...everyone would be forced to read Air, or Have Not Have by Geoff Ryman. People who say they hate science fiction would have to read it, people who say they love science fiction would have to read it. The illiterate would have to learn to read just to read this book.
If I'd been a nominator, this is the book I'd have put up for consideration. I would have cried and said, "I was robbed!" if it lost. There's not a novel out there that I'm more disappointed by the lack of conversation about. This novel should be winning awards like nobody's business (not that awards necessarily count for much, but some books deserve them--and in fairness, Air was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award this year). Of course, it took ten years to get published and has only been out in the United States since late 2004, which means this book could still find an audience. If you're incredibly smart and lucky, you'll be in it. So, maybe I should tell you a little bit about the book, huh?
I first wrote about Air over on my own site Shaken & Stirred in January (and that's a lengthier reaction, so check it out). To steal a bit of plot synopsis from the Publisher's Weekly review:
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.
I half-wonder if the inexplicable lack of readers of this book has to do with the fact that it concerns itself with so many things that most science fiction novels don't: namely how the third world interfaces with first world technology on a personal level and the strictures on poor women in patriarchal cultures, especially in small villages. To cast how change comes to societies, in both good and bad ways, through the story of a poor "fashion expert" in a non-Western culture is a pretty radical tactic for any novel looking to find an audience. But this book has important things to say. We should listen. It will make you laugh, it will draw you in, it will break your heart, it will leave you pleasantly flabbergasted and with substantial things to consider. The book never feels forced. The female characters are some of the richest I've ever encountered, starting with Mae herself.
Do yourself a favor. Read this book while you're waiting for the first Read This! selection on May 15. You won't be sorry. And I'll be happy.