The next world war is 13 years away—that is, if you live in the world envisioned by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis in their novel 2034: A Novel of the Next World War.
When writing about the intersection of combat and diplomacy in their near-future thriller, the co-authors draw from personal experience. Ackerman worked in the White House and served five tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Stavridis, a retired United States Navy admiral, served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
2034 plays out a what-if scenario, starting with an incident between the Chinese and U.S. that escalates into a major conflict. “You could certainly say right now, vis-a-vis the United States’ relationship with China, that if we’re not in a Cold War, we are at least in sort of the foothills of a Cold War,” Ackerman tells me on the new episode of New Books in Science Fiction.
Told through the eyes of multiple main characters from five nations, war begins to seem inevitable as deceit, posturing, and a game of chicken makes it harder and harder for the countries’ leaders to back down. In real life, Ackerman feels that a conflict between the U.S. and China is possible—but not inevitable. “It’s a cautionary tale. There’s still time to take the exit ramp,” he says.