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Air: Or, Have Not Have Paperback – Sep 9 2004
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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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Don't be fooled. Chung Mae's adventures, while limited to her village and the nearby provincial capitol, are the most mind-blowing emotional, intellectual, terror and sense-of-wonder filled thrill ride since Dan Simmons's Hyperion. And in the same way that Neal Stephenson's 3000 page Baroque Trilogy deals with the previous global social, political, religious, scientific, and economic revolution that gave us our modern world, AIR is a rigorous, visceral, intensely moving and completely convincing portrayal of the next one--all from the point of view of an illiterate, "developing world" wife and mother, who happens to be the most real, engaging and three-dimensional character I've ever encountered in any science fiction book.
Get to know her, care for her, and, yes, worry about her, and by page 200, you'll witness a series of revelations--personal, social, political, biological, and even cosmological--so explosive, you'll think the book cannot possibly top itself--but you'll be only half-way through. There are several plateaus yet to go, on the way to a climax that had me in tears (literally) and at the same time filled me with hope.
This is the year that cyberpunk goes from apocalyptic to revolutionary.
The revolution won't be televised. But it will be AIRed.
Air has the texture, richness, and fantastical complications (ghosts, visions, layering of mythology and folklore and technology and history) of other slipstream Ryman novels. It's a remarkable and magical act of transformation on Ryman`s part, and it's an experience that transforms his reader as well. I fell in love with his characters, and am still carrying them around in my head. The ending is literally transcendent. Air is not only profound, it`s also marvelously written, deeply joyful, and -- even more rare -- optimistic.
Another science fiction novel that touches on the themes of dignity and resiliency of the human spirit is An Audience for Einstein, an intelligent young adult title. I'm far too old to wear that young adult label myself, but still found it enjoyable and highly worthwhile.
This is an amazing novel of ideas about the future of the internet as well as the future of the third world. The characters are diverse, strange, funny, very likeable, and amazingly real. I have no idea how Ryman can write completely convincingly ( and with his usual high degree of eloquence) from the perspective of a middle-aged uneducated ethnic Chinese woman in a fictional far-East country in the near future (whew), but, well, you'll see. Moving, optimistic (which is such a rarity in science fiction these days!), and resonant, Air really may be Ryman's best. Not to be missed!