Mirrored Heavens is author David J. Williams’ attempt to marry cyperpunk and techno-thrillers in a near future Earth setting. In 2110, terrorists from Autumn Rain destroy the Phoenix space elevator and set the world superpowers on a collision course for all out war. In the run up, two-man special ops teams attempt to find Autumn Rain and stop them before the cold war turns hot. While a decent read, Mirrored Heavens has some major flaws that keep it from reaching greatness.
Stephen Baxter, on the back cover, calls Mirrored Heavens ‘a crackling cyberthriller.’ Well, if you’re looking for cyberpunk, you won’t find it here. True, the two-man teams consist of a Razor (hacker) and a Mech (muscle), with the Razor providing network backup and support for the Mech. However, just because the Razors can access the Zone (network) and work some heavy duty magic doesn’t make this book cyberpunk. Yes the world of this future is a dystopia, but the characters here aren’t from the bottom of society, fighting against the government or corporations, they are the government, and far from fighting for the little guy, they are fighting to save the status quo. There is also very little ‘cyber’ described in the story. We get the effects of the Razor’s actions, but we don’t ‘see’ how they do what they do.
Another issue is with the characters themselves. They all ‘feel’ the same. They have little backstory, some of them for story reasons, but the effect is to make them feel flat and not all that sympathetic. Additionally, they all talk the same. Most of the conversations go like this:
“You okay?” says Maschler.
“Sure,” says the Operative.
“Did you get through?”
“Sure,” says the Operative.
“Nothing” says Maschler.
“Nothing?” asks Riley.
“You get used to it,” says the Operative.
This type of conversation happens all too often, with one question answered with another, usually with a snarky tone. All of the characters talk like this, which becomes annoying.
Which brings me to the writing style. The first thing you notice is the odd mix of third person and second person present tense. Not good or bad, just noticeable. What is bothersome is the style itself. Check it:
The Operative just stares. He’s beyond blinking now. He’s gotten to the point where reflex and intuition blur. He reaches another fork. He doesn’t slow. He makes his choice, accelerates.
The entire book is written in this short, choppy style, which is a poor choice when it comes to descriptions or explanations, but is very good with action scenes. It got to the point where I was wishing for longer sentences, just to break the monotony.
The other major issue I had was with the story ‘twists’ that occur. None of them felt organic to the story. They all felt forced, as if the author was looking for something to turn events on their side, and had to pull something out of a hat to do so. This doesn’t occur just once, but several times, and for a story that relies on these twists to help explain the outcome, it’s a major issue. You can’t guess the twists because there is no inkling about what’s to come.
All is not bad though. Williams writes a mean action scene, where his choppy writing style adds quite a bit of punch to the action. The Razors and Mechs work extremely well together ,even if the Razors seem too overpowered, almost godlike, in their network powers. Be that as it may, there are several edge of your seat set pieces that take place in some incredibly interesting locations. As for the plot, it’s an interesting one as well, if a bit convoluted and hinged on a ‘twist’ outcome. It wasn’t as if I was forcing myself to keep reading. The story certainly moves quickly, from one scene to another, I just wished the issues listed above could have been remedied.
As far as first novels go, this is a decent one. There are several story threads left open, enough for one sequel at least. We’ll see if any follow on books can improve on this one.