author'.

This site, while remaining very much relevant, has also become something of a historical site; all the latest news and essential information about CITIZEN ZERO (and the rest of my writing) can now be found at my new website, so I hope you'll head on over and take a look.

Back in its beginning, I launched this site to actually publish the earlier version of CITIZEN ZERO. Then back in 2006, I got a book deal with a newstart publisher called 'Writers of Worlds'. The book was duly edited, the cover designed, and so forth, ready for publication on the launch list.

Of course, the publisher didn't want virtually the entire novel readable here, so I deleted much of it, and reconfigured the site to provide a dedicated source of information to promote the book, ready for its publication.

Unfortunately, in the end the venture never got off the ground, and I returned to the grind of seeking out a publisher.

Meanwhile, the Indie publishing scene was burgeoning, then far beyond the horizons of my awareness. By the time I took notice, the world was changing. The credit crunch turned to full-on recession, the Labour Party was ousted from office in the 2010 general election, the Conservatives didn't quite win and so cut a deal with the LibDems to form the Coalition Government, the whiff of austerity reeked.

The rest is history; the history of my novel, CITIZEN ZERO. The book, largely written in the mid to late 1990s and finalised by May 2001, had finally found its era. We're living the unwritten prequel in the here and now. Well, it feels like it.

So, I self-published, releasing CITIZEN ZERO around July 2010 in PDF format, and then for the Kindle and other digital formats in December the same year. This site kind of found a new lease of life, but now the torch is passed to my new site, where I hope you'll join me -- not just for CITIZEN ZERO but for SILAS MORLOCK too.

Mark Cantrell,
1 March 2013
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About Citizen Zero

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

The hard-hitting novel that presents a grim future of a Britain broken by austerity...

 A dystopian glimpse at a future born in an age of austerity and political uncertainty, Citizen Zero is a gripping social satire that exposes our deepest fears and poses a grave warning to any society that abandons the pursuit of social justice...

JobNet was supposed to usher in a better life for unemployed David Mills; instead it plunges him into a bitter struggle for survival when he is caught in the midst of a political conspiracy that pushes Britain to the brink of civil war…

David lives on society’s margins, forever on the verge of sinking into an excluded underclass known as ‘zeros’, until the JobNet scheme offers him the tantalising prospect of a better life.

The Government programme uses the latest artificial reality technology to create a paradise world where the unemployed gain all the help they need. He’s heard the hype before, but this time it actually begins to fulfil the promise: he finds love with Christine, the prospect of a job beckons, and he dares to dream of a worthwhile future beyond the dole.

Then a deadly virus strikes the system and his sweetest dream instantly becomes a living nightmare. He is forced to embark on a perilous journey to be re-united with the woman he loves, in the hope they can escape together into reality – but things are little better there...

The conspiracy has ignited a power struggle between two ruthless and powerful men. Once, they were comrades plotting to shape Britain into the dictatorship it has become: now they are foes whose animosity has plunged the country into violent mayhem.

The first, a renegade security operative turned terrorist, plucked David from the dole to deliver the virus; the second, a tyrannical Prime Minister ruthless in the preservation of his rule, he wants David dead – and fast – before the virus he carries can escape JobNet and overwhelm the wider network.

If David is to stand any chance of surviving, then he must take down both men, but the odds are impossible – he’s just a ‘zero’, after all, and trapped in a broken reality. It seems hopeless – until he stumbles across a dark secret hidden in the heart of JobNet.

It’s a cruel revelation that will change everything…

Citizen Zero blends the stark social commentary of ‘The Boys From The Blackstuff’, the millennial techno-chic of ‘The Matrix’, and the uncompromising force of ‘V for Vendetta’ into one devastating portrayal of tomorrow’s Britain…
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Meet The Author

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Interviewed on Indies Unlimited

Check out the blog Indies Unlimited for an interview with Mark Cantrell, the author of Citizen Zero. And once you've finished that, you might care to stick around and discover a wealth of indie authoring talent...

Author Mark Cantrell  has been told his writing demonstrates a certain dry humor, a cynical wit, and a tendency towards the darker view of life. While he is at ease with all that, he also feels his work embodies  an underlying optimism, a qualified celebration of the human spirit and its strengths, but a refusal to separate them out neatly into good and bad. “Life is never that neat and I try to reflect that in my fiction.”

Read the rest at Indies Unlimited...

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Citizen Under Review

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Inspired Quill reviews Citizen Zero

“Ever since George Orwell penned 1984, since Aldous Huxley gave us Brave New World, dystopian future sci-fi has been a staple in the English-speaking world. But how do you follow up such literary classics without resulting in a hashed up mishmash of the two? Surely it would take a feat of unparalleled genius to put something new on the plate.” READ THE REVIEW

As well as the PDF edition (reviewed), CITIZEN ZERO is available for a host of eReaders from the following sources:

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Author Interview

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

The man behind the mayhem

CITIZEN Zero author Mark Cantrell has featured on the ‘Woulds & Shoulds’ Editing & Design website in its Self Publishing Success series of interviews with indie authors and publishers.

Published earlier this month, Mark was interviewed about his hard-hitting science fiction thriller, but also his wider thoughts on life as a novelist.

He talks about books, writing, the complexities of being an author in this day and age, and how the hard work really begins long after a novel is finished.

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Get It For The Amazon Kindle

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Citizen Zero is available to buy from Amazon's Kindle Store (ASIN: B004HD65HS) at the following links:

Amazon UK:

Amazon US (and worldwide):
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Get It For The Sony Reader, Ipad & Other Devices

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Citizen Zero is available in a range of different ebook formats, including the Sony Reader, iPad, Palm, and other devices, as well as the popular epub format, from the following location:

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Get It As A Print Format PDF

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Citizen Zero is available in PDF format, presented as an A5-sized print typeset ebook, from the following source:


See other titles by Mark Cantrell at the same source via
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Wot, No Kindle?

