“Air: Or, Have Not Have”
Geoff Ryman , Orion 2005, St. Margin’s Griffin 2004
Geoff Ryman wearing
the Tiptree tiara
What happens when all boundaries are crossed, national, cultural, and individual, when “Air,” an internet-in-your-head technology, connects people with drastic consequences. Mae, the book’s heroine, is a rural dressmaker, fashion consultant, and entrepreneur. Flooded with the memories of her 90 year old neighbor, she struggles to maintain her identity against madness. Political machinations and a flood threaten to overwhelm her country and her village in “Karzistan.” Mae has to act quickly. The unusual pregnancy in mid-book is jarring, which challenges readers’ expectations of what boundaries stories can push. That level of wrongness dislocates the reader, to give an analogous experience of the boundary-violations the characters are experiencing. [LH]
What’s amazing about Air is not just what it accomplishes but what it avoids. There are many ways this novel could have gone wrong, and as I read it for the first time, I was torn between excitement at having discovered something truly special and fear of the inevitable false step that would ruin it. But Geoff Ryman never stumbled.
Air is a smart, moving story about men and women—especially women—striving to adapt to a new technology and the threat and promise of cultural change it brings with it. Though the issues it dramatizes are all too real, is never preachy. Its characters are not props in service of a polemic, but three-dimensional human beings you can believe in and care about. And while Kizuldah is a fictional village in an imaginary country, it feels more genuine than many a third-world literary setting I could name. In short, it’s fantastic. Read it. [MR]