In 2054, retired Admiral James Stavridis, who served as the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in the Obama administration, again teams up with Marine veteran and White House Fellow Elliot Ackerman for a geopolitical thriller. Set in the not-too-distant future, the plot revolves around the impact of advanced AI, and America's ongoing political divide. The novel was released March 12 by Penguin Press and is a sequel to the authors’ 2034, released by Penguin in 2021.

Why did you choose to write about threats to the U.S. in a novel, rather than a work of nonfiction?

Close to a decade ago, I started thinking about the 21st century and I saw three big problems coming along:U.S.–China relations, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, and climate. I felt that an interesting way to discuss them would be through a trilogy of novels. Why fiction? Simply because you can splash a lot more paint on the canvas with fiction - you can imagine your way to very dark scenarios that hopefully will not come true, and I think you end up with a broader audience. Where I began this process of thinking about cautionary fiction was with Cold War literature—The Hunt for Red October, Fail-Safe, The Bedford Incident, On the Beach—that showed us how terrible it would be if the U.S. and the Soviet Union got into a conflict.

Without spoiling the plot of 2054, was there a work of nonfiction that was an inspiration for it?

Ray Kurzweil wrote an extremely prescient book over a decade ago called The Singularity Is Near, whose idea was that, over time, there is going to be a merger between what we think of today as biology, computer science, artificial intelligence, and micro- engineering. I've always been fascinated by that book, which is nonfiction and a predictive book that's turning out to be quite accurate in my view. The epigraph in 2054 is a bit of an homage to his brilliant book. Let's leave it at that.

How do you avoid the events in your books from being overtaken by reality? For example, in the first book in your trilogy, there's a reference to a one-term Pence Presidency.

That's a terrific question and I'll answer it using a military construct, which is to say that the strategic arc has held up quite well, and I think is going to hold up. This geopolitical tension between the U.S. and China is going to be a salient feature of the century as will the rise of India. Part of that strategic arc is how will artificial intelligence and biotech fall into that geopolitical construct. And I think that's holding up right in front of our eyes. So think that the concerns that I'm cautioning about have held up very well. Bottom line, your strategic level themes, I think, have to hold up for the reader, while the operational ones, you'll get some forgiveness on. I think most readers understand the tactical level examples you throw out there are gonna be very hit or miss.

What has been the hardest part of conveying what you’ve learned from your career into fiction, and what's been the most surprising?

The hardest part is staying within the bounds of classified material. I still have the highest-level classification because I do advisory work for the government, so making sure I stay well inside the boundaries of classified material has been challenging. What has surprised me is the pure enjoyment of writing fiction. Before 2034, I had written nine previous works of nonfiction, and I love writing. I've always been that kid who was the editor of the high school newspaper, and then was the editor of the college magazine, and I've published literally hundreds of articles. But I had never written fiction. And so the thrill of being able to move these characters around and change the circumstances, and not be in that straitjacket of fact, was surprisingly liberating for me. The fit and finish of a good novel is very, very hard and I am very happy to be paired up with someone who's written half a dozen novels at this point, and who is modest, thoughtful, and pays attention to the craft of writing.

Was 2054 harder to write than 2034?

Yes, because it is further out, and because the issues that it deals with are more complicated than a bilateral war. 2054 is more nuanced, covers more difficult terrain and therefore harder to write, requiring more thought.