I was deceived by the cover of M. M. Buckner’s War Surf into thinking the story was more of the Neuromancer ilk with the action happening in the cyber realm. Despite the bait and switch, and a truly detestable protagonist, I managed to slog my way through the novel. Surprisingly, I was quite satisfied with the ending.
War Surf documents the self-absorbed antics of a small band of post-apocalypse, hyper rich executives. These over-gene-engineered corporate Methuselahs, led by one Nasir Deepra, parachute into restricted areas of labor unrest, broadcast their joy rides for fame and fortune, and occasionally fry the unfortunate prote (protected employee) that gets in their way. A particularly juicy target is the legendary Heaven, an orbiting satellite under complete lockdown and which Deepra seems to know too much about.
Deepra, despite being hundreds of years old, falls head over heels for a young idealistic executive named Sheeba. To the point of seriously annoying this reader, Deepra fawns over Sheeba, gets violently jealous, and launches into rash acts as if he was a teenager. Goaded by Sheeba and one of his crewmates, Deepra leads a war surf of Heaven.
Things go disastrously for the run, and Deepra and Sheeba get captured and trapped with the denizens of Heaven, a fairly pathetic collection of youngsters barely subsisting against the corporation trying to wipe them off the satellite. Here too Deepra is particularly annoying in his running condescension towards the spacebound “protes”, despite their saving his and Sheeba’s life on multiple occasions. Even worse, Sheeba falls for one of the protes which causes Deepra no end of consternation and brings out his most base and treacherous instincts.
Literally being one of the most self-absorded, clueless, and pathetic characters I’ve ever read about I was amazed that Buckner was able to ultimately redeem Deepra. He finally realizes the protes he so looks down upon represent a humanity that existed before the apocalypse. An apocalypse he barely survived somewhat due to chance, with great personal loss, and with exposure to great horrors. Meanwhile, his life has become an empty existence of tempting and cheating death to no good purpose. His final act of sacrifice is all the more bittersweet due to the careful crafting of his odiousness.
War Surf is a bit uneven, and definitely not a great book. For example, getting to Heaven takes quite a while, even though it’s clear the satellite has to be the tale’s final destination. But if you can enjoy a tale of a true anti-hero it can make a quick and stimulating read.
Be advised that people who read and write a lot more science fiction than I do granted War Surf the Philip K. Dick award.