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under ,

Free apps make a Kindle of a phone or PC

You don't need a Kindle device to read a Kindle ebook, provided you install one of a range of applications that can be downloaded from Amazon free of charge.

The online retailer has created a range of apps that will enable devices to read ebooks formatted for the Kindle. These include: Apple's iPhone, Windows PCs, Apple Macs, iPad, and Android OS phones. Its latest app release Kindle-enables the Windows Phone 7.

Each version of the app is available to download from AMAZON.

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Category: NEWS
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Now We're Living It

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under ,

The British Prime Minister is about to ‘meet his maker’
Austerity sets the scene for a disturbing vision of the future

THE Coalition Government’s austerity programme of spending cuts and welfare reform is inadvertently setting the scene to a hard-hitting political thriller just published as an ebook.

Citizen Zero, by author and journalist Mark Cantrell, is a dystopian social satire set in a Britain left broken by an era of economic collapse and political instability.

On the surface, the country appears to have recovered to become once again a prosperous and stable consumer society. Behind the fa├žade, however, it is a country bitterly divided between rich and poor. Blighted by severe deprivation, with an excluded underclass known as ‘zeros’ numbering millions, it’s a society balanced precariously on the edge of chaos.

The social divide is policed, and order maintained, by the intrusive hi-tech security apparatus of a dictatorial regime: civil liberties and social justice have been abandoned for the sake of a perceived public safety, but this surveillance society proves blind where it matters most.

“The society depicted in the novel had its origins in a time very much like our own,” said author Mark Cantrell. “The banking crisis, the recession, the country’s massive budget deficit, and the Coalition’s policies intended to tackle the crisis, could all form a part of the initial circumstances that created the ‘back story’ to Citizen Zero.”

In the run up to the novel, however, the situation worsened and as the nation’s social fabric unravelled under the pressures of economic hardship and mass unemployment, the country exploded into violent civil unrest. Add to this an unpopular Government crippled by corruption and division, and it proved a gift for an ambitious politician on the make.

Alexander Carlisle, the fictional Prime Minister, exploited that era of crisis and unrest to seize power and established his hard-line regime. However, Carlisle is set to ‘meet his maker’ with the return of the man who helped him to seize power. 

Clute, a former security operative turned terrorist, knows the PM’s security apparatus from the inside out, including all its weaknesses. After all, he helped to build it. Now he intends to break his former colleague's regime by setting the 'zeros' free to tip the country back into chaos. Carlisle’s rule was born in civil disorder and by civil disorder is it intended to fall. 

“Carlisle is about to reap what he sowed,” Mark added. “He used the instability created by social inequality to forge his regime, and in the end that instability and social inequality is turned against him. From the outset, the novel is intended as a stark warning about the potential consequences for any society that abandons the pursuit of social justice.”

The story focuses on long-term unemployed David Mills, who becomes an unwilling pawn in Clute’s deadly conspiracy, but his struggle to survive has profound and far-reaching consequences for everyone.

He lives on society’s margins, forever on the verge of sinking into the ranks of the ‘zeros’ until he is forced to take part in the government JobNet initiative. This uses the latest artificial reality technology to give the unemployed all the help they need. David has heard it all before, but this time it actually lives up to the hype: he finds love, the prospect of a job beckons and he dares to dream of a worthwhile future beyond the dole.

Unfortunately for him, Clute regards JobNet as the chink in Carlisle’s armour and it places David in the wrong place at the wrong time. When his up-link is infected with a deadly virus intended to infiltrate and destroy the PM’s surveillance state, David’s nightmare is only just beginning. However, it leads him to discover a dark secret hidden at the heart of JobNet that will transform him from a pawn to a player in this catastrophic power struggle. It’s a cruel revelation that will change everything.

Citizen Zero combines the stark social commentary of ‘The Boys From The Blackstuff’, the millennial anarcho-chic of ‘The Matrix’, and the uncompromising force of ‘V for Vendetta’ into one devastating portrayal of tomorrow’s Britain. It’s a grim climax to an ordeal that has its roots in our own age of austerity.
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Say It's Not So

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

HE was being watched again. As soon as he arrived at the bus stop the camera turned to stare.

Mills sighed despondently and tried not to think about it. Such thoughts only made him nervous. He wanted to go back to bed and shut out the world until he felt able to deal with it. Say in twenty years. But he couldn’t ignore the Summons; it wasn’t worth the hassle. He sighed again.

The bus grumbled to a halt, thankfully blocking the eye’s mindless stare. He might have felt relieved but he knew they didn’t need to see him to track his movements. The doors slid open with a snake-hiss of hydraulics and he clambered aboard.  It was an old vehicle, converted to auto-pilot because the company was too tight to invest in new ones. The driver’s seat remained empty. Human drivers were no more than an old man’s reminiscence.

The other passengers glared impatiently while Mills fumbled for his card. At last he found it and swiped through the transaction.  His account would be debited by the company until the system no longer registered his presence. The Agency, meanwhile, would take a small surcharge for the use of the facility.

“Customers please be advised,” the on-board computer said, “the current boarder is a Class ‘D’ security risk. Please take care of all personal belongings.  CCTV monitoring is in operation for your protection.”

The passengers shifted in their seats. Some held tight onto handbags and briefcases and nobody looked directly at him. Except, that is, for the security guard who sat up straight and slowly folded his arms.

The bus gathered speed and unbalanced Mills so that he slumped heavily into a vacant seat next to an old man in a black overcoat. The man stiffened and suddenly became very interested in the view through the window.

“It’s disgraceful. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to travel with decent people.”

