FORGOTTEN BOOK: WAVE RIDER by Hilbert Schenck, 1980
This is the 127th in my series of Forgotten Books.
Serendipity is an odd thing. For several months I had been looking for a copy of Wave Rider by Hilbert Schenck because I read his short stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF). The reason I read those stories there was because in the mid-1970’s I won a year’s subscription to F&SF in one of their contest. One of the other winners in that same contest was Steven Utley, a friend. Steve died this last Saturday after a short fight with cancer.
I had already read this book in preparation for the column so it was totally serendipitous. But life can be that way. If you have not read Utley’s work, you should. I reviewed Ghost Seas about six months ago and he spoke kindly of my review at ArmadilloCon last August.
Hilbert Schenk is a rarity in these reviews, in that I have never met the man. Many of the books I review here are by people I know or met along the last 40 years of going to conventions and buying books. But Schenck was not one of them. According to Wikipedia, he is from the Boston area where I have never been.
I first noted Schenck’s work in F&SF around 1977 when he began publishing there (the Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists a short story from 1953 called “Tomorrow’s Weather” which was also published in F&SF (and which I will be reading tomorrow). This volume Wave Rider contains the best of the 70’s Schenck short fiction. Five stories (three from F&SF, one from the anthology Chrysalis and one original to the book) make up a quick read of 237 pages, so they are all basically novellas.
All the stories are based around the sea. Four have man fighting the elements while on features an island battling for survival. “The Morphology of the Kirkham Wreck” is the first piece. In this story a man merges his mind with the ocean to try to prevent a great sea disaster. It was an OK story but not what I felt should have led the book off. That would have been “Three Days at the End of the World”. In this story, a lone scientist is investigating a chemical herbicide that is 100% effective and self replicating and is thriving in the Atlantic Ocean. His struggle to come to grips with Man’s bringing about his own death and whether it fits the Robert Frost or TS Eliot model (“fire and ice” vs. “not with a bang, but with a whimper”). Next is the new story “Buoyant Ascent” where a small band must try to figure out how to save 70 people trapped 900 feet below the surface in a submarine. Politics and lives compete as they try to develop a technique that might work though the depth is more than 200 feet than any successful rescue recorded.
Next up is the title piece “Wave Rider” where a man wants to ride the fastest 24 hours in a wind powered boat ever. It involves a trimaran that is computer operated and which speaks in his dead wife’s voice. He has trouble not calling it by her name. He needs to catch a huge set of waves and ride them out like a surfboard to achieve this feat.
Finally there is “The Battle of Abaco Reef”, probably the best piece in the book. It features a small island group in the Caribbean, close to Cuba who is talking about independence from the US which is quite weak. In fact, Florida’s governor is trying to pull some political fast ones and instigates a battle plan to attack the islands. Dr. Susan Peabody is in the islands for the UN and is observing Shastri cycles, which is some fictional master plan that she can see through the use of “political cocaine” which allows her to understand multiple layers and actions as they are occurring. The island group is defended by a group of children operating military weapons with a 100% kill rate on attacking forces. My description does not do the story justice. The story was a finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula in 1980. Schenck had one other Nebula and three other Hugo nominations for short fiction during his writing career. He published four novels (At the Eye of the Ocean, A Rose for Armageddon, Steam Bird, and Chronosequence) before he stopped writing. I could find no listing for work since 1993. If he is still alive he would be around 86 years old.
There are plenty of copies of this book, his other fiction and some ocean engineering texts that Schenck authored at the usual spots on the web. Check him out and look up Steven Utley while you are at it.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.