(? - ) US author and environmental activist (she has done work for the World Wildlife Fund) whose first three sf novels are set on an exceedingly grim but realistic planet Earth, though her excessively intricate plotting tends to divert attention from the harshness of the Near Future/moderately distant future she posits. HyperThought (2001) and War Surf (2005) – the latter won the Philip K Dick Award for 2006 – are closely linked. An accumulation of early twenty-first-century Ecological disasters has driven humanity to the poles, though even there it is dangerous to go above-ground; in the sequence, a "surfer" is defined as a person who ventures onto the surface of the planet. After a century or so of this, the rich/poor divide has become even more grotesque than in the early years of this century; the rich are able to afford Rejuvenation procedures, while billions of short-lived illiterate "proles" clog the Underground cities; huge corporations rule the planet. There are resemblances to the world David Marusek has evolved in the stories that climax in his Counting Heads (2005), but Buckner is less sanguine, though the ending of War Surf, whose rejuvenated protagonist sacrifices himself to make others potentially Immortal, reaches towards the kind of transcendental climax favoured by Hard SF writers like Stephen Baxter. The foreground of her tales is (somewhat damagingly) occupied by larger-than-life protagonists who usually speak to us in the first person, and whose adventures in Dystopia are sometimes distracting: to war surf, for instance, is to get intimate with one of the planet's innumerable armed conflicts, and to come back to the Polders [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] of the rich with unbeatable footage.
Neurolink (2004; vt The Coin Giver 2009) is set in a similar world which, being less focused upon, fails to anchor the tale. Watermind (2008) pushes beyond Near Future Technothriller boundaries into true sf territory as its titular riverine Monster – an AI spawned from high-tech wastes, reminiscent of The Blob (1958) – becomes increasingly menacing. The Gravity Pilot (2011) replays the Orpheus myth in a Near Future America afflicted by Climate Change; one protagonist is a star sky-diver from Alaska, the other lives in Seattle, a cultural enclave now totally Underground, where she becomes addicted to the hell of Virtual Reality. But when she is undistracted, Buckner is a chillingly substantial writer. [JC]
Mary M Buckner
- HyperThought (New York: Ace Books, 2001) [HyperThought: pb/Craig White]
- War Surf (New York: Ace Books, 2005) [HyperThought: pb/Christian McGrath]
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