The Big Idea: David J. Williams
Terrorism is alive and well and living in the 22nd century — and if you don’t believe that, check out The Mirrored Heavens, in which one of the US’ proudest technological achievements is attacked and US scrambles to respond. Library Journal is calling it a “stellar hard sf debut,” which must make David J. Williams, its author, feel all shiny. Here’s Williams to discuss the Big Idea behind the book, and how The Mirrored Heavens, while taking place a century from now, has its roots in what happening in space right now, here in the real world.
DAVID J. WILLIAMS
I consider The Mirrored Heavens to be cyberpunk where the state never withered away. Instead it grew. And grew. My netrunners (I call ’em razors) don’t work for faceless corporations, they work for faceless governments (who also mess with their memories). When I started writing the book prior to 9-11, the National Security State wasn’t exactly grabbing the headlines, but the events of the last several years have pretty much confirmed it’s something we’re going to be stuck with for a while. And I’m a firm believer that science fiction affords a unique vantage from which to analyze that State: how it moves, how it behaves, how it responds when under pressure.
Not to mention what it might look like several decades from now. History has always obsessed me (I probably read more of it than I do science fiction, and that’s saying something), so my default approach to writing SF is as future history. When I turned the novel into Bantam, there were tons of appendices: timelines, treaties, documents, schematics, etc. Most of them were cut in the name of page count sanity (they’re now up on the website, www.autumnrain2110.com), but it was only once I’d written those that I felt able to approach the central narrative.
And I deliberately set my future only a hundred years from the present, precisely because I wanted to provide continuity: to be able to explain very clearly how the world we live in today became the world in which my characters dwell tomorrow. As to the nature of that world: I grew up during the Cold War, so maybe it’s just pure unoriginality on my part that this became the direction I took for The Mirrored Heavens. The Eurasian Coalition is a combination of a rising China and a resurgent Russia, and its domination of the Eastern hemisphere in the second half of the twenty-first century becomes the ultimate challenge for the United States, plunging the world into a second cold war that makes the first one look like a tea-party.
Alongside this geopolitical development is a technological one: the weaponization of space. Which is something that’s already starting to creep into today’s headlines. Last year China conducted an anti-satellite test. We did the same earlier this year. From a military perspective, space represents the ultimate high ground. In Gulf War Number One, Norman Schwarzkopf was hailed as a strategic genius following his crushing of the Iraqi army. But the truth of the matter is that it’s very difficult to lose a battle if you can see the enemy and the enemy can’t see you. We had—we have—the eyes in the sky, and the Iraqis did not. (Which is why the only thing that gives the U.S. military trouble today are guerilla movements that blend in amidst a population.) Any nation that wants to challenge the core of our national power will have to do so in the heavens.
By way of analogy, consider World War One. At the beginning of that war, both sides dug trenches. And then they took aircraft—which, by the way, had been around for barely a decade by that point—and sent them over each others’ positions to take a look at what the other guy was up to. And eventually the generals said, you know, can’t we do something about all these #@#$ aircraft that the other side has got flying over our heads. So then planes started sporting guns and started shooting at each other.
Thus it is with space. Space is already militarised—it’s already used for military purposes everytime we look down from the sky with a spysat. But to have it be weaponized would be a big additional step. In my book, such weaponization has occurred in conjunction with the maturation of technologies that currently are in their infancy—in particular, speed-of-light weaponry: lasers, particle beams, xasers, microwave cannon, etc. When Reagan proposed his Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s (aka SDI, aka Star Wars) he was proposing exactly these kind of weapons. Obviously the Gipper wasn’t a guy to be bothered in the slightest by the fact that the technology just wasn’t there, but the point remains that the missile shields he was proposing will eventually be entirely feasible (regardless of how we feel about that): weapons architectures that have the dual mission of safeguarding the homeland and taking out the other side’s shields.
So in The Mirrored Heavens, this weaponization of space extends all the way out to the Moon: two superpowers that have divided the whole of the Earth-Moon system between them. And that have occupied the nations of the equator in order to secure valuable launch base real-estate (since it’s cheaper to launch hardware from the lower latitudes). And that have divvied up cyberspace in order to preclude virus attacks—i.e., the Internet gets segmented along geopolitical lines in the name of national security. This is the world into which my characters are born. They’re U.S. agents charged with keeping America safe: an America that has drifted into permanent emergency/martial law in the face of a never-ending threat.
But they live to see a new era. The dawning of the twenty-second century brings fresh hope: because as the arms race accelerates out of control, and Earth’s ecosystem keeps on melting down, the superpowers finally come to their senses and sign a comprehensive series of environmental and political accords. Detente has arrived. Things are looking up.
And then the book starts.