- Paperback: 402 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (October 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312261217
- ISBN-13: 978-0312261214
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 37 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Air Paperback – September 9, 2004
|New from||Used from|
"The Farmer's Son" by John Connell
"A fascinating portrait of a single sensibility, a born noticer, someone on whom nothing is lost, observing birth and death, the landscape, and his own heritage." ―Colm Tóibín, author of "Brooklyn" Learn more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
On the heels of his whimsical fantasy, Lust (2003), British author Ryman makes a triumphant return to science fiction in this superbly crafted tale. Life in Kizuldah, a village in Karzistan, has changed little over the centuries, though most homes have electricity. Chung Mae, the local fashion expert, earns her living by taking women into the city for makeovers and by providing teenagers with graduation dresses. Intelligent and ambitious, this wonderfully drawn character is also illiterate and too often ruled by her emotions. One day, the citizens of Kizuldah and the rest of the world are subjected to the testing of Air, a highly experimental communications system that uses quantum technology to implant an equivalent of the Internet in everyone's mind. During the brief test, Mae is accidentally trapped in the system, her mind meshed with that of a dying woman. Left half insane, she now has the ability to see through the quantum realm into both the past and the future. Mae soon sets out on a desperate quest to prepare her village for the impending, potentially disastrous establishment of the Air network. For all its special effects, what makes the novel particularly memorable is the detailed portrait of Kizuldah and its inhabitants. Besides being a treat for fans of highly literate SF, this intensely political book has important things to say about how developed nations take the Third World for granted.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* As pervasive technology ensures the rapid spread of pop culture and information access, few corners of the planet remain untouched. One of those is Kizuldah, Karzistan, a rice-farming village of perhaps 30 families, predominantly Chinese Buddhist but with a strong Muslim presence, among whom sharply intelligent though illiterate Mae Chung, who guides village women in dressmaking, makeup, and hairstyling, is an informal leader. When the UN decides to test the radical new technology Air, designed to make peoples' minds the receivers of a worldwide information network, 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 90 years of her 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. 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. Portraying one world dissolving into another so quickly that only the smartest and hungriest can keep up, Ryman fills it with intimate, emotional scenes of love and jealousy as well as such surreal events as a calm exchange on cosmology with a talking dog. Enthralling. Roberta Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Try the Kindle edition and experience these great reading features:
Showing 1-8 of 37 reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Ryman is an author whose name I've seen around a lot, generally attached to awards (for those keeping score and feeling more validated by reading books that are winners, this one won the British Science Fiction Association Award, the James Tiptree, Jr Award and the Arthur C Clarke Award) but given his relatively sparse output (only eight novels since 1984) I had never really encountered him until I bought this book seven years ago and got around to reading it now. But having read it, I'm very much looking forward to anything else I have buried in the stacks from him.
He appears to be one of those few writers that seem to veer back and forth from fantasy to SF and some of his books could probably be construed as having elements of both. Here he takes what could be a plausible SF scenario, namely the introduction of a quantum Internet that people can access via their minds (termed "Air) to one of the last places on Earth that hasn't been patched into the Net, a tiny village deep in the country of Karzistan (apparently based on Kazakhstan and much like that country having a mix of Asian and Muslim populations). The story focuses on Chung Mae, the aforementioned middle aged woman who spends her days doing business by advising people on fashion choices, navigating the various petty alliances and brokering deals that can only happen when the local phone book is about ten pages long and easily memorizable.
All is going well until the local government decides to do a pre-test of Air before going with the big launch later in the year. But as anyone who has ever experienced pretty much any computer product ever, there's a reason you don't beta test stuff on people and the initial test goes quite wrong, resulting in the deaths of two people and Chung Mae getting a weird kind of access that might make her very useful and very hated at the same time, if she can just get her head around it. Except that her head appears to exist in more than one dimension now. Sounds like a good time for a customer service call!
