Science Fiction can be the best of all the genres; there are so many opportunities to explore. You can set a book in an alternative present, or on a distant planet far unlike our own. The main problem with an infinite world of possibilities is that Science Fiction can sometimes be impenetrable. Crazy uses of language or concepts that only a Mensa member can get their head’s round. Many authors like to keep things simple; perhaps setting their book in our own world with a tweak or two. Geoff Ryman sought to do this in ‘Air’, but rather than creating a coherent alternative history book, he has produced something that is both bland and confusing.
Karzistan is finally ready to get itself noticed by introducing the concept of Air across the country; a sort of internet that pushes itself into everybody’s mind. The village of Kizuldah is not really ready for these developments as it is so remote that it has existed in a similar manner for centuries. Only Mae Chung sees the opportunities that Air could bring, but when the first experiments leaves her with a dual personality, will the villagers listen to her?
‘Air’ is an odd book and one that I found hard to read. It looks like it is going to be a slice of hard Science Fiction, but it soon becomes obvious that it is more a melodrama set around the petty politics of a remote village in a far flung country. This was not what I signed up for when starting the book, but was willing to give it a chance, after all the idea of futuristic technology effecting a backwards community is an interesting one.
The issue I had was that the rather interesting tech is really only a catalyst to the rather dull family drama story. We get glimpses of what Air is meant to be, but Ryman is constantly dragging us back to the problems of the village. A lot of the story could have been identical if the concept of internet of the mind was replaced with the villages arguing over the idea of a new well. It felt like the Science Fiction elements was all smoke and mirrors. Is Ryman a frustrated modern fiction writer who has found himself only signed to a Science Fiction contract?
Two separate books would have made for better reads; one about a bunch of villagers talking amongst each other, the other an actual Science Fiction book that explored the concept of Air. Instead you get a very boring book about family ties and then to top it all of an increasingly confusing Sci Fi element and bizarre body horror section that entangles the end. Neither part of the book was satisfying, but both together made it borderline unreadable.