JS: It’s important to say that this is not a predictive book. It’s a cautionary tale designed to help us stay out of events like this. And it’s about trends, where things are going.
MS: What are the trends that keep you up at night?
JS: The number one thing is the thought of a massive cyberattack against the United States—that our opponents will refine cyber stealth and artificial intelligence in a kind of a witch’s brew and then use it against us.
“We didn’t start with 2034. We were actually further in the future. And the more we wrote, the more we started bringing the date closer and closer and realizing, no, no, no, no, no. This stuff is happening.”
Number two, we have to worry about this sense you get of the US and China sleepwalking potentially into a real war. If it happens, I would argue it’ll happen in the South China Sea because our forces are in confluence. It is the land of unintended consequences, the South China Sea.
I’d also note the spoiler role that a nation like Iran or Russia can play. It is interesting that both Iran and Russia are inheritors of huge empires. But their day has passed. And they can create a great deal of mischief on the international scene. Elliot?
EA: I would say I slept a lot better before I started working on this project.
MS: I slept better before I ever read this book.
EA: One thing that was fascinating while working on the book was that real-world events would overtake our drafts. A big one was the death of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, assassinated in a drone strike in January 2020. In an earlier draft of this book he’s mentioned a number of times, but in that draft he’s alive in the year 2034. So we had to rework that. Then there’s the coronavirus. It obviously needed to be mentioned in a few places.
Looking back, the world that we began writing this book into is now a very different world. So who knows what the world will look like in 2034?
MS: You know, when you start this book, it feels like a work of fiction set way in the future. But somehow by the time you end, it feels like it’s gotten much closer.
JS: Yeah. When we started writing, you had a Trump administration that was in a trade negotiation with China, and you felt like, OK, we’re gonna work through this. And boy has that cratered. In every dimension since we started writing the book, the relationship with China has worsened. And there’s no reason to think that it’s suddenly going to reverse itself with the Biden team. So your point is well taken. It does feel closer to us, and we are closer to 2034.
EA: You know we didn’t start with that date, with 2034. We were actually further in the future. And the more we wrote, the more we started bringing the date closer and closer and realizing, no, no, no, no, no. This stuff is happening.
MS: Do the events that happened here, between the election in November and January 6th at the US Capitol, make you think differently about your cautionary tale?
EA: Toward the end of the book, Chowdhury is thinking of a speech by Lincoln, in which he said: “All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. . . . If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.” The events between the election and the riot at the Capitol certainly took us much closer to that “suicide.” I very much hope we can find a way to avoid it.