Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Geoff Ryman: Air

Every so often I come across a book that I ought, in principle, to like. But somehow I don't. And this is the way it was with Geoff Ryman's Air.

Air is a work of science fiction. Which means, oddly enough, that it has its feet on the ground. SF books do not, by and large, have the kind of pretensions which one has, regrettably, come to expect from literary works. And, furthermore, Air has won wide recognition as an excellent example of its genre: the book has won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the British Science Fiction Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award; it was on the short list for the Nebula Award. Despite all that, I couldn't take to it.

The central character in the novel is Mae, a middle-aged woman who is living in Karzistan; her home is in 'the last village in the world to go online'. Here's the publisher's description of what happens:
When the UN decides to test the radical new technology Air, Mae is boiling laundry and chatting with elderly Mrs Tung. The massive surge of Air energy swamps them, and when the test is finished, Mrs Tung is dead, and Mae has absorbed her 90 years of memories. Rocked by the unexpected deaths and disorientation, the UN delays fully implementing Air, but Mae sees at once that her way of life is ending. Half-mad, struggling with information overload, the resentment of much of the village, and a complex family situation, she works fiercely to learn what she needs to ride the tiger of change.
In other words, what we have here is a thoughtful, intelligent, and well written novel about the impact of technology, and how to remain human though wired. Air is absolutely relevant to our age, and has nothing whatever wrong with it technically. It just turned out to be a novel that I didn't want to read.

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