Sunday, April 01, 2007
Karzistan lies between Tibet, China, and Kazakhstan, and has had a mixed history influenced by the Chinese and Russians over the centuries. There a village high on a hill - 30 houses or so, a couple of 100 people, farmers and peasants - get a TV for the first time. But all around them the world prepares for the next step - from the internet to air - everything you can think of beamed straight into your head, and available with a simple thought. The villages isolation is about to end , whether it likes it or not. When Air is tested, the unprepared village is thrown into turmoil. Mae seems to be driven mad by the test and some of its more tragic results. But at the same time she seems to be the only one prepared to ensure that the village is ready for when Air goes live for real in a year’s time. Mae, farmer’s wife and the village fashion expert by virtue of knowing where to shop when she travels to the nearest town, can see her world come crumbling down, everyone will have knowledge and the reality of keeping the farm in business won’t just go away.
Air or Have Not Have is the second novel I have read by Geoff Ryman. Expanding on the short story Have Not Have, which I read a few years ago in Gardner Dozois’s annual collection of the Best SF short stories. Ryman takes an approach to science fiction which he calls “mundane”, the idea being that he only writes from an extension of what he considers real science. As such a lot of Air is about the culture clash of an isolated village brought kicking and screaming into the world, with that little nudge of technology that takes us from now into the future.
Some of the flashes into the past and future that Mae experiences are a little too reminiscent of The Child Garden, and some of the parts of Ryman’s writing that I am less keen on. Especially the way he handles those aspects of his work, though certainly within the context I suppose he has to do something to illustrate the scope of his work, to give it depth and history. I find some of his trigger points, the key points which move the story along, are a little grating for me. Forcing the novel to expand and become more than a short story in a manner that can feel brash. There can often be a strange sensation though, expanding from a short to a novel, which takes a little getting over with. But for any point where Ryman grates he also provides plenty of wonderful ideas. And I found myself drawn into Mae’s life, affected by the ups and downs, touched by the tragedies and fears as the future threatens to pummel the past. So that in the end I found Air thoroughly enjoyable.
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