St. Martin’s Press
Review by Peter Young in Big Sky #1 (2013).
I doubt Ryman’s Mundane SF ‘manifesto’ will ever turn out to be a rod for his back, thought that will obviously depend on his ability to work creatively within the limiting boundaries he has set for his science fiction. But if Air is indicative of the direction he wants to take things we shouldn’t worry: it’s a thoroughly engaging, mostly believable and humane work of extrapolative fiction, set in a near future Asian village in the fictional country of Karzistan (loosely based on Kazakhstan) beset by the fear and attraction engendered by ‘Air’, a future development of the internet as the means for complete human interconnectivity.
What pushes the novel onward and engaged me most is how a step forward is followed by two steps back as the protagonist Chung Mae, a peasant fashion designer, is driven (and often forced by circumstances) to take her village three steps forward again in the name of surviving the disaster only she knows will come, if anyone will believe her. This may be a classic story of old ways of life being brought up sharply against the new but the battleground is here found in the virtual spaces between people, and it’s the real-world interdependence of friends, family, rivals and strangers depicted in Mae’s life, in the face of this sweeping change, that gives Air a memorable but bittersweet aftertaste. A fabulous book.