Although normally cast in the future, science fiction still tends to be built upon current or relatively recent events and the state of the world. That’s certainly the case with The Mirrored Heavens, the debut novel by David J. Williams. Williams uses terrorist threats, political battles, military branch rivalries and East-West distrust and tension as tools for a tale that combines military-flavored SF with a heavy dose of cyberpunk.
The Mirrored Heavens is set in 2110 on an Earth decimated environmentally and still feeling the ramifications of a nuclear war in the Middle East. The dominant political powers are the U.S. and a Eurasian coalition of Slavic countries and China. Those powers and the neutral Western European states run by commerce-oriented “Euro Magnates” have isolated their information systems from each other, including firewalls sealing off their cyberspace “zones.” The book focuses on the hunt for Autumn Rain, a mysterious terrorist organization which has destroyed the Phoenix Space Elevator, a joint project of the United States and the Eurasian Coalition as part of the détente of the Second Cold War.
Williams approaches the tale with three different story lines involving different pairings of individuals. One is Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe. Hearkening to some of the best cyberpunk tradition, Claire is a “razor,” physically modified and trained to immerse herself into zones, including hacking into an enemy’s. Jason is a “mechanic,” a heavily armed and armored agent who can physically carry out missions facilitated by a razor hacking into and undermining opponents in the zones. Another razor-mechanic pairing exists with the Operative and his razor, Lynx; they are in search of a former fellow agent who has retired to the moon. While these groups are hunting Autumn Rain, Lyle Spencer, an undercover agent, is being blackmailed into helping Linehan, a rogue trying to escape the United States.
Using the different story lines means The Mirrored Heavens has almost non-stop action. It seems as if at least one of the pairings is always engaged in blasting their way into or out of almost hopeless situations. As a result, the book seems the verbal equivalent of a first-person shooter video game. The action is hard-hitting, as well as highly destructive and widely fatal. It’s amazing the mechanics can carry as much ammo and explosives as they do. Of course, they need to given the fact they always are exceedingly outnumbered.
For those who love stories driven by descriptions of ferocious combat against great odds, The Mirrored Heavens is likely a success. The work also evokes some of the best of cyberpunk. It isn’t nearly as strong from other perspectives, though.
The characters are stiff and somewhat one-sided with their penchant for death and destruction. We see little of how the detailed future Williams has affected them other than in their official roles. Instead, that future often tends to be simply background and transition pieces for their battle royales. In addition, some of the lead characters occasionally speak in almost comic book terms with ponderous remarks like “Next stop: Armageddon.”
Undoubtedly, the world of The Mirrored Heavens is vividly imagined. It is also explored in greater detail on the book’s website. Still, some of that wealth of information might have come in handy as background in the book itself. For example, a minor role player is the Jaguars, a terrorist organization in South America. It makes appearances here and there but is never really explored.
Finally, the infighting among and conspiratorial machinations of the various political and military players, as well as the individual characters, is convoluted. Often leaving the reader uncertain as to which side anybody is on or their ultimate goals, there are just too many wheels within wheels in the various plots and counterplots.
Still, given his splendid world creation, Williams has the ingredients for a long run of novels. He may reach a broader audience expanding the scope beyond the first-person shooter feel. Even if he sticks with nonstop action, there’s little doubt the state of the world and politics will be able to keep him fully supplied with potential storylines for his future Earth.