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Ursula ([personal profile] ursula) wrote2011-01-11 09:47 pm
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Air, by Geoff Ryman
Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker

These are both science fiction novels about women with grown children from oppressed minority groups who start small businesses. I think this is my new favorite mini-genre?

Mae, the heroine of Air, lives in the mountains of Kargistan, a fictional country an awful lot like Kyrgyzstan. She makes money as her village's "fashion expert" by knowing just a little bit more about the fashions of the capital than the rest of the women in her village. At the beginning of the book, a U.N. test of a new system that will link people's minds directly to the Internet goes haywire, and Mae finds herself stuck with the memories of an old woman who remembers when the previous village was destroyed by a flood. Mary, the heroine of Empress of Mars, lives in the mountains of Mars. She was once a xenobotanist, but the British Arean Company fired her when its investment bubble burst, so now she runs a bar.

Air has more literary ambition than Empress of Mars, which makes it more successful when it's working, and more frustrating when it isn't. I liked the political plot strands, with village vs. government vs. rest of the world and ethnic Chinese vs. Turks vs. tribal minorities, and the love stories, with their mix of romance and relentless practicality. I was annoyed by the plot strand involving a medically improbable pregnancy, which seemed to come from the realm of magical realism, rather than from the realm of plausibly-tomorrow.

One of the reviews on the back of my (library) copy of Empress of Mars describes it as space opera, which seems a bit off to me; I'd actually class it as hard science fiction with a sense of humor. I suppose it doesn't indulge in the lengthy "How things work" topoi of classic hard science fiction, but "how to make technological substitutes for bees" and "human biological response to life at high altitude" are significant plot points, and that seems like hard science fiction to me.
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[personal profile] thistleingrey 2011-01-12 07:55 pm (UTC)(link)
I liked Air. It was a bit disappointing to find that the part of The Child Garden I tried was more like the improbable pregnancy than the rest of Air; thus I have yet to try reading more Ryman. Sometime, perhaps.