Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis, "2034: A Novel of the Next World War" (Penguin, 2021)

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The next world war is 13 years away—that is, if you live in the world envisioned by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War (Penguin, 2021).

When writing about the intersection of combat and diplomacy, the co-authors draw from experience. Ackerman has worked in the White House and served five tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. Stavridis, a retired United States Navy admiral, served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and, after leaving the Navy, as the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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 says.

Told through the eyes of multiple main characters from five nations, the escalating conflict begins to seem inevitable as deceit, posturing, and a game of chicken made it harder and harder for the countries’ leaders to back down. Ackerman feels that a conflict between the U.S. and China in real life is possible but not inevitable.

“It's a cautionary tale. There's still time to take the exit ramp,” he says.

Rob Wolf is the host of New Books in Science Fiction and the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape.

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