Air, by Geoff Ryman, Gollancz, 2005, 390pp.
P gave me this SF hardback for Christmas and -- you know what? -- I'm going to make her read it too. It's that good. Also, the primary characters are women, and the Science Fiction elements are near-future: it is 2020 (I think) and Mae Chung is concerned about the effects of "Air" on her small mountain village in Karzistan. "Air" is the internet in your head (via those convenient rolled-up dimensions). Mae isn't even literate. Her village is mostly concerned with goats and getting enough to eat, but soon they will have Britney Spears in their heads.
Mae is tough, and good at reading people's intentions and contradictory motivations; she's practically a girly Sherlock Holmes. I remember when I first read Dune, which is similarly cynical and Machiavellian (as well as excellent), and wondered what I would be like if that had been my favorite childhood book instead of LOTR. Mae is damaged by the first Air test in an interesting way -- her elderly neighbor dies in her arms and becomes part of Mae's mind. In spite of this Mae manages to make a village web/air-site and sell their local handicrafts. It sounds like Martha Stewart Hangs out with Greenpeace in Central Asia, but instead it is a ripping and affecting read. I liked the arid setting, and the mix of Chinese, Islamic and native cultures.
It is surprising how religious most SF really is: minds often seem to persist in some other dimension.
I was afraid that the fast ride would be let down by the ending (Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow is the archetype), but the ending is ok. The bad guys were not really very bad, though.
Like David Mitchell in my previous review, Ryman likes to experiment with form. His 253: A Novel might be fun.