A couple of weeks ago, I finished David J. Williams’ second book, The Burning Skies, and came away with about the same reaction that I had with his first novel, The Mirrored Heavens: I liked it, but at points, I completely lost sight of the overall picture of what was happening in the novel. The second book of his sleek Autumn Rain trilogy, The Burning Skies is a thrill ride right to the end, and for anyone who’s into cyber-punk and military science fiction, this is probably the trilogy for you.
Coming hot off the heels of The Mirrored Heavens, The Burning Skies picks up a number of the storylines that were left hanging. Where the first book could have easily been a standalone novel, this one isn’t, picking up and leaving off with loose ends that need to be tied up. The Autumn Rain had been though to have been destroyed in the first book, but it comes back with a vengeance, going for a power grab that sees a massive gunfight in an orbital facility where the Hand (The President) has holed up. The aims of the Rain isn’t wanton destruction: they represent a whole host of post-humanity interests with the idea of bringing mankind into some sort of evolutionary advance by taking control of planetary networks.
The breakneck speed of this book is complimented by Williams’ writing style, which takes a little getting used to. I found myself reading through the book very quickly once I got the hang of the tense and what was going on, and writing in the present tense, as he does, allows for an unprecedented view of the action that is going on in the book. With much of the book action, it makes for an interesting read. Williams’ has noted that part of his background is in video games, and for gamers, this book will most likely feel very familiar: it’s quite the adrenaline rush.
At other points, however, the breakneck speed hampers the storytelling: there’s a lot of points where I found myself having to re-read a chapter or two to bring myself up to speed with why the action was happening, as I’d lose sight of the goals of the characters and the story as a whole.
What I really appreciate about this trilogy as a whole is Williams’ attention to detail when it comes to geopolitical elements, which should be a proper backbone in any military science fiction novel. In a lot of ways, he’s done his homework conceiving of the future that he wants his story set up in, and worked on a lot of background material that helps to establish a baseline, telling a story within that context, something that not every military science fiction novel does. The result is an interesting one: the theme here is the complexity of political power, even in the future.
This sort of background is essential, especially for a book that is as fast-paced and complicated as William’s trilogy. Fortunately, between the books and his website, there is quite a bit of background reference material that’s been put into place, with diagrams, explanations, character lists, and so forth. The first two books have set up a fun ride. Soon, it’ll be onto the last novel, The Machinery of Heaven, which promises to be a read that’s just as exciting as the first two.