On the heels of his whimsical fantasy, Lust (2003), British author Ryman makes a triumphant return to science fiction in this superbly crafted tale. Life in Kizuldah, a village in Karzistan, has changed little over the centuries, though most homes have electricity. Chung Mae, the local fashion expert, earns her living by taking women into the city for makeovers and by providing teenagers with graduation dresses. Intelligent and ambitious, this wonderfully drawn character is also illiterate and too often ruled by her emotions. 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. For all its special effects, what makes the novel particularly memorable is the detailed portrait of Kizuldah and its inhabitants. Besides being a treat for fans of highly literate SF, this intensely political book has important things to say about how developed nations take the Third World for granted. (Dec. 1)
Forecast: Though the book isn't labeled SF, blurbs from John Clute and Kim Stanley Robinson will help signal genre readers. Ryman has won World Fantasy, Arthur C. Clarke and John W. Campbell awards. Last June he was guest of honor at the annual conference of the S cience Fiction Research Association.