For a surreptitious whisper, it carried. So did the collective murmur of agreement. Such jibes should have long ago lost their power to hurt. He turned around anyway and stared at the two old ladies with stakeholder badges pinned prominently to their lapels. Once he gained their full attention he treated them to a lazy grin. Both women looked away and he turned back to follow the old man’s gaze. As he did so his face slumped into its usual dour expression. A grim mask reflected from dirty glass; a way to hide the pain at the stigma he carried and the punishment he bore.

The stigma chose that moment to beep. A reminder that he was going to be late for his Summons. He pulled it from his pocket and turned it over and over between his fingers.

“Nexus 40,” the legend read. Beneath, printed on the scratched plastic:

UK Benefits & Welfare Plc
– A Ministry for Human Resources Company –

working for you, so you can too

It really was a hateful piece of plastic. Even now the chip signalled his location to the JobMart’s city computer. Depending on traffic down the net, some operator could be reading the data this very moment. Everywhere he went it left a digital scent for the authorities to follow, until it felt like another disapproving eye. He thrust the card angrily into his pocket; out of sight but not out of mind.

He sighed, not quite in despair but almost, and thought of the Summons. Maybe things were about to change? He pulled out the Nexus again and pressed the display micro-switch. Text scrolled across the strip and he read it for the umpteenth time. Could they really be serious?

“Artificial reality job-hunting? Hey, maybe I’ll get an artificial job!”

The man next to him shifted in his seat and glanced sidelong as though he thought Mills were crazy. Sod you, Mills thought.


Terse and to the point, like all their messages. We command. You obey. And these schemes became stranger with each passing year. How many have there been so far? Too many, but perhaps this one would be different. Perhaps this would result in that ever-elusive beast: a job.

“There’s always hope,” he said to the suit. The man only smiled weakly and looked away. Mills allowed himself a cynical smile and signalled the auto-pilot for his stop.

THE JobMart’s tinted windows seemed to frown at him. They were like the shades worn by the stereotypical spy: sinister, watchful and totally inscrutable.  Yet the building itself seemed so shabby and dreary it gave him the urge to shiver. Even on a bright day like this the building appeared overcast.

Desperate as he was to find meaningful work, he pitied those who worked inside. Each day of their lives they came face to face with the unemployed. The tentative nature of work was paraded before them in a reminder of their own tenuous grip on society.

With a heavy heart he passed inside. People jostled him. A long counter separated the employed from the jobless. It made for a wall dividing two worlds, where the ragged queues of blank-faced people waited to sign their names for another infusion of grinding poverty. Behind the wall, more blank faced people processed the deserving poor. Workers on a human production line, they churned out ready-made rejects.

He joined the queue and found himself surrounded by the dead-eyed faces of the hopeless and the broken. Minds that could no longer understand the concept of work, every trait they needed to find it had been sucked out of them, as though by a vampire. And now these zombies shuffled mindlessly in search of instruction. A shudder ran down his spine. Truly, this was the Realm of the Damned.

SLOWLY the queue wormed its way up to the main desk. Mills idly looked around. Beyond the queues, the vacancy screens listed jobs in a multitude of languages. Invariably, they were low-paid and short-term dead-ends. Nearby, people in headphones sat at a bank of machines: the blind and the illiterate force-fed with ‘opportunities’ by soothing machine voices. On the far wall, in large print, a poster declared: BEGGARS CANNOT BE CHOOSERS.

Bored-looking people occupied the rows of seats by the rear wall, watching the information videos endlessly playing from a bank of monitors suspended from the ceiling. On one, yet another expensively-dressed politician spitefully slandered the poor.

It was all too much and he felt his mind wander.

BACK through time to the steel works, where he had his first and only job. The blast furnaces glowed in the darkness like pockets of Hell. Twenty-four hours a day those furnaces produced high-quality steel to be shipped out all over the world.

Life was hard, but he felt useful. And in those days he had friends. People thought him worth knowing. Pete, Jeff and Rob, his shift-mates. Where were they now?

Pete was the joker of the bunch and a wizard with the controls. Mills knew he was every bit as competent, but somehow he felt overawed by that tiny control room. It seemed strange that he and his three friends should control so much industrial output.

From the air-conditioned box they smelted and poured millions of tonnes of metal. Once thousands were required to do the job by hand, back in the traditional steel cities. They had been thrown aside by the automated systems he operated. And then he, too, was thrown away.

In some distant office his job was deleted by some corporatchik, doubtless in connivance with some government functionary. They probably made a fat profit. And doubtless the odd killing too.

“YES?” The woman at the reception desk looked tired. It was only ten o’clock in the morning but how many people had she processed already?

He didn’t feel like talking much. What was there to say? So he produced the Nexus and handed it over. The woman slotted the card into her terminal and tapped a few keys. Then she went over to a filing cabinet and rooted through a drawer. No matter how computerised they became, he noted, they couldn’t bring themselves to ditch the paperwork.


He rolled his eyes. It was printed on the card in her hand. “Mills,” he said.


“Dee. Ess.”

At last she produced a folder stamped with his name and social security number. With a bored manner she dumped it on the desk and entered some details into the computer, then, without another word, she returned his card and disappeared into the hidden recesses of the building. Mills felt his mind wander once more.

THREE years after it closed, he went back for a nostalgia trip with Rob and Pete. Somebody had beaten them to it. The foundries were still there, much to their surprise. Now they formed an attraction in an industrial theme park: “The Workshop of the World”.

Some multi-national had bought the place. They presented the site as part of Britain’s industrial heritage, which in a way it was. It was still strange because it had only been in operation for five years before he started there. The real heritage was long gone, buried beneath the foundations of shopping malls and monuments to commerce. He didn’t even know where the steel industry was originally based. They never taught him that in history, only what a great and glorious country he had the good fortune to be born into – a haven for freedom and democracy where the cameras never blinked.

In that theme park, his foundries glowed again. But they glowed with a cold light, the tinted glow of electric lamps, and the metal they poured was nothing more than back-lit paste.

