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Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Mirrored Heavens" by David J. Williams

Official David J. Williams Website
Order “The Mirrored HeavensHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch “The Mirrored HeavensBook Trailer HERE
Read Reviews of “The Mirrored Heavens” via Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review + SFRevu

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Previously, David J. Williams worked as a writer and concept developer for the award-winning real-time strategy computer game Homeworld. “The Mirrored Heavens” is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: In the 22nd century, the first wonder of a brave new world is the Phoenix Space Elevator. Built by the United States and the Eurasian Coalition following a second cold war, the Elevator is the grand symbol of the new alliance between the superpowers. And it’s just been destroyed.

The mysterious insurgent group Autumn Rain claims responsibility for the attack, but with suspicions rampant, armies and espionage teams mobilize across the globe and beyond. Enter Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe, U.S. counterintelligence agents, and former lovers—though their memories may only be constructs implanted by their spymaster. Bound together by the enigma of their past, they can trust no one. For in a time of shifting loyalties, the enemy could be anyone—from a shadowy assassin on the dark side of the moon, to a Euro data thief, to a fugitive making one last border run.

As the hunt for Autumn Rain escalates and the superpowers move to the brink of war, the lives of all those involved will converge in one explosive finale—and a startling revelation that will rewrite everything they’ve ever known—about their mission, their world, and themselves…

CLASSIFICATION: Combining cyberpunk, military science fiction and espionage, “The Mirrored Heavens” is a smart, intense, and thoroughly engaging futuristic thriller that brings to mind William Gibson, Ghost in the Machine/Appleseed anime, Neal Asher, Richard K. Morgan, Josh Conviser’sEchelon/Empyre” novels, and such videogames as Deus Ex and Halo

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 401 pages divided over four ‘Parts’ with zero chapter breaks. Opens with Text from The Treaty of Zurich and closes with a Timeline of World History from A.D. 2035—2110. Narration is in the third person and alternates between Claire Haskell/Jason Marlowe, the Operative, and Lyle Spencer who is introduced in Part II: Incursion. “The Mirrored Heavens” is Book One of the Autumn Rain trilogy, but the story is wrapped up nicely so that it can be read as a standalone.

May 20, 2008 marks the North American Trade Paperback release of “The Mirrored Heavens” via
Bantam Spectra. Cover artwork is provided by Paul Youll.

ANALYSIS: As mentioned in the Author Information above, David J. Williams’ previous experience as a writer includes the
Homeworld RTS computer games, and it shows by the novel’s videogame qualities, both good . . . and not so good. First, the positives. With any decent videogame you have to have a hook, a concept that will attract gamers—or in this case readers—and in this regard David delivers by extrapolating from current events and envisioning a near future where superpowers are working together to prevent war, where the Moon has become an important political/economic tool, and where mankind is only decades from colonizing other planets. The best thing about this setup is how easy it is to imagine such a future, which stems from how much effort went into making 22nd century Earth as realistic as possible. For a glimpse into the detailed world-building behind David’s vision of the future—year 2110—be sure to visit the Official Autumn Rain Website for a timeline on world history, an overview of the geopolitical situation, a breakdown of the United States’ different Commands, manifestos, memorandums and much more…

Next, you have to have protagonists that can kick a lot of ass. In this case, there are three: Claire Haskell, razor; Jason Marlowe, mechanic (mech); and the mysterious Operative. There’s also a fourth character in Lyle Spencer, a European data mercenary, but he’s not on the same level as the other three. Basically, razors are hackers who specialize in ‘net infiltration’ via the Zone (cyberspace)—hence the comparison to William Gibson and Ghost in the Machine—while mechs specialize in ‘physical infiltration’ and are ruthless killing machines made all the more dangerous by the combat suits they employ which comes equipped with camouflage, gun/missile/grenade racks, flamethrowers, flight capabilities, and other nasty goodies—thus the comparison to Appleseed, Deus Ex, and Halo. While razors and mechs can operate solo, they’re most efficient working as combos as readers will discover in “The Mirrored Heavens”. As far as razors and mechs go, Claire, Jason and the Operative are among the very best and they more than live up to their deadly reputation :)

