First Look: ‘2054’ Explores America’s Precarious Future in a World Dominated By AI

August 28, 2023Mac Caltrider

'2054' goes on sale in March 2024. Composite by Coffee or Die.

In 2021, Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis — both retired military officers turned writers — co-wrote the geopolitical thriller 2034. A New York Times bestseller, the novel paints an alarmingly plausible scenario in which the United States and China face off in the South China Sea, leading to a nuclear catastrophe. Now, the two authors have reunited for a highly anticipated sequel: 2054.

2054 begins 20 years after the United States and China started a global conflict in which both nations deployed tactical nukes and killed millions of each other’s citizens. The war ended in a stalemate. Two decades later, the US is still licking its wounds.


US Marines march in a pass in review during the evening parade at Mare Barracks Washington, Washington, D.C., June 19, 2015. The Marines stationed at the Corps' oldest post play a significant role in 2054. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Hailey Stuart.

In the year 2054, as described by Ackerman and Stavridis, proxy wars are no longer fought in contested countries like Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan. Instead, they are waged in cyberspace and in biology labs. Meanwhile, the US president is using the cause of national security to expand his powers, threatening to remain in office indefinitely, and stoking widespread dissent among the American people. The country teeters on the brink of a civil war. And if that weren’t scary enough, an unexpected new threat emerges: dangerous advances in artificial intelligence and biotechnology that threaten to upend the global political order. State and nonstate actors race to control what the authors describe as “an intelligence explosion.” 

With 2034, Ackerman and Stavridis proved they could merge their intimate understanding of US-China relations with their own military experiences to create a terrifyingly realistic imagining of the future. Ackerman, a former Marine Raider, deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan before beginning his career as a novelist. Stavridis served for more than 30 years as a naval officer and rose to the position of supreme allied commander of NATO.


In 2054, Americans struggle to prevent the nation from imploding. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

In 2054, the two retired officers breathe fresh life into the story they began in their previous book. It’s a thrilling ride with less of a military focus than the prequel and more politicking. Capitol Hill replaces the South China Sea as center stage. Rather than making tactical decisions in far-flung Asian battlefields, American commanders must weigh the consequences of either participating in or squashing attempted coup d’etats in Washington. And while breakthroughs in artificial intelligence drive the plot, the novel remains a character-driven story about war and politics, and the way people in power often navigate the two with the clumsiness of a dinghy in a hurricane. 

The larger role of technology in 2054 gives the sequel a more sci-fi feel than 2034, which could perhaps best be described as a techno-thriller. Replete with cloak-and-dagger conspiracies, a state-controlled media, and a further deterioration of the public’s trust in Washington, 2054 is a soberingly cleareyed forecast of how a second American Civil War might come about. 

Read Next: Marine Veteran Ben Fortier Parses the Nuances of Combat in New Book

Mac Caltrider
Mac Caltrider

Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.

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