The workers were the best. Big, muscular men, with oiled and bronzed skin, toiled at the foundries manually. Funny that, because they were never designed for manual operation. Except in an emergency. But how many of the paying public would know that?

The fall of the Industrialists’ Empire. The Workshop of the World  – just a play-park for kids. The irony wasn’t lost on him. The world was a workshop – one where men, women and even children toiled all day for next to nothing. Yet here, in the country that coined the phrase, actors performed fake work for the paying crowd.

“MR Mills?” A pleasant voice shattered the images of the past. “Would you like to come this way?”

He turned around to find a woman smiling brightly. It came as something of a surprise to encounter such an amiable approach. The badge on her chest identified her as Jane. No surname. She indicated a door and walked towards it. Beyond it was just another office: a cheap desk, phone, assorted pens, and a filing cabinet in one corner. A fan gently stirred the air.

All very ordinary, except for the sign on the door: “JobNet”.

Copyright (C) 2001/2006/2010
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Read The Early Blurb

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under ,

When the world has had enough...

SINCE the early decades of the 21st Century, when society was scarred by the traumas of globalisation and a protracted war on terror, Britain has become a peaceful and prosperous consumer society.

Historians are already talking of a Golden Age, but under the security-driven authoritarian regime of Alexander Carlisle – Britain’s longest serving PM – they know not to say anything else.

But this Golden Age masks a rotten core – and it is about to come crashing down.

On the fringes of society are the ‘zeros’ – the poor, the unemployed, the destitute – who paid the price for society’s affluence. Lurking in their midst is Clute, one of Carlisle’s former comrades-in-arms who helped him seize power. He has turned self-styled prophet of revolution, but behind his rhetoric of a better world is a nihilistic vision of apocalyptic proportions.

Clute is about to destroy the technological chains of social control by attacking its weakest point. In so doing, the zeros will be unleashed to rampage through the consumer citadels in an orgy of violent rage. So will begin a catastrophic struggle between society and those it exiled.

David Mills is about to become a central player in this world-shattering power struggle. He is a zero, ordered to take part in the JobNet global recruitment scheme. To begin with, it seems to fulfil all its promise as he finds a woman to love and prospects for a better life through this artificial world, then it all goes insane and he is struggling to save both his sanity and his life.

Unbeknown to him, he was used to carry a deadly virus into the heart of the global network’s weakest link – JobNet. Now the virus is spreading, corrupting, destroying all the technology that kept the zeros down throughout the world.

While Mills is struggling to exist all over again, the real world is burning in civil war and he has become the focus of a desperate manhunt by Government forces. If they can find his ‘kidnapped’ body or his projection in AR, then they hope to destroy the virus at source. It is a desperate gambit in a desperate time.

Yet again, Mills is the victim of forces beyond his control or knowledge, but this time – if he survives – he can be a force for change. From being nothing, Mills has become everything; he can save the world. There’s only one problem – he might have to destroy it first.
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From Later

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under ,

An Extract From The Novel Citizen Zero By Mark Cantrell...

TERRIBLE news, Jane thought as she sat in the gloom. She'd called in sick two days ago, when the disaster first struck. Since then all she could do was stare at the screen and watch the nightmare unfold. Those damning messages glared back at her from the screen of her notebook, though they wouldn't be there for much longer. The fading display indicated failing batteries. Soon the information would trouble her no more and a nagging conscience would have to do instead.

So many people dead because of her. She tried to picture the faces of the ones she'd personally ushered into the nightmare. Yet she couldn't dredge one from the depths of memory. The dead are anonymous, just as they are in life. So much hope, so many dreams, all lost to a forgetful eternity.

The phone's sudden chirp startled her from the grip of morbid depression. She stared at it, as if she had forgotten what it was for, and wondered whether to answer. Just then she didn't feel like talking to anyone. She just wanted to be left alone. Then again, what if it's Stuart? That thought -- that need -- motivated her sluggish limbs and she rushed over to the phone. After a breath to steady her nerves she picked up the handset. "Hello?" she said, her voice quavering.

"Hi Jane! It's Alice. Just ringing to see how you're doing."

"Oh, hello," she said, hoping the disappointment didn't show in her voice. "I'm fine I suppose. Apart from this awful 'flu."

"You do sound rough. I hope you're taking things easy. Actually, I could do with some sick leave right now. Things are crazy around here after what happened."

"Is it bad?"

"Hectic. All the zeros have been excused duties. Seems all we're doing is sorting out the lives ones from the stiffs. That and fending off worried relatives. Not my idea of fun."

Jane chewed her lip. Alice sounded so put out, as though she'd been asked to cover for a sick colleague when she'd planned to go to a party. What did she care? What did any of them care? They weren't dealing with human beings: just the unemployed.

"So, where's that man of yours?" Alice asked, mock cheerful. "When he called in sick too I got so jealous. I wish someone would take the time to pamper me, you know ..."

Not now. Not with all that's happened. "Oh Alice, you'll find someone," she soothed, feeling her own loneliness stirring. That woman's failures with men were a legend around the office. And she missed no opportunity to court sympathy.

"Yeah. I suppose so. Anyway, you two aren't exactly subtle. Fancy calling in sick on the same day. I hope I haven't interrupted anything too raunchy!"

The first sob erupted from her throat and a flood of tears followed. Unable to hold the emotion back, she allowed herself the chance to vent her feelings. Alice may not have been there in person, but even a long-distance shoulder was better than nothing.

"Stuart isn't here. I haven't seen him for days. I don't know where he is. He hasn't called or answered the phone."

"I'm sorry," Alice said, sounding genuinely concerned. "You two haven't had a row have you?"


"Well, maybe he's really sick. You're always so close after all; it's a wonder the Boss never noticed. You probably gave him a dose of 'flu."

