June 1st, 2005, 09:52 PM
Seeker of Stuff
June 2005 BOTM: Air: Or, Have Not Have by Geoff Ryman
I wasn't able to get a copy yet of this book, so no commentary here.
Anyone read this book? Was it good?
June 2nd, 2005, 12:44 PM
It was very good, although not perfect. The central character was very strong and well able to carry the whole narrative on her shoulders. Still, there were a few times where her life just got so depressing time after time (particularly towards the 2nd third of the book) that it got a little hard to go back to after you'd put it down. Then everything picked back up again and drove strongly to the climax of the story.
The denoument had some serious problems in my view. At one point one of the characters sits down with her son and explains all the elemental symbology of the book. The exposition seems awkward, forced, and over-the-top. Air does have tons of symbology (most of which I'm sure I didn't get), but he should've trusted his readers more to figure it out for themselves.
The primary conflict of the book is modernizing technology and its effect on people. It is particularly focusing on the third world, but I think it has more universal applicability than that.
I found interesting the fact that he set the story in an area that used to be on the silk road: they were once right on the forefront of cultural exchanges and trade. Hence the town itself is multi-cultural and multi-racial. They aren't "backward" in the sense that old colonialists used to use. But they do dramatize neatly the sudden imposition of technology, whereas to us in the west or in "developed" countries, these things sneak up on us one little advance at a time instead of dramatically all at once.
Looking forward to seeing what other people thought of it.
June 2nd, 2005, 01:26 PM
I've only read the first two chapters so far, and I can see where Ficus gets that it could be "The Saga of the Pig-Farmers." But the introduction of Air is interesting, and I'm looking forward to see where it goes. I had a tough decision last night between starting Air (already late due to slow shipping speeds from Amazon) or finishing out Book of the New Sun with Citadel of the Autarch. I went with Air and hope not to be disappointed.
June 2nd, 2005, 04:51 PM
OK, I enjoyed "Air" and all, but I'm not sure that I could've put off finishing the Book of the New Sun when I was reading it. Usually I let a lot of time pass between reading different books in a series, but BotNS was an exception. I read all four of them back-to-back.
Still, the wonder of books is that they're always there, yes?
June 5th, 2005, 07:58 AM
I enjoyed Air and I would go so far as to say it is one of the better books I have read this year.
I liked the main character and the setting which was very unusual in a SF book. I liked that the book was written more like lit, and less like plastic SF ala Scott Westerfeld's books. The main character was very reflective and seemed like a real human. The village and the people there seemed like they could have been real too. I thought the idea of a biological internet was interesting, though some of the writing around what it was, the experience and the attributes confused me; especially when she ended up with the granny in her head and there seemed to be too many people in the conversation.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from the book which is where the 'adventures of the pig farmers' comment came from. It seemed that Mae would have a success, and then she would end up having a reversal. So the story seemed to be in a rhythm and was centered on Mae trying to achieve her goal of improving life for those in her village. I wondered if the whole book was going to be a modern SF-tinged version of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth - which wouldn't be awful, but was not what I wanted to read in a SF story. I really couldn't see how Ryman could get out of the day to day adventures of the people in village as they tried to survive and improve their lives. But somehow he did. We still got stories from the village but the focus moved from just stories about specific characters to a more universal theme. Yet even while he did that he still was able to keep the characters personal so that you cared about what happened to them.
Oddly enough I think it happened around the time Mae went into the bigger town and ended up staying there, eventually against her will. I would have to say that the talking dog and the baby in the stomach were troubling for me because it took what was up until then a realistic type of story and made it seem silly and fantasy based. Yet it was after that episode that the story took on the broader quality.
As much as I liked the characters I also had some problems with some of how they were depicted and with how they acted. What it meant was I was taken out of the story and thought how awkward it was, but I still cared about what happened.
I could understand that Mae was over her love and infatuation with Joe, but it seemed to me that she fell in love, according to her, with Ken much too quickly and easily. Then although she talked about him and 'love', it seemed too easy for her to abandon him. And the she also fell in love with Siao, again so easily. I suppose she could have been fooling herself and calling both Ken and Siao love, so that she would think better of her behavior, but it never worked as real feelings for me. I also thought that her brother, changed into an ally much too quickly and easily. and I am not sure that any government agency is actually that helpful or benevolent.
