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War Surf
M.M. Buckner
Ace, 375 pages

War Surf
M.M. Buckner
M.M. Buckner earned a B.A. in English Literature from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), studied writing at Harvard University, then earned an M.A. in Creative Writing at Boston University. She has traveled through Europe, New Zealand and North America, lived in California, Alaska, Maine and Massachusetts, and now resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

As marketing vice president for a nationwide financial firm, her writing earned two Diamond Addy Awards. She is currently a freelance writer, environmental activist, and ardent whitewater kayaker. Other publishing credits include magazine features, marketing materials, and content for numerous Web sites. She recently authored a major research report for the World Wildlife Fund.

M.M. Buckner's first novel, Hyperthought, was nominated for the 2003 Philip K. Dick Award (for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States). Her second novel, Neurolink, was published in August, 2004. Her third novel, War Surf, published in September 2005, has been nominated for the 2005 Philip K. Dick Award.

Author's website
BOOK REVIEWS: War Surf: 1, 2, 3, 4
INTERVIEW: About global warming, on The Future and You, December 15, 2005 - as a Podcast

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Initially parallel to but ultimately escaping from the self-isolated and self-destructive character of J.K. Huysman's character Des Esseintes in À Rebours (1888) (Against the Grain, a.k.a. Against Nature), and if in another era and societal context, Nasir Deepra, in his mid-200s—but kept young by nanotechnology and replacement parts—has seen it all. Now a semi-retired hugely wealthy and powerful executive who has survived ecological Armageddon and rebuilt the world economy with a handful of friends, he can and has done pretty much everything that can be done... and (like Des Esseintes) he is bored silly and out of touch with the greater mass of humanity. Rather than sink into a funk, he and a group of like-bored execs, the Agonists, equipped to the teeth with electronic gadgets, body suits, weaponry and Internet video uplink make an extreme sport of showing up and sauntering through armed conflicts opposing plebes (workers) and commies (giant corporations). They and other such groups have quite a following, complete with rankings. When Deepra's blossoming romance with Sheeba, a 20-year old very much flesh-and-blood masseuse, whose mystery and spunk exert a fascination over him that has done more to draw him out of his funk than ten war surfs, this sets the Agonists at odds with him and leads an easy war surf to turn into an utter fiasco. The Agonists must pull the mother of all surfs to get on top again: 'Heaven,' an orbiting factory which has been fully quarantined after a quashed plebe revolt, a factory of which Deepra is one of the CEOs, and of which he and his financial cronies would rather keep the details hush-hush. What Deepra and Sheeba find there will change both their fates and those of the plebes.

What starts as a battle scene account in the vein of Starship Troopers, and could easily have continued to less effect as a typical shoot-'em-up, soon shifts to a study of the interplay between the members of the Agonists and how the intrusion of Sheeba disrupts their chemistry (think Yoko Ono and the Beatles). Partly it is about Deepra's shedding the strictures of his distanced, detached and uncaring view of the underclass (i.e., all but his immediate friends and business associates) that war surfing and his position has inculcated in him. In this he is drawn along by Sheeba's flightly but bright-eyed and bushy-tailed optimism and social activism. The transformation in Deepra proceeds further, as he as led, if kicking and screaming at times, to view the human cost of his commercial empire, and the cost to him of his insulation from rather than embracing of wide-raging human interaction. This is well portrayed, and while Deepra is never portrayed as the sort of actively unpleasant hard-nosed 'boss' that a 23rd century Pete Seeger would rant about, Deepra's transformation is nonetheless significant.

The portrayal of his Agonist co-surfers, if not a main focus, does flesh out their characters, and one female character coming to the realization that it is best to just end the palliative regenerations of her body, and accept decay and death sets up a counter-point to Deepra and Heaven's plebe-survivors route towards a quasi-immortality; one, which at least in Deepra's case, he has learned to manage in a new, far more healthy manner. Perhaps, come to think of it, the problem I had with War Surf was that there really wasn't a 'bad guy' in the story, no one was actively and underhandedly trying to do nasty things—Deepra commits sins of indifference and ignorance rather than of activism. Along the same lines, some subtle element—to use a term popular with Sheeba, 'aura'—of the male characters left them not as I would, as a man, have imagined a man to perceive the world. Whether this is a result of the author's gender, or my own idiosyncratic view of what the 'male experience' is, I can't say. Still, considering the accolades War Surf has received, it's quite a ways up from your typical recontextualized western or battle narrative, and well worth the read.

Copyright © 2006 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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