Perhaps the most important quality that can be measured in a videogame is its gameplay—or fun factor—and in that area “The Mirrored Heavens” delivers in spades. Essentially a non-stop action-packed roller coaster, David’s debut is about as much fun as an action junkie can have without going to the theatres or buying a PS3. In some cases, it’s even more fun :) Part of the reason is that the action scenes are just breathtaking, both in delivery and their cinematic scope. Another reason is because the action is relentless. At all times “The Mirrored Heavens” alternates between three separate storylines that—while connected together as part of a larger picture—seem to be competing with one another to see who can come up with the most intense, most spectacular action sequences imaginable ;) As a result, “The Mirrored Heavens” is jam-packed with so much action, you rarely have time to take a breath…

One area that “The Mirrored Heavens” excels at—and is not a known strength when it comes to videogames, with certain exceptions—is the plotting. Not only does David handle the different storylines with exceptional grace, but the pacing is superb, espionage/intrigue elements strategically complement the action, the twists & turns are clever and unexpected, and for the opening volume in a trilogy, the book is immensely satisfying while leaving the reader craving for more :)

Negatively, “The Mirrored Heavensis a debut novel and is not without flaws. So continuing with the videogame theme, the biggest issue is the characters. Yes, Claire, Jason, the Operative and so on are bad-ass and it’s extremely entertaining to see them in action, but as far as personality and depth go, there’s little to be found. For one, almost all of the characters in the book are either razors or mechs and there’s very little that differentiates one from the other. Secondly, we never get to really know any of the characters. Where they came from, their history, their likes & dislikes, their thoughts & opinions, et cetera. Another videogame-related issue is the lack of description in the book. If not for the wonderful images, charts, maps and blueprints found on the
Official Autumn Rain Website, I would have a hard time picturing the Space Elevator, Belem-Macapa, mech suits and so on. My guess is when you write for a videogame, the visual aspect is already taken care of, so describing what a person or object looks like isn’t a major priority, but with a novel more detail is helpful. Finally, like a videogame “The Mirrored Heavens” sports a few deus ex machinas, although if you think about it, it’s not uncommon to find such plot devices in speculative literature.

As far as the actual writing, David J. Williams shows off some impressive skills like his aforementioned plotting, the pacing and the excellent action sequences, but a couple of things bugged me. One was the economical prose dominated by extremely short sentences: “He sits up. Gets up. Goes to the washbasin. Lets water dash itself against metal and skin. He runs his hands along his face. He wonders if something has changed.” I admit that this issue is a lot more noticeable at the beginning of the novel than at the end, and it does fit well with the punchy nature of the story, but it was still annoying at times. Another concern was the way David switches from one narrative to the next. For instance, one perspective will end with “’You get used to it,’ says the Operative”, while the next starts with “But what you don’t get used to is what these third-world cities are like in their rafters.” It’s a clever way to make the transition, but the problem is that David uses this trick so many times it kind of gets old after a while. Lastly, some of the dialogue is weak, particularly the sarcastic quips.

CONCLUSION:The Mirrored Heavens” is far from perfect, but for a debut it’s damn impressive and despite its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed the hell out of the novel :) In fact, I’m confident that “The Mirrored Heavens” will end up on my shortlist as one of 2008’s Best Science Fiction Debuts, and if David J. Williams can take his game to another level, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the author have the same kind of impact on the genre that Richard K. Morgan has had…

2 comments:

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I'm liking this one a lot do far :) Good review.

From having no SF on my reading list, I have received about 15 new SF books this last 2 weeks! :) Always good. I might have a SF week or some such silliness! ;)

~Chris
The Book Swede

Robert said...

Yeah, I've been getting into SF a lot more lately, and this is one of the better titles that I've had the pleasure of reading :) Definitely recommended!

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