What could a next world war look like? 2034: A Novel of the Next World War is a deft navigation of an unsettled, terrifyingly plausible vision of the future. Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine and acclaimed author, collaborates with Admiral James Stavridis, an ex-Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, in crafting this geopolitical thriller, thereby providing us with a narrative that encapsulates the convergence of profound knowledge and riveting storytelling.
The novel is, fundamentally, a cautionary tale that unfolds a decade hence, positing the unthinkable: a third World War in the year 2034. It underscores the unforeseen consequences of escalating international tensions, accentuated by the rapid evolution of technology. The conflict unravels through the eyes of vividly drawn characters hailing from America, Iran, China, and Russia, whose personal stories become intrinsically entwined with the larger narrative of the world teetering on the brink of annihilation.
What distinguishes 2034 is its firm grip on reality despite the premise’s dystopian inclination. It stands firmly on the line between prescience and speculation, offering a sombre warning about the current trajectory of global politics and technology.
Ackerman and Stavridis paint a hauntingly credible picture of the great powers United States and China clashing in a conflict neither desired, yet could not avoid, due to miscalculations and escalating cyber warfare. It’s a geopolitical thriller that imagines sparking in the South China Sea, when the Chinese attack the DDG John Paul Jones during a freedom of navigation patrol. Much like how World War II started, this story threatens to turn into a global conflict, involving North Korea, war in Ukraine, violations of Iranian airspace, etc. And with the threat of nuclear weapons, this could lead to World War III.
The novel strikes an eerie note as the authors dismantle the illusion of American invincibility, replete with stark images of technologically paralysed naval ships and a country grappling with the destructive potential of its own creation: unchecked artificial intelligence.
Through the experiences of its characters – a seasoned diplomat, a cyber-savvy Marine, a defiant Iranian pilot, a Chinese Admiral, and a shrewd Russian spymaster – the work of fiction explores the human implications of war. Amid the grim vision of the future, the book highlights courage, humanity, sacrifice, and the incalculable cost of conflict.
The narrative, however, is not without its shortcomings. While it boasts a compelling geopolitical plot, the character development in large part often seems secondary to the events unfolding. The authors maintain a brisk tempo, ensuring the plot never falters, but in doing so, some characters seem thinly veiled, their personal stories occasionally reduced to narrative tools.
Moreover, the novel sometimes feels overly didactic, as though the authors are attempting to imbue the audience with their military and diplomatic insights at the expense of narrative fluidity. At times, the characters become mouthpieces for geopolitical analysis, slightly disrupting the believability of their interactions.
Nevertheless, the prescient dread that permeates 2034 is its greatest strength. Its depiction of cyber warfare is chillingly real, exploiting existing anxieties surrounding our dependence on technology. The scenario of a military fleet that is almost paralysed, communication systems that are gone, and AI that is growing at a rapid rate shows a world where technology may become a problem instead of a blessing. The recent invasion of Ukraine, while not specifically covered in the book, certainly echoes some of these themes.
2034: A Novel of the Next World War offers a sobering glimpse into a potentially catastrophic future, pushing readers to ponder the implications of current geopolitical and technological trends. It underscores the need for diplomacy, cooperation, and the understanding of not only our prospective enemies but also our own fallibilities. The chilling depiction of future warfare will resonate long after the final page is turned, making it a crucial read for anyone who seeks to comprehend the possible ramifications of our shared future.