"Maybe. I just need him. I've done something terrible..."

She stopped herself just in time. Phones have ears. You never know who is listening. Even so, it would be such a relief to tell someone and unburden the guilt.

"You haven't got yourself pregnant have you?"


"Glad to hear it. The Boss would hit the roof!"

She laughed through her tears. The suggestion was so outrageous she couldn't help joining her friend's humour. Laughter made such a welcome change after the melancholy days that she realised just how much she missed human company. Especially Stuart's.

Right now she needed a hug. The warmth of his body close to her own, his voice murmuring softly in her ear. Yet just when she needed him most he had vanished. Typical man.

Humour drained away and the grief rushed back. She pulled her cigarettes from the pocket of her robe and extracted one with her teeth. The lighter ignited on the third strike and with a trembling hand she struggled to make the flame meet the tip.

"So what's so terrible?" Alice suddenly asked. "Come on, you can tell me."

A confessional urge took hold; she longed to share the burden with someone. Maybe Alice would understand, then she wouldn't feel so alone.

"I killed those people."

Confession brought no relief, however, just a fear of the reaction. Alice made no sound.


"Don't do this to yourself, Jane. You can't blame yourself for doing your job. All you did was plug them into the system. What happens after that isn't your fault."

"I suppose not."

"Not good enough. I want to hear you say it. Come on say it: it wasn't your fault."

"It wasn't my fault," she whispered, feeling utterly forlorn.

"I couldn't hear you. Say it louder."


"That's better. I want you to remember that. You can't let these zeros play on your sympathy. Do that and they'll take you for everything you've got."

Alice didn't understand. Jane felt lost. Without Stuart there was no one she could turn to. All she wanted to do was help people. The system was wrong, but nobody seemed to care.

"Oh shit! The Boss is doing the rounds," Alice said quietly. "I've got to go. Are you going to be all right?"


"Sure? You don't want me to come round after work? Keep you company."

"No. I'll be fine. Thanks for the offer though."

"Okay. If you're sure."

"Thanks for calling, Alice. It was nice to hear from you."

"Any time. Bye!"

Abruptly the line went dead. Jane was alone again. With a sigh she put the handset down and slumped onto the couch. Then she lay back and closed her eyes.

They were waiting in the shadows, the crowds, and every one of them lacked a face. But in the middle of the multitude Mills stood slightly taller. Slowly he raised his hand and pointed in silent accusation.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, all she could find to say.


Dark specks arced gracefully through the air and exploded into fragments. The twin roars from the Prime Minister's shotgun pummelled Carswell's ears before fading into the distance.

"Good shooting, Sir!" one of the nameless flunkies called out. Polite clapping greeted Carlisle's beaming face when he turned round to give a mock bow. Carswell joined in, smiling weakly at the junior minister beside him, some nondescript lapdog with a damp lower lip and watery eyes.

The Prime Minister reloaded and unleashed another volley. The muscles in Carswell's neck and shoulders ached. Each blast caused an involuntary flinch and twice he spilled tea on his lap. He hated guns. Unfortunately Carlisle loved them.

So did his men. Not that you could see them, but he knew they were out there somewhere. He sipped his tea and looked around. The other guests paid little heed. Most of them lacked the imagination to picture the nearby trees hiding armed guards and state-of-the-art security systems. That was the one saving grace -- the Summer House was the most secure place in the entire capital.

"Enjoying the view, Mr Carswell?"


"Forgive me for interrupting your thoughts, I just asked if you were enjoying the view."

"Yes. It's quite breathtaking." He turned to face the speaker at the next table, the bald-headed man in the bland suit, quite out of place amongst the expensive tailor-mades of the other guests. He wondered what such a badly dressed individual was doing there at all. Then he caught sight of the barcode laser-burned into the man's forehead.

"Would you partake of a little caviar? It is very good, Father has it smuggled in from his Russian holdings."

"No thanks," he replied, appetite quite gone. "I ate before I arrived."

"Ah well, your loss."

The freak turned away to deliver the plate into the hands of a harassed-looking waitress. Carswell allowed himself a little shiver. Just his luck to run into one of the PM's freaks: his special bodyguard. No secret they were bred in vats, from the PM's own modified genetic material. Not quite clones. And they were absolutely loyal.

"This is your first visit to the Summer House?"

"No. I've been before -- on business -- not quite like this. In fact, I'm waiting to see the PM now."

"You like Father's retreat?"

Before he could answer the PM let rip with another blast. Carswell flinched and bit his tongue. The freak gave a cadaverous smile. "You do not like guns, Mr Carswell?"

"No, not much." He struggled to regain his composure, embarrassed to have his dislike publicly broadcast.

Almost as though on cue, a burst of derogatory laughter came from the man across the table. It was Soames, a powerful man in government and business circles. "Can't stand guns?" he snorted. "Never took you for effeminate, Eric."

Soames laughed and slapped the thigh of the barely dressed woman sat on his lap, another of the courtesans he was so fond of. She giggled and writhed provocatively. Soames rolled his eyes in playful ecstasy, and opened his mouth to accept the spoonful of caviar the women shovelled into his mouth.

"Guns do not define the calibre of the man," the freak said. "Especially when it is known they are impotent."

The buzz of inconsequential conversation faded. "Why you ..." Soames stopped once he noticed the barcode. The freak smiled, but there was no humour in the gesture. Carswell sipped his tea and tried to pretend he was elsewhere.

"You know, you're absolutely right," Soames said, laughing nervously. The freak turned away, dismissing one of the most powerful men in the country as though he were jobless.

"I am Shreck," the freak said after a while. "And I ask again. Do you like Father's retreat?"

"Oh yes. It's peaceful. Makes a change from the city."