I didn't have a problem with the ending, in fact I thought it worked and went with the story. It seemed so much a part of the story that it just flowed by. I am sorry it didn't work for you Arch, what exactly was being explained and by whom that you thought was awkward. I missed it entirely.
In terms of the setting being diverse, I found it to be the exact opposite. Although there were a lot of different ethnicities, heritages, and religions -- they all seemed to have the same mind set. They were all very closed and conservative, they disliked the minorities, they thought that the poor were worth less as people than the better off people. They all seemed to defer to the older men, and to the Islamic preacher and the teacher. They separated women and treated them like they were mindless and untrustworthy. At various times it was the women, the Eloi, the poor, the European Christians who were being isolated and denigrated. Everyone went along in the village culture - it didn't matter that some where themselves victims, they were willing to victimize others.
My take on the book and what it meant:
I thought the issue was more than technology, it was about change versus tradition. It was how there is an underside to tradition that fuels the desire for change, and then change comes and destroys tradition, but by then people have a nostalgic look at tradition, and forget it mired them in ****, hard work, and an early death.
It touched me personally because when I was a kid we lived in Turkey for 3 years (early 60’s) and we traveled through out the Middle East. It was cool to see all the different cultures and how old they were, but they were also denied the benefits of modernity. Now you read that you can get McDonald’s and the internet anywhere and it is sad to see that what was once unique has become like everyplace else. But of course you can’t keep people and their lives quaint just for esthetic reasons. It is a balancing act between what you give up and what you keep; but what you keep often becomes a fossilized museum piece and not a living part of the culture. Individuals get ground up between the mill stones of change and tradition.
I think it is also happening here to some extent. Our society is experiencing a backlash towards change, science and modernity, so we have incredible numbers of people opting for the religious and the reactionary as a way to make them feel safe.
It seems that you can't have both progress and familiarity at the same time, and it seems that life is about trying to keep the 2 forces in balance, so that each person and the institutions they make up can keep functioning.
Technology can move people so fast that they are not able to be themselves and can't function. At least I think that was what the talking dog was about. No matter how much better off he was as a smarter creature who could talk for himself, he couldn't exist that way. He wanted to be less because that was who he was. I am not sure if his was a victory for being yourself, or a defeat for those who think it is possible to change for the better. The other explanation was that without support, a person who has to change on his own, will fail. The dog had no family or friends like him to help him make his way in the world that opened to him.
I don't know if the baby in the stomach was a nod to the two most important facts of life - keeping yourself and your family fed, and the curse and boon of uncontrolled breeding. You make your own field hands, but you also have to feed them, and if you are a woman give birth to them.
Finally the flood at the end, which represented nature and random events, seemed to wash away everything, technology and tradition. In the end the only thing of value is your life and the lives of those you love, and the only thing that will help you is each other.
I thought the story was very earthy, gritty, and sad, yet uplifting at the same time.
June 8th, 2005, 01:47 PM
I'm glad you enjoyed it Ficus. That's an interesting perspective, given that you've lived in that region before. How old were you when you were there?
I totally agree with your point about balancing tradition and progress. It sometimes seems to me that people would rather have others continue to live in squalid conditions rather than "disrupt their way of life." I thought Air did a remarkable job of showing how people might cope with change being thrust upon them, trying to take charge of their own destiny. Some of them were passive and let it all wash over them, while others really tried to grab the reins in both hands, like Mae. In that way of course the Flood represented forces of change & the future as well as the random force of nature. The Flood was being compared to Air pretty heavily.
I agree that her time being held captive in the city was a real narritve turning point. Before that I was worried that it was going very slow. When I put it down I had a hard time picking it back up. After that point I think I finished it in another couple of days.
I could totally understand the falling in and out of love so easily with the two men, especially if one can assume that with regards to Mae's feelings we're dealing with an unreliable narrator. Her love for Mr. Ken more closely resembled rebound lust, while her relationship with <the other guy who's name I can't remember right now > was a more subtle, developing thing. It had the potential for love, but maybe it wasn't there yet. And besides, people being really confused about relationship and skipping from one to the next without letting go of the previous ones is very realistic, unfortunately.
I was never able to figure out the thing with the baby in the stomach. The closest I could figure was that it might also represent an aspect of the future: misbegotten, unplanned, not what we expect at all, but valued nonetheless? It's a weak interp, I'll admit, but that plot really didn't make much sense to me.
Anyway, good book this month!
June 8th, 2005, 08:51 PM
Finished about two days ago and let it settle a bit before coming in and posting.
