BOOK REVIEW: The Mirrored Heavens and The Burning Skies
David J. Williams' sci-fi Autumn Rain Trilogy kicks into high gear...
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I've always been a fans of military science fiction. A military veteran myself having served in Iraq as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps, I've seen my share of real-life combat and so, I prefer the speculative nature of those writers, directors, actors, and producers who give us a glimpse of possible futures in which war and combat continue.
While it's sad there are only a few amazing military science fiction TV shows and movies, there's thankfully an abundance of spectacular military science fiction at the local bookstores. As previously mentioned in our 2009 Holiday Buyer's Guide last winter, I was lucky enough to come across David J. Williams' The Mirrored Heavens and The Burning Skies, the first two books in the author's Autumn Rain Trilogy.
Part one of Williams' Autumn Rain Trilogy, The Mirrored Heavens introduces readers to the future of 2110. It's 100 years from now and, while humanity is still living on earth and there are no aliens in sight, the world is a very different place. A second cold war has lasted for more than 50 years between the United States and her allies and the Eurasian Coalition, a conglomerate of nations made up of China, Asia and much of Africa and Western Europe. In fact, only 20% of the world is considered neutral and, while détente has been maintained for decades, it's a stressed peace at best due to random acts of violence by terrorists with unknown motivations.
Readers are introduced to the series' main characters through various story lines, each taking place in present tense and told from the character's individual point of view. In fact, each book in the series is told through multiple points of view, each happening at the exact same time. This will surprise many readers as most books today are written in past tense (with the narrator - safe and sound after the action - recalling to readers what has happened). You'll find none of that "safe" crap here.
You see, in the future of 2110, no one is safe. The US and Eurasian Coalition are at each other's throats and, when all else fails, battles must be fought. However, unlike today, the future's battles will be fought online as much as offline. There are two types of warriors you have to worry about: mechs and razors. The mech (short for mechanic) doesn't so much fix things as destroy them. Mechs wear armored suits (think War Machine from Iron Man 2 on steroids with A LOT more firepower), kick in doors, infiltrate bases, and are pretty much the boots on the group (or, in this series, in space). Then there are the razors. A razor is a hacker...if a hacker were plugged in - literally - to the internet, had full awareness of all data flow around them, in them, and through them, and could write and rewrite code as necessary to ensure the destruction of other online razors, security systems, and electronics. Razors essentially run interference for the mechs, disable security systems, and hack other mechs to ensure the boots on the ground (or in space) can accomplish the mission.
The story's main character - and razor - is Claire Haskell. Now, while female sci-fi characters aren't unheard of, they're rare. Lt. Ellen Ripley from the Alien films is far and away the most well known. Now, after having read the Autumn Rain trilogy, I'd have to put Claire Haskell right up there too. She's well developed, well-spoken, hard-edged (with a soul), and truly unique when compared to other female protagonists in modern sci-fi.
Besides Claire, we meet Jason Marlowe, a former lover of Claire's and one of the US's best mechs; Strom Carson (aka The Operative), a mysterious mech and assassin who, as the former bodyguard of the US president, isn't all what he appears; Lyle Spencer, a razor and wanted man with information that's both deadly and beyond valuable; Leo Sarmax, Carson's former mentor who's retired to the moon to enjoy a life of luxury and plan for an uncertain future; and more...
The list of characters is both well-developed and engaging thanks to the way Williams writes from each character's point of view. Likewise, each character taking on a unique role within the story at large and readers would be hard-pressed to find as impressive a cast as this in any sci-fi trilogy. Again, being written in present tense through these multiple points of view, the story changes drastically and quickly, but once readers realize how well this plays to the story's development and replicates the action that the characters are all witness too, it makes sense.
Plot-wise, the story is straightforward...if you consider Lombard Street in San Fransisco straight. There are more twists, turns, and reversals than any other book I've ever read and, while this too may throw readers off a bit, each plot twist makes sense once the reader realizes how and why it's happening.
The Mirrored Heavens begins with the destruction of the largest man-made construct ever: the Phoenix Space Elevator. Built jointly between the US and the Eurasian Coalition as a show of force and peace, the elevator - which spans from earth to the moon - has been completely decimated by the terrorist organization known simply as Autumn Rain. Their goals, who they are, and who they're working for is anyone's guess, but it's the beginning of the end of peace on earth and both Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe are at the center of the action.
Without giving away any major plot points, the series' second book, The Burning Skies, picks up where The Mirrored Heavens leaves off. Things have gone from bad to worse, World War Three is imminent, and no one is sure who to trust. The President of the United States is on the run for his life, Autumn Rain has infiltrated darn near every major country and political power in the world, and Claire Haskell has unexplained powers the likes of which the world has never seen. So what's a woman like Claire to do but attempt to save the day...
A few final thoughts:
I love the setting. 100 years in the future, while not really that far away, is enough time to make some fairly major changes. In fact, the changes we see in transportation, basic living, and military tech described in the book seem an almost natural progression from where we are now. And considering we've been shown what the near future will look like in films like Terminator: Salvation as well as told what the far future will look like in book series like Warhammer 40,000 (in which "there is only war"), it's great to see an author tackle - realistically - what 100 years in the future will look like.
The action is non-stop. Once you pick up The Mirrored Heavens, plan to read the series straight through. If you can get through the first few chapters of the first book (and the present tense and constantly changing point of view doesn't bother you too much), you won't want to put these books down. While it might seem difficult to imagine the story really happening...it's really not. Look at the state of the world's politics now, look at our global economy, look at the money being made by software and hardware manufactures as well as military contractors. Then tell me, after reading the Autumn Rain Trilogy, that you couldn't see this coming true in 100 years. Yeah...scary.
So, what more do I need to say?!?
I've thought long and hard about how to describe the Autumn Rain Trilogy to other sci-fi fans and all I can think to say is reading the Autumn Rain Trilogy is like dropping acid and watching 24 if the show were set in space with warriors in armored suits, super hackers tearing up the internet and all electronics, and more explosions, ammunition, and plot twists than all 7 seasons of the TV show combined. But don't just take my word for it...
Stephen Baxter, winner of the prestigious Philip K. Dick award, said the Autumn Rain series is "Tom Clancy interfacing Bruce Sterling" and fan-favorite sci-fi writer Peter Watts said the books “Explode out of the gate like a sonic boom and never stop.”
That about does it...
All three parts of David J. Williams' Autumn Rain Trilogy, including The Mirrored Heavens, The Burning Skies, and the new The Machinery of Light - released this last week - are now available wherever fine books are sold. Watch for a review of the third book - The Machinery of Light - in the coming weeks!
- Jess C. Horsley
"Until next time...have FUN with your figures!!"
Jess C. Horsley