REVIEW: The Burning Skies by David J. Williams
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the aftermath of the destruction of the terrorist group Autumn Rain, U.S. Counterintelligence agent Claire Haskell finds her world upside-down, while it becomes clear that the Rain is not gone for good, and they have much larger plans of their own.
PROS: Williams knows and understands everything that goes into warfare, and blends in a good environment of post-human cyberpunk and military science fiction action to keep you awake at night.
CONS: The action overwhelms the narrative at points, and coupled with a strange writing style, the book could be a chore to get through.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite some of the problems with the text, this is a fun, interesting story that continues the first book of the trilogy.
Science Fiction author Peter Watts described the first book in the series as “Explod[ing] out of the gate like a sonic book and never stops.”
That’s a very accurate statement about this series in general, and The Burning Skies picks up the momentum from the first book in the series, The Mirrored Heavens, and runs with it. Where the last story ended, with the Autumn Rain’s apparent destruction, and Haskell revealed as being the next stage of post-humanism, essentially becoming what the Rain wanted in the first place, this book moves forward from there, seeing the last stand of the terrorist group, and revealing that they have far more at stake than previously thought: they are pushing for a future of post-humanism.
Williams has put together a fun story with this trilogy, and the future that he puts forward is one that feels very realistic, relevant and downright scary at points. There seems to have been a recent trend in very good cyberpunk / near future science fiction stories, with realistic worlds as a main feature, and it’s clear that there’s been a lot of consideration and thought put into how the future might look: hyper-cyber networks, political work gone amok and humanity poised on its next step of … something.
Action forms up quite a bit of the story, something familiar to anyone who’s read the first book: Williams can write action like nobody’s business, and should this ever be set to screen, it will be a spectacular scene indeed. There’s a lot of detail, movement and shooting in all directions, and in this instance, Williams’ short, choppy writing style fits well, moving the story along nicely, until there is a lag in the action.
The action is also one of the downsides to the book, unfortunately, because like the first book in the trilogy, it absolutely overwhelms the novel at points, and this book took me far longer than expected to read, because I had to go back and re-read sections, or read at a breakneck pace, hoping to catch the story as I ran past.
The other real downside to the story is the characters, which felt a bit more flat this time around: given the amount of action and events in the story, we’re treated to a whole host of characters who play vital roles in the book, but at points, I found that there wasn’t as much character depth as there should have been, nor as much as I had remembered from the first book. As a result, there were times that I found myself wondering if this book was a placeholder between the first and third books in the trilogy, and still am not sure.
That being said, the book is well worth reading: Williams has put together an intense, interesting future, and demonstrates a knowledge of what goes into warfare, and as a result, this is a fairly spectacular military science fiction thriller that goes to the heart of what makes up warfare. There are political, scientific and personal angles that all come together in a clash of violence and profanity, and once the momentum started on this read, it was hard to stop.
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