I'm with everyone else who thought that the beginning was a little slow. It actually did have something of a "Saga of the Pig Farmers" feel to me, but it used it well, and it turned out all right. I found it compelling enough to read well past bedtime for a few nights last week, which says something.
I agree with the tradition comments. I kept singing the opening number to Fiddler on the Roof to myself as I was reading (Tradition!). With all of the NYT things going on in there, I also see some attention drawn towards globalization. Their clothing reminded me of things that one would see in stores like 10,000 villages or cost-plus world markets, places that deal pretty directly with craftspeople in villages around the world to keep them doing things that are central to their culture and not being rooked for it.
Ultimately, I really didn't care for much of the first 200 pages of the book. The people in the town seemed especially fickle, flip-flopping from alliance to alliance, going behind each other's backs, yet she talks about them being "civilized" becuase they can all get along so well. Maybe I have an unclear picture of village life, but I sort of have the view that everyone needs to get along a little better than that for it to work.
Then again, maybe the issue is that the oncoming of TV and Air is causing all of these changes. But I didn't feel that he really made that clear. I sort of felt like he wanted us to think that all of the issues the townspeople were having were because of Air and the break with tradition and the widening world, I didn't feel like he ever did a convincing job of showing me it was anything other than pettiness. And I was looking for it from the time the possibility popped into my head.
All that aside, I do think that the book gives a lot to think on in regards to out-of-the-way places and how people live in the world and how everything is connected and is getting more connected every day. It took me some time to get the second part of the title, "Have Not Have." It wasn't until I remembered a little talk Mae had early on about the Haves and the Not Haves that it started to make some sense. And thinking in those terms, it really makes me think about the relationship between the government or the UN or the world at large and its effect on the village more. Just because the "Haves" outside the village decide that the village needs to be connected, doesn't mean the village thinks so.
I thought it was sort of an interesting dichotomy between Mae and Ms. Tsung, total opposites in their opinion on change. Mae wanted to embrace it, while Tsung wanted to go back, back, back.
I also thought that the "Have" vs. "Not Have" issue really hinges on ones point of view. There were several times that Mae seemed ot be thinking along the lines of Air turning the village into group of "Not Haves." With the onset of Air and the absorption of the village into the larger world there is the fear of losing everything they Have--their culture, their family (Lung moving to Canada?), and their entire way of life (fashion business outdated because of TV), and being left as Not Haves.
Question: Is it even possible to bring a baby to term in the stomach? It seems to me that while it's still just a few cells it would stand no chance against the acids there. Maybe it's possible, but it seemed a little out there to me.
Toward the end it seemed that he tried to get a little heavyhanded with the Air/Flood/baby/change thing, and the fact that they just about all hit at once was a little sickening.
The whole war between the formats--I'm still not sure what the dispute was. One was apparently better but run by a corporation (Gates? Microsoft?). The other one was no good, but was run by the UN? Then at the end, it didn't matter, they just started their mail accounts together? Not quite sure what was going on with some of that. Or maybe it was supposed to be sort of on the fringes, far away from the day-to-day life of the village, but still affecting them somehow.
It seems that when I go back and read my comments on these things that I couldn't possibly have liked the book, but I really did enjoy it. I could have used some other profession for the main narrator. The whole fashion thing just didn't do it for me, but it seemed to work for the story. All in all, I would certainly place it above average.
June 8th, 2005, 09:27 PM
No I don't think a pregnancy could survive in the stomach. Certainley it could never get large enough to be viable and then be delivered through the throat and mouth.
I thought the thing about the UN and the corporation was more being ground between a rock and a hardplace. At first it seemed that one of the formats was bad (forget which one) and then it was shown that they were both ok technologically. But both came with strings attached: the UN is a powerful government that could curtail your freedom, and the other is a big corporation that only wants to make money and could curtail your freedom too. Both agencies have their own agenda and reasons for doing things and both could destroy freedom and the individual.
Good point about the sub-title Erf, I flashed on how you could go by the point of being helped by the technology to being knocked off the pedestal it just put you on, and force you compete with everyone else who is also now in the same spot. But I thought that it means you just have to come up with something new that makes you different again. It is how technology changes not just the experience but the speed of life.
Arch, I was not in the that region, it was the old Soviet Union and off limits, but in the Middle East which is west and south. I was very young, but I still remember a lot. I remember learning to walk (which I did in Finland, not the Middle East).
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