Review: The Burning Skies by David J. Williams
The setting of Mirrored Heavens and Burning Skies is pure science fiction. The moon has been settled. Space stations hang out at the Lagrangian points. An orbiting space elevator (1) is the proud shared project of the three superpowers. That’s destroyed within the first 25 pages of Mirrored heavens and with it the peace.
The peace was a facade anyway, a smoke screen for the stockpiles of armaments. Plenty to mutually assure the destruction of humanity. Plenty to keep a new cold war good and cold. And what would a cold war be without spies. If you’re going to be stealthy in a surveillance society healthily extrapolated from ours, you’re going to need a Razor to hack the other guy’s zone. And every brain needs some brawn. Williams tosses the brawn into a combat suit with enough firepower to level a small city (see Starship Troopers(2)) and calls him a Mech. Various iterations of that Razor/Mech team make up most of the cast of characters. Since these teams are operating in hostile territory, they’re given the “dollhouse” treatment (3). They don’t know who they are, what their mission is or where their loyalties lie until they … need to know. Another healthy extrapolation.
The action is spieled out in present tense and the point of view shifts often, yet smoothly. And what action there is. While reading Burning Skies, I used a post-it note as a bookmark. On it I wrote “REMEMBER TO BREATHE” (4). Not content with the destruction they caused in Mirrored Heavens, Autumn Rain has set the stakes even higher. They’re gunning for the President (5) and EVERYTHING is potential collateral damage. More is revealed about Autumn Rain. Much more is revealed about Haskell. The plots between the multiple intelligence agencies that supposedly work for the President get fleshed out. All in all it’s about as perfect of a middle book as you could ask for. It ratcheted up every element that made Mirrored Heavens what it was and laid some pretty sturdy foundation for the third book.
Williams goes to great lengths to emphasize how fast the action is moving, independent of how fast you read. As an example, in Part II, it’s already been established that the action is taking place on one of two massive twin space stations(6). This station rotates for gravity and a combination of mirrors and windows provide indirect sunlight. When a substantial energy weapon enters the mix, the previously established mirror/window/rotation combination leads to a requirement that all parties take shelter every few minutes to avoid being fried. This deadly metronome both constrains and amplifies the action. This perfect mix of physics, technology, and action continuously propels the action in Burning Skies, from start to finish.
The power of the razor is limited by what computers they can connect to. The numerous methods of establishing connections add a intricate layer to the action on the Razor side of the equation. The most ubiquitous is a future WiFi. We see lasers used for line of sight point to point. Razor wire (think of a tazer) establish short range wired connections. High tech darts inject logic bombs. And more. It’s a treat to have the base tools of the razor get described as well as the mech’s weaponry.
I highly recommend both this book and Mirrored Heavens. I hear the mass market paperback version of Mirrored Heavens has some useful extras that will hopefully clear up some of the confusion I had on my first read. Stay tuned, as I hope to do a giveaway of some sort in relation to this series in the near future. And mark May 19th on your calendars. That’s when Burning Skies will be available for purchase in fine bookstores everywhere.
- Ripped straight out of a NASA briefing according to David.
- The book. NOT the movie.
- Sorry David. It’s the best way to describe it to the masses now
- It also had “Erin ❤ Steven” on it, but that’s a little less relevant to the bad ass nature of the action scenes
- or the Throne or Andrew … The Narrator and each of the characters have their own preferred method of referring to every other character — First Name, Last Name, Title, Nickname, Code Name, Secret Identity, *explicative*. This can be a bit confusing, but turns out to be another way that Williams reveals the relationships between the characters. A ton of information is given to the reader, particularly when character identities change.
- [update 2000-04-20] In Tobias Buckell’s new short story collection, the action for the second story takes place on an O’Neill habitat. I knew that sounded familiar, and sure enough, that’s exactly what Williams describes in Burning Skies.