by M. M. Buckner
Ace, 2005, ISBN 0-441-01320-1
Buckner’s new novel is set in the same post-environmental collapse world as her earlier Neurolink, this time among a group of aging executive-class extreme sports enthusiasts. They call themselves the Agonists, and their “extreme sport” is war surfing—taking fast, and thoroughly recorded, runs through the war zones of 23rd-century labor relations. Their leader is Nasir Deepra, two and a half centuries old, old enough that he lived through the collapse as an adult, and remembers an Earth whose surface was still habitable.
Nasir and his aging comrades are at the top of their sport, but they have a weakness they don’t recognize yet: Nasir is infatuated with a beautiful physical therapist, Sheeba, who’s in her twenties, and too well-adjusted to regard him as anything other than a father figure. Nasir, in his dogged pursuit of Sheeba, will do anything to please or impress her, including strong-arm his buddies into including her on their war surfs. This quickly goes—somewhat humorously—wrong, knocking the Agonists out of first place, and in fact down to fourth place, in the standings but, after some stressful moments melding Sheeba into the team while fatally weakening Nasir’s ability to veto a surf he knows will be disastrous, a surf of the orbital factory called Heaven. Nasir is chairman of the board of the company that owns Heaven, and he knows what none of the others do—what the labor dispute is about, and why Provendia is so very determined to hide it. When Nasir’s suit malfunctions on the surf, and Nasir and Sheeba find themselves stranded inside Heaven, with its unexpectedly young and naturally suspicious prote (“protected employees”, the 23rd century’s lower classes) population, Nasir, the protes, and even Sheeba—the most sensible of them all—are in for some shocking and dangerous re-education about how the world really works, and the reader gets an exciting ride.
There are some weaknesses here, and the ending is a bit heavy-handedly sentimental, but this is a fun book, and Nasir, with all his self-deceptions, is another believable, basically decent and likable character.