Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Mirrored Heavens - David J. Williams

In the summer of 2008 I won a contest over at the site that is now The prize was a singed copy of The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams. The book arrived a couple of weeks later and ended up on the to read stack, where it has been residing ever since. Not a very nice thing to do, I suspect the author mailed these himself. I humbly apologize for neglecting the book for so long. If it hadn't been my latest Amazon order being a bit late, it probably would have spent even more time on the stack. I found a book that is probably a love it or hate it story. Personally, I have decided this book is not really my cup of tea.

The Mirrored Heavens is the first novel in the Autumn Rain trilogy. In this book Williams paints a break picture of the next century. On the overcrowded and environmentally degraded world a new cold war has started and the world is again divided in two major camps. Most of the Americas are united in one camp, while the Eurasian coalition makes up the other party. Some nations have managed to stay neutral but their role on the international political stage is limited. In recent years an understanding between these two great powers has been reached and things appear fairly stable. They have even undertaken a joint project in space project. All hell breaks loose when a mysterious group of rebels known as Autumn Rain brings this project to an abrupt end. We follow several characters through the violence that erupts, both in the real world as well as in cyberspace.

Williams has created an interesting time line for his 22nd century. Unfortunately almost none of it can be found in the story itself. There is a very helpful appendix on the history of the world between 2035 and 2110 in the book and I suggest you read it before reading the novel itself. Some of the novel makes a lot more sense with that time line in the back of your head. The story itself does not give the reader any time to get accustomed to this alien future. It launches into a frantic action scene early on in the book and it takes a while for the story to slow down. Slow being a relative term here. Williams never really lets up the relentless pace he sets early on in the book. Williams obviously likes action scenes and I am impressed with his ability to convey the urgency of battle in them.

These action scenes, as well written as they may be, can't carry the entire novel however and I am less impressed with his characters. Most of them are very well trained professionals. Especially early on in the novel they do their job with a clinical, coldness that makes it hard for the reader to really get into their head. Most of the characters seem to fit this mould, making them hard to keep apart at first. They are also low enough in the various organisations they serve that they get information on a need to know bases. To shoot a rebel base to tiny bits you evidently don't need to know a lot. There is a major power struggle going on over their heads, one that the characters have very little knowledge of. And what's worse, no way of knowing if what they are being told is actually true. In effect, what their superiors tell them acts almost as a deus ex machina, with the direction of the plot changing a number of times when some more information trickles down the chain of command.

Because of all the pulse pounding action the novel provides, the overall story suffered a bit and that is a shame given the effort Williams put into creating a realistic scenario for the next century or so. There are very interesting hints of major changes in society. The US seems to have gone through a political collapse and is now something that could be called a military run state. Voting in limited to veterans (a nod to Heinlein's Starship Troopers perhaps?). There's evidence of oil shortages and severe climate change. The Indian subcontinent seems to have been wiped of the map economically in a past war, etc, etc, etc. Most of this is from the appendix, very little of it makes it to the actual story.

The Mirrored Heavens is something of a mix of techno-thriller and cyberpunk. For fans of either sub-genre there is quite a lot to like about this book. It definitely has some of the best realized future battle scenes I've come across. For someone with my obsession for environmental matters, political considerations and societal change this novel is not a really satisfying read. A lot is hinted at but even more has to make way, to keep the pace of the story as high as it is. The Mirrored Heavens was not a bad read but it doesn't really offer what I am looking for in a science fiction novel either.

Book Details
Title: The Mirrored Heavens
Author: David J. Williams
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Pages: 409
Year: 2008
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-553-38541-0
First published: 2008

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