Except the Prime Minister's private retreat was slap in the middle of the city, he thought. The place where he conducted most of his business consisted of fifteen square miles of landscaped scenery carved out of the heart of the old East End. On a good day the ramshackle mausoleum that had been Canary Wharf towered over the treetops to the south, a ruined legacy of the Turmoil.

"Did you know that Father generously re-housed all the people who once lived here? They were poor, and yet he helped them. He is a great man. A caring man."

A brief smile flickered across Carswell's face. Looking carefully at Shreck, he realised the freak was totally sincere. Such naivete. The misconception was interesting, though. So the PM even lies to his pets? He made a mental note of the deception. Never know what details may be important at a later date.

"He favours you," the freak continued. "He considers you one of his ablest executives."

Hostile glances seared the back of his neck. He could feel the heat. It didn't do to be praised so publicly.

"I do my best. It's an honour to serve my Prime Minister." Hopefully that would be a safe reply.

"Which makes what has happened all the more unfortunate. Father is much displeased."

"Ah!" The surrounding hostility turned to lynch-mob glee. "That situation will be resolved. I'll inform the PM as such when I see him."

"So you say. Yet there is the possibility of danger."

"I don't follow --"

"We in the Social Security Agency greatly appreciate the services you render society. Though you do not know it, we have worked at times to aid your activities. We consider it of the utmost importance that you be allowed to continue your work."

"I don't know what you mean," he replied, trying to hide a sense of random guilt. They couldn't possibly know. Yet it was said the SSA even knew God's secrets.

"As you wish," Shreck smiled. "Just consider this: we exist to protect Father. This situation may threaten him. And that, ultimately, is your responsibility. So pray to your deity that this situation be resolved promptly. Hurt him. And we shall hurt you."

POLITICIANS come and go, Parliaments change, even parties rise and fall, but the Prime Minister was always there. Carlisle was a constant in government, member of all parties, beholden to none.

Captured in synthetic oils, he glowered statesmanlike from the canvas. He overlooked the minions who kept his regime ticking over. Small, nervous men orchestrated by the will of the longest serving British premier in history.

Carswell look around apprehensively, aware that he was one of those minions, jostling for position and competing for the PM's patronage like all the rest. An unpleasant feeling, to be a small fish in the wrong pond awaiting the shark's return. Is that how his own staff feel? Better to be the shark than the minnow. The sooner he got back to his own fief the better.

The machinery of government buzzed around him. Men with notebooks and desktop computers worked their mysterious magic. Political alchemists, they balanced delicate social forces on the razor's edge of one man's will. If only events hadn't brought him to the centre of this Machiavellian web.

And how the waiting grated at the nerves. He recognised the game, played it often enough with his own people. The portrait formed a nice addition, an intimidating addition. Those fierce eyes seemed to glare right at him. A formidable man, his master. Carswell suppressed the urge to shudder and wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers.

"Ah Eric! Do take a seat."

Startled, he turned his gaze away from the portrait. The Prime Minister swept past, leaving a scent-trail of cordite and oil. For all his bulk the man moved like a cat.

"Prime Minister! You wanted to see me?"

In the flesh Carlisle didn't seem so bad. Easily mistaken for someone's grandfather. Somehow that made him worse. Young eyes gazed from wrinkled flesh, a playful gleam deep in the pupils. He gestured towards a chair and Carswell sat down in what he hoped was a business-like manner.

Two Social Security Agents flanked the Prime Minister's chair. One of them was Shreck, and Carswell was dismayed to find the other physically identical. They both stared impassively with those characteristically dead eyes.

"Have you met Reich and Shreck?" the PM asked conversationally. "Two of my best agents. They're twins you know. Quite remarkable."

The two men ignored his polite nod, but there was a faint hint of malicious humour around -- Shreck's? -- eyes. Another man joined them. He leaned against the panes of the glass wall and gazed out at the flowerbeds beyond. The reflection revealed a barcode. He felt his spine shudder.

Theoretically, Carlisle should have surrendered his control of the Social Security Agency once he became PM. Plenty of fools believed that. He knew better. Control of the SSA brought Carlisle to power and it had kept him there all these years.

"Now then Eric, what have you been up to?"


"This situation with the virus is not good. I appreciate what you are trying to do, but you could have found a safer way. You're not supposed to burn the guards along with the inmates."

"I'm sorry Sir, I don't understand --"

"Just my little joke, Eric."

"Father is referring indirectly to your policy of isolation within the JobNet system," the man at the window interrupted.

"Quite so." Carlisle sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers together. He looked over the tips almost as though sighting his shotgun. Sweat began to run down Carswell's back.

"I don't see what this has to do with the virus, Sir. Yes, we utilise certain surplus elements. Artificial reality has been demonstrated to work more efficiently the more users are hooked up. There is the added benefit that we are able to utilise an otherwise useless resource, thereby reducing numbers."

"Some people might say you're depriving them of their civil rights."

The Prime Minister was playing with him. The man who systematically suspended every civil liberty, without actually striking them from the statute books, and he used the unemployed for this very purpose.

Carlisle rose to power on the back of the Turmoil, when millions of jobless rioted and ransacked society in demand of work. The old regime had proved incompetent, not to mention uncaring. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that they had arisen on the promise of social justice -- surely an outmoded concept now if ever there was one. Then Carlisle turned up from the shadows. With a politician's honey-tongued cant, he promised great things, wonderful things.

Unbeknown to the generality he headed some obscure branch of the intelligence services, what became the forerunner of his Social Security Agency. There were rumours that Carlisle caused the unrest that exploded into the Turmoil, or at least he manipulated it to help his power play, but sensible people didn't talk about such things -- or think them for that matter -- even as the country descended into something akin to totalitarianism.

On the whole people were too relieved that the violence was brought to an end to question their leader, or why his years of rule turned into decades. The power of terror, and it was a terrifying period, he remembered from the time he was at Civil Service college. Back when the Civil Service still existed in any meaningful sense.