As I alluded earlier, the bare bones of this could have been a fairly terrifying scenario where the implementation of Air caused everyone in the village to go mad and force us to watch as the previously stable village descends in barbarity and depravity. However, Ryman goes somewhere much more interesting with it, even if people expecting hardcore SF are going to be extremely disappointed. There was every chance he could have made this into a sort of Third World "Neuromancer" showing a woman learning how to hack into the Net like a pro and bring the fight to the Man but he's far more interested in the personalities of the villagers themselves, spending his time throughout the book taking us through changes both gradual and catastrophic for the village.
Despite having an old and bitter woman stuck in her head due to the failed test, Mae seems to be the only person who can figure out how to make Air work for them in ways that they can handle and a lot of the tension in the book is her negotiating with the various forces involved to figure out the best outcome for everyone. The village doesn't necessarily want to change but she understands that its inevitable and a lot of what Ryman effectively explores here is how the introduction of something that could change their lives forever has the potential to completely remake their society, and in the process maybe upset the balance completely. With her access to Air giving her access to both the future and the past, Mae is doing her best to drag everyone kicking and screaming into a future that is inevitable and doesn't particularly care if they're ready for when it arrives.
A lot of this wouldn't work if he didn't delve deeply into the lives of these people, depicting them are human beings that live simply but aren't simplistic, giving them petty jealousies, capacity for grand kindnesses and the ability to make very poor decisions even with the proper information. Its not too long before Mae gets pegged as the crazy one and becomes a bit of an outcast but the real joy in reading the book is watching her interactions with friends and neighbors, as they continually adjust to the changes in their lives, only some of which are due to the introduction of Air. He's not afraid to make it all very messy, giving Mae not one but two love interests, having sympathetic characters turn on other characters for reasons that often aren't the most noble. He doesn't shy away from the cost of being a maverick, as Mae's crusade threatens to split families apart, including her own. But for people willing to look past the lack of typical SF elements, its easy to become immersed in the life of the village and its rhythms, the poor ones, the ones sleeping around, the arguments that make perfect sense in their culture even if we can't immediately grasp what the problem is. Ryman makes it feel like he's lived with these people and invests every conversation with emotional stakes that range from the low-key to the desperate, even in scenes that should come across as wacky, like Mae's slightly addled conversation with a surgically altered dog (whose ultimate request is heartbreaking) or scenes that should fairly drip with cliche, like her relationship with her lazy husband or the noble man she takes for a lover for a while. Everyone here embodies themselves and no one else.
It works so well that Ryman gets to really punch us during the climax to the novel, where a disaster that Mae has been warning about for some time finally comes to pass. In the grand tradition of Connie Willis' "Doomsday Book", he takes a bunch of people that we have come to know very well and proceeds to put them in mortal danger with no guarantee of survival, making for tense reading as something unstoppable unfolds that even the magic of Air can't fix. And that isn't even the last obstacle for Mae to overcome.
Its a fine novel that reads densely and both creates a world we've never seen and predicts the world to come. The scenario could have been handled clumsily but instead comes across as remarkably prescient and presented to us with a grace that approaches a spare beauty at times. These people aren't us but they're coping with a world changing far too rapidly for their liking, forced upon them by people who aren't entirely sure what they're doing. In 2004 when this was published the Internet was already changing everything, we just didn't know the extent of how utterly comprehensive it would be. Now when every generation can barely take stock of the changes to society before the next wave arrives, Ryman shows us how to find the balance, to focus on just living, to understand our place in the scheme of it all and ultimately realizing that nothing created by people should control us so completely that we can't find a way to make it work for ourselves.
I don't remember levels of violence and sex in Air, but I know they were far less than in The Child Garden.
Oh dear, I seem to have spent the review talking about a different book (only for the sake of comparison, honestly ;--)
I'll try Air, but it's just not memorable. The characters (in both books) are interesting, and the situations--it's hard to explain, but Ryman has the strangest gift for takng the strangest situations and making them seem matter-of-fact and everyday. Every science fiction author seems to think they have that gift, but I've never seen it like this. You can tell by how you just accept the descriptions. I don;t notice this so much while reading them, but it is strongly apparent after yoou finish reading.
On the other hand, I was dissapointed by the plot. Other reviews will tell you the details of the plot...I'll just tell you that there isn't much of one.