Book Review: ‘War Surf’ by M. M. Buckner

M. M. Buckner is one of the new bright hopes of US SF. ‘War Surf’ is her third novel, and examines a future Earth where capitalism has reached its most extreme possible outcome. Economic and environmental disaster has created an Orwellian world of ‘protes’ and executives, the classic worker-aristo schism.

The tale’s narrator, Nasir Deepra is a founding member of the executive class, two and a half centuries old, his body maintained by semi-autonomous nanotech. He and others of his class indulge in a sport called ‘war surfing’ to give their pampered lives some spice – this involves them dropping into regions of armed conflict between protes and corporate police, and getting footage of themselves in the thick of the action without getting arrested.

There are some great ideas being developed in this book, with themes of innocence and the ennui of excess underpinning. But the tale takes a long time to get going. Nearly a hundred pages pass before the indolent dilettantism of the War Surfers has been filled out, and only then do things start to get to the real meat of the story, which takes place on an orbital food manufactory that happens to be run by a company that Deepra controls. Stranded on said orbital, with his idealistic young masseuse and the crew of the manufactory, he is forced to confront the demons of his past, and the drives of his present, and to reconcile his lifestyle and philosophy with the unheeded outcomes of his actions on others.

The story seems constrained by the first person viewpoint; it is very hard to feel much sympathy toward Deepra in the early parts of the book, despite little hints toward skeletons in closets. At least true to character, Deepra’s narration is very monomaniacal. This works very well in places, but makes other sections slow and difficult to read. The strengths lie more in strong symbolism and the vision, the ideas behind the story. It feels a lot less cinematic and action-based than a lot of work that current US writers are producing, and has a good moral sensibility behind it that mercifully steers well clear of cloying sentiment or breast-beating. This is a promising piece by a journeyman author, and an interesting commentary on the possible future of unrestrained globalisation.

{NB: This review originally published in Interzone #202}

Addendum 07/05/06: Obviously this book was thought of far more highly by others than by myself, as it won the Philip K. Dick Award this year. So much for my judgement!

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