"With respect, Sir, you don't believe that," he said cautiously.

"I believe whatever is conducive to efficient government."

"Your policy of isolation is immaterial," the man at the window interrupted. "Except for one thing. This man, Mills. We are aware of the problem you experienced regarding his location. We are also aware that you highlighted him as potential material and took steps to prevent his obtaining employment."

"He had skills and aptitudes that computer models suggested were favourable to an increase in network efficiency. The tragedy of it all is he put himself forward for employment within JobNet. We couldn't have contrived it bet--"

"Ironic. That the man you selected as a new component should turn out to be the conveyance for the entity that may destroy your system."

"This man was used to carry the virus," the Prime Minister interjected.

"Ah!" Is this how the fox feels when cornered by the hounds? He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. They couldn't blame him. It was not his responsibility if terrorists attacked the network. "I see," was all he could think of to say.

Suddenly Chief leaned over. A notebook in his hand displayed several photographs and scrolling data windows. The names and details meant little.

"Observe," he said. "These images were taken from City Watch cameras. Note the images of the man and the woman. Both of them work for your agency, Mr Carswell. You will note the man -- Stuart Sutcliffe under his current alias -- has a long history of terrorist activity."

"I can't be held responsible ... I'm not in security --"

"You do not conduct basic identity checks?"

"Of course --"

"Then I should have them improved. Note this man: Clute. He is a known anarcho-chaotic terrorist. Two of your employees were seen talking to this man. They also handled Mills' uplink before he conveniently disappeared. Were you also aware that this Mills has links to the Martyrs of Jarrow organisation? Your incompetence has endangered us."

"I don't see how. The virus is static." The material in his briefcase seemed utterly irrelevant now. This wasn't the crisis briefing he had been led to believe. Rather it was a trial. Unfair. Suddenly he realised the PM was laughing.

"Poor Eric. Let me give you some advice. The art of government is in hiring the right staff to do the work for you. Just let them get on with things while you handle the broader issues. A man who must control everything is a man who controls nothing."

With a casual gesture from the PM, Chief backed off. Carswell felt his muscles unknot and he began to breathe again.

"As to the virus," Chief added, "it is static at the moment. We do not know how long that will remain the situation."

"Wait a minute! You have a go at me for employing terrorists, yet you allowed a terrorist to get his hands on this thing! If you knew so much why didn't you intervene before?"

"Eric!" the PM barked. And then more softly: "Kindly remember where you are."

"I'm sorry, Prime Minister."

Red-faced, Chief paced round to the back of Carswell's chair. He gripped the backrest and leaned over. "We are not infallible," he said. "Yet! Even we cannot control everything. We deal in probabilities. Not certainties."

"Eric, you need to look at the whole picture," the PM said. "You look at the jobless as a huge pile of scrap and you're looking for what can be recycled. That's good. That's your job. But what you don't realise is that this pile of scrap itself serves a purpose. I need my zeros, Eric. They put fear in people; fear of crime and terrorism. They are a stark reminder to the stakeholders that what they despise today, they may end up joining tomorrow. It keeps them obedient. Remember that! The virus endangers us. It could upset the delicate balance of our society."

"Sir. Would you like to hear my report now?" Fingers fumbled at the lock on his briefcase. Carswell cursed and felt his face flush. The muscles in his forearms trembled with suppressed anger. As a high-level executive he should not be receiving such treatment. He knew his job and expected a little professional courtesy, not a view that would wash with the Prime Minister.

"No, Mr Carswell, we shall not be requiring your report. You are to be relieved of the problem."

"That is correct, Eric. This one is beyond your resources. Don't look so glum. I still have a very high regard for you. One day, I hope, you will be joining my staff. I was very impressed when you turned your little department into a successful commercial venture. I never thought it could be done."

"Thank you, Prime Minister." Yes. A commercial venture. And it was his. They could remove him from office. But they couldn't take away his stock in the companies he established. Then his gaze fell on Chief and his blood trickled cold. They didn't need to take his stock. They could take something much more precious.

LEATHER squeaked as Carswell got up to leave. He clutched his briefcase as though a horde of zeros were after him. Alex watched his minion leave and laughed quietly.

"Poor Eric," he muttered and shook his head in amusement.

"You keep saying that, Father."

"I know. Ah! He's keen, ambitious, but he over-extends himself. Perhaps we were mistaken to let him slip. But I suppose we can't watch everything."

"No, Father. So what is our next step?"

"Arrest the woman, Jane Sutton, and the doctor who treated Mills. With luck they will be able to direct us to his whereabouts."

"And that other one, Clute?"
"We'll be lucky to find him straight away. Get men on it, anyway. Pull them off other assignments if you have to. This is priority."

"Yes, Father."

"Clute!" Alex stroked his chin in reminiscence. "I knew a man by that name once. An old friend and rival from my Cambridge days. I beat him at everything, you know, especially chess. We were recruited together to the forerunner of the Agency. Never did find out why he was recruited, he had some odd ideas, very idealistic. Quite the wrong sort, really and it held him back. Made him quite bitter, but malleable. Funny, I always wondered what he'd been up to."

Much to Alex's chagrin, Chief remained impassive to the recollections. "There are reports from one of our operatives that this Clute is attempting to infiltrate the Martyrs of Jarrow," he said.

"Really? Well, we can't have that, can we? Not after the effort it took to nullify that organisation. I think it's time we sent the MoJ into receivership. How about the agent, is he a long-term field operative?"

"Yes, Father."
"Hmm. In view of recent events, perhaps we should retire the man. Shame to lose good agents but I suppose we shouldn't really take chances."

"Yes, Father. Anything else?"

"Yes," he said, looking up at his portrait. "Get somebody to dust my picture."

