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April 12th, 2014

From Saturday, 8 March through Friday, 14 March, I read David Wingrove's Son of Heaven (London: Corvus [an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.], 2011 [ebook / Kindle edition published 1 Sept. 2012]; ISBN [ebook]: 978-0-85789-169-3; 376 pps.); from Friday, 14 March through Monday, 31 March, I read David Wingrove's Daylight on Iron Mountain (London: Corvus [an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.], 2011; ISBN [ebook]: 978-0-85789-432-8; 360 pps.).

cover to Kindle ed of Chung Kuo Son of Heaven by David Wingrove

cover to Kindle ed of Chung Kuo Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove

I was a huge fan of David Wingrove's original Chung Kuo series, an eight-book (an "octology"? an "octet"?) sequence whose individual novels were all, save for the last, well over 500 pages long, about China's rule over the entire world, after their conquest of same: their annihilation of all blacks (whether African, Afro-European, Afro-American, or Australian Aborigine), all Japanese, all Indians, all Pakistanis, all Bangladeshis, and all Semitic peoples (at last! peace in the Middle East!), and their subsequent, massive rewriting of history to show that China ruled the Earth from the time when, in reality, outposts of the Han Empire and the Roman Empire made tentative contact around 200 A.D. (All of this has already happened when the series opens, in the 22nd century C.E.) Six continents are covered by seven gigantic, miles-high Cities, made of a super-strong, super-light polymer compound called "ice"; Asia is covered by two Cities, while North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia each have one City encompassing them. The combined population of these Cities is roughly 40 billion people. The Cities aren't built flush to the ground; the areas beneath the Cities, forever occluded, containing the wrack and ruin of the officially non-existent civilizations that the Han didn't want to salvage and rebrand, are called Clay, and those people unfortunate enough to be left to eke out a brutish and scant existence in the Clay have reverted to troglodytic conditions and apish mien, with their average life expectancies being thirty-five years. The Han are dominant, but a faction of wealthy Caucasians (or Hung Mao in Mandarin -- "redheads," although the sense is usually more accurately translated as “redheaded barbarians”) gradually rises that attempts to wrest control from them; a genius rescued from the Clay in what used to be Cornwall named Kim Ward, discovers an ultra-secret compilation of documents showing Earth's true history, called the Aristotle File, and thinks long and hard about disseminating this to a wider audience, for fear of pushing the world into chaos even faster than it's already hurtling.

The thing that made Chung Kuo so compelling, so much more than a wheels-within-wheels, big budget dystopian epic, was how Wingrove peopled it with characters who actually, honestly developed, as in believably changed, over the course of the series; how he was unafraid to kill off likable characters who were major players; how he turned readers' expectations on their heads, so that the characters you would normally expect to root for -- the people fighting to promulgate the true history of the Earth and to overthrow Han control -- turn out to be the major shits of Chung Kuo, and that the T'ang, the emperors or Seven (each T'ang controls a City) who rule Chung Kuo, or the "Middle Kingdom" (Chinese rulers traditionally considered China itself to be the Middle Kingdom, as it lay, in their minds at least, between Heaven and Earth; in Wingrove's series, all of Earth is the Middle Kingdom since all of Earth is ruled by the Han, or Chinese), are actually not (or at least, not all of them) the rotters, bounders and maniacal dictators that you would suppose.

Unfortunately, Wingrove's publisher lost faith in the series due to declining sales figures, and told him that, instead of the previously agreed-upon nine books (I'd read that he was supposed to be allowed ten books), he had to finish the series in eight, or forever hold his peace; in any case, he wasn't paid so much as a shilling for the eighth book, The Marriage of the Living Dark, which was apparently never published in the U.S. (The edition that I finally purchased, through Amazon.com in the late 1990s, was published in Canada.) As a consequence, the eighth book satisfied nobody, perhaps least of all Wingrove himself, given that he had to cram the main events of two books into one volume of under 400 pages in trade paperback, IIRC. Though I was disappointed with The Marriage of the Living Dark, I still thought that it contained passages of superb writing that any self-respecting author would've been proud to claim as his or her own. Certainly parts of it towered head and shoulders above most of what gets labeled science fiction.

Imagine my delight then when I learned, around 2010, that Wingrove was going to reissue the series and rewrite parts of it, expanding it, and bringing it to proper conclusion, instead of a hasty, half-assed leave-taking à la the Americans leaving Saigon in April 1975. And when I learned, a year or two later, that he would be expanding Chung Kuo to a whopping twenty books, I was gobsmacked, and a little apprehensive: as difficult as it would be for him to rewrite even the last two books in the series as published, and resist the temptation to endlessly revise "just this bit here and that bit there," how in the hell could the series possibly retain its interest, its narrative drive, its cohesion, if Wingrove opened it up that bloody much?

The answer, provisionally at least, after reading the first two, prequel novels in the revised series -- Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain (both published in the UK in 2011; while Wingrove's Wikipedia entry states that the eighth book, The White Mountain, was published in March of this year, it is not available through Amazon's U.S. site) -- is, "Not entirely."

Some spoilers, but I keep them to a minimum.Collapse )


The supreme space lord who will now DEST
The Feckless Wonder

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