AIR by Geoff Ryman
( Gollancz 390pp. £14.99)
reviewed by Roz Kaveney
One of the pleasures of being a reader of science fiction is hugging to ourselves like misers several wonderful writers that most people never get to discover for themselves. Another more generous one is shouting out loud, from time to time, that people who think that they don't read sf, really need to read *this* book at least.
'Air' is a novel about people living in a village in Central Asia about twenty years from now - there is a reference to Madonna's sixtieth birthday. Mae is the fashion expert - the go-between who brings local women cosmetics and dresses from the city - but she knows that her days are numbered as television and the internet bring expertise ever closer to home. She needs a new career.
A new technology - Air - which connects all human minds directly to the Net both nearly destroys Mae during its first test and gives her her chance. It kills her aged neighbour Mrs Tung and traps her mind in Mae's, giving Mae a sense of how life used to be and how many dangers might return. Air in other words makes her a prophet, and creates for her all the problems that prophets have in their home town.
This is a book with technology in it, and an achingly beautiful sense of remote mountains and the houses that nestle among them, and of the complex messy lives of people caught between modernity and the traditional. It is delicately erotic, and hearstopping in its sense of the perils of friendship and often very funny as its trickster heroine tries to escape the traps set for her by the past and the future. It is also as well informed about the growing of rice and the cutting of stylish clothes as it is about quantum theory and information technology.
None of Geoff Ryman's books is quite like another - 'Air' is perhaps his most mature book in that it is the one that is most like each one of all of the rest, only better and richer than any of them.
Meanwhile, I went to see 'Serenity' this evening with dolores and we agreed that it was way cool. David liked it even though he was a 'Firefly' virgin, though not for much longer since I paced him off with most of the episodes...
More comments than 'pretty' and 'shiny' will follow in due course.