Copyright (C) 2001/2006.
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by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

STOP PRESS... Quids In With The Smashwords Summer Sale...

EXCLUSIVE to Smashwords

Throughout July you can get the novel CITIZEN ZERO and the fiction anthology ISOLATION SPACE half price in the Summer Sale using code SSW50.

At a quid a shot ($1.58) that's less than a cup of coffee for some great literature.

Meanwhile, the poetry anthology DEUS EX INSOMNIA is going FREE, just use code SSWIN -- offer ends 31 July 2012.

Formats cover the Kindle, Sony, Nook, Apple and other popular e-reading devices.

Meanwhile you can find CITIZEN ZERO on Facebook and read more at the author's new website: Mark Cantrell, Author.

Originally published: 4 July 2012 | Archived: 3 August 2012
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Summer Cuts

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

“We’re all in it together!”

ALL this month, CITIZEN ZERO is on sale at the special reduced price of $1.54 – less than the price of a cup of coffee – as part of the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale.

Just use coupon code SSW75 at the checkout to get this special 75 per cent reduction on the standard retail price and while you’re there why not check out the other sizzling deals on offer.

The novel is available for a range of popular machine formats, including the Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, and Apple devices.

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale
Runs 1 to 31 July 2011

Find it on Facebook, so why not drop by and give it a like. For more information of the other titles, visit

Originally Published: 1-6-2011 | Archived: 28-10-2011
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May Day Special

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Something for the weekend

Special May Day weekend offer on Citizen Zero

Mark Cantrell's hard-hitting science fiction thriller and political satire, Citizen Zero, is available at the subversively low-price of $0.99 (around 60 pence) for the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, iPad, Nook and other popular devices only from Smashwords. 

"On the security monitors, he watched the city burn. The imagined scent of smoke and ash mingled with the electric odour of conditioned air. Occasionally the screen flared white as the cameras struggled to cope with the unfamiliar brightness. A solitary monitor scanned the corridor and displayed the armed security police hammering against the doors..."

A desperate tale of survival amidst social and political upheaval in a post-austerity Britain, for those who like their dystopias served with a chilling twist...

Get your copy now from Smashwords using coupon code EW24Z at the checkout.

Offer ends on 3 May 2011

Originally Published: 30-4-2011 | Archived: 28-10-2011
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Give Away Offer

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

For one week it's FREE

For one week only CITIZEN ZERO is yours to buy without paying a penny.

To mark eBook Week, the hard-hitting science fiction thriller and political satire can be downloaded for FREE from Smashwords. The novel is available for a range of popular e-reading devices, including the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader.

When you click to 'buy' the ebook, just enter the code MM72B and it will cost nothing.

The offer ends on March 12, 2011.

To get the book for FREE visit Smashwords:

Originally Published: 6-3-2011 | Archived: 28-10-2011
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Get Citizen Zero Now

by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

The future is what you make it...

Citizen Zero

The hard-hitting political thriller by Mark Cantrell presents the terrifying consequences of a Britain broken by austerity

Available exclusively online

JobNet was supposed to usher in a better life for unemployed David Mills; instead it plunges him into a bitter struggle for survival when he is caught in the midst of a political conspiracy that pushes Britain to the brink of civil war…

David lived on society’s margins, forever on the verge of sinking into an excluded underclass known as ‘zeros’, until the JobNet scheme offered him the tantalising prospect of a better life.

The Government programme uses the latest artificial reality technology to create a paradise world where the unemployed gain all the help they need. He’s heard the hype before, but this time it actually begins to fulfil the promise: he finds love with Christine, the prospect of a job beckons, and he dares to dream of a worthwhile future beyond the dole.

Then a deadly virus strikes the system and his sweetest dream instantly becomes a living nightmare. He is forced to embark on a perilous journey to be re-united with the woman he loves, in the hope they can escape together into reality – but things are little better there...

The conspiracy has ignited a power struggle between two ruthless and powerful men. Once, they were comrades plotting to shape Britain into the dictatorship it has become: now they are foes whose animosity has plunged the country into violent mayhem.

The first, a renegade security operative turned terrorist, plucked David from the dole to deliver the virus; the second, a tyrannical Prime Minister ruthless in the preservation of his rule, he wants David dead – and fast – before the virus he carries can escape JobNet and overwhelm the wider network.

If David is to stand any chance of surviving, then he must take down both men, but the odds are impossible – he’s just a ‘zero’, after all, and he's trapped inside a broken reality. It seems hopeless – until he stumbles across a dark secret hidden in the heart of JobNet. It’s a cruel revelation that will change everything…

A political satire, Citizen Zero is a dark thriller set in a dystopian future, with witty, acerbic prose that cuts to the heart of many of our society’s deepest fears, it promises to blow your mind…
Think of the social drama of The Boys From The Black Stuff, meets the subversive anarcho-chic of The Matrix, mixed with the explosive V For Vendetta – and get ready for a riot...

Scroll down to download a substantial sample of the novel, or buy the complete e-book from Lulu, Amazon or Smashwords. See sidebar for the links.

Originally Published: 11-10-2010 | Archived: 28-20-2011
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by Mark Cantrell on Nov.22, 2009, under

Soon is a relative concept...

It is with a degree of sadness to report that Writers of Worlds, the new publisher that was in process of publishing Citizen Zero, currently languishes in limbo.

The concept of 'coming soon' has consequently stretched out to satirical proportions. With perhaps a degree of optimism that borders on the equally satirical, it is hoped that WoW will still progress eventually to its point of launch and take off accordingly, but for now matters remain on hold. That includes, alas, the publication of Citizen Zero.

For now, the author has opted to remain with the gestating publisher, so return to this space, or visit his other websites for more of his writing -- and news about the eventual fate of the novel.

So, watch this space...


Originally Published: 9-11-2008 | Archived: 28-10-2011
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