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  1. #16
    You will be missing out on a treat if you don't at least give these a go.

    The main fault was massive over ambition, it all got away from him towards the end.

    That said, he can write rings round most of the dross out today

  2. #17
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Chung Kuo 1: Son of Heaven

    London, 2043. Jake Reed is a young futures broker, trading stock on the datascape, the high-tech virtual stock market, one of the best in his field. When the datascape comes under attack from hackers, Reed is called in to investigate who could be responsible. However, the virtual attack is but the opening move in a struggle years in the planning. Cities burn, riots erupt and armies are neutralised as the long-feared collapse of modern civilisation begins.

    Twenty-two years later, Reed lives in a rural community in Dorset. Millions have died in the post-Collapse years and the UK is now a patchwork of farming communities. Supplies of advanced medicines and high technology are running low, with no infrastructure available to replace them. But strange things are happening. Waves of refugees are appearing out of the east, strange craft with dragons painted on the wings have been seen in the sky and, on the horizon, a vast structure has appeared and is getting closer. The age of Western dominance has ended and the future belongs to the East.

    Son of Heaven is the first novel in the new version of David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, a science fiction epic spanning 200 years of future history. In Wingrove's series, the entire world has come to be dominated by China, which has constructed vast, continent-spanning cities packed with billions of people and begun to expand into space. Wingrove previously attempted to tell this story in the late 1980s and through the 1990s in eight large volumes, but the series was not completed properly. Now Corvus are republishing the saga in twenty volumes, with a new beginning and ending and a thorough revising of the previously-published material.

    Son of Heaven starts the story much earlier than the original first volume, depicting exactly how Western civilisation and modern economic system were destroyed and how China survived the aftershocks to rise to dominance. This is an interesting movie: the original first book started with China's supremacy firmly established and the reasons for its rise consigned to backstory. Here we see it in progress. It also means we are introduced to the world through the eyes of outsiders (Jake and his neighbours and family who are 'incorporated' into the World of Levels) rather than from inside, which is perhaps a little more forgiving to new readers to the series.

    On the downside, this means that the methods by which China's dominance was established have to be depicted in a lot of detail, and these methods are somewhat fanciful, requiring a catastrophic and colossal failure of tens of thousands of Western intelligence, military and economic experts across many years whilst still requiring China to have acquired technology far in advance of the rest of the world (particularly the AI and nanotech required start building its massive continent-spanning cities in the space of a few years). Lots of SF is based on far more ludicrous premises, of course, but generally these work by taking place in the distant future with the transition from modern society being a vague or mythological event. Here it's more central to the story and therefore more open to scrutiny. This isn't helped by Wingrove having to take into account twenty years of additional real history (such as China's economic explosion) and then weld it onto the front of his original narrative. Ironically, China's real-life economic success provides a much more reasonable grounding for it becoming the dominant world culture over the course of decades, but using this as the grounding of the story would have presumably required a much more thorough rewriting of the entire series.

    Moving beyond this, Wingrove's actual writing is pretty solid, depicting both the high-tech world of 21st Century London and the post-Collapse, almost post-apocalyptic agrarian society quite well. The conflict presented by the latter is handled intriguingly: the 21st Century, money-fixated world of haves and have-nots is shown to be comfortable but also shallow. The post-apocalyptic world initially lauds the absence of pointless materialism but then exposes the ugliness of living in a world where people die of cold exposure in the winter or from very minor wounds a modern hospital would sort out in a few minutes, or where girls are encouraged to get pregnant before the age of twenty to increase the chances of propagating the species. This sort of duality was one of the key themes of the original series, with the conflicts between progress and stasis and the state and the individual being key, but with the various options being presented as having their own benefits and disadvantages.

    In the latter part of the book the Chinese finally show up and we meet a raft of new characters. General Jiang Lei is leading the subjugation of England and is presented as an effective soldier but also one with a sense of history and a conscience. He is contrasted against Wang Yu-Lai, a savage and ruthless intelligence agent who is all for rape, plunder and genocide. Jiang is an interesting character whose attitudes mirror many of the conflicts inherent in the series in microcosm. Wang is a caricature and a cartoon villain at best, however, lacking convincing motivation or characterisation.

    The contrast between these two characters is symptomatic of much of the book: some excellent worldbuilding stands contrasted against some highly unconvincing developments needed to make China top dog. Jake and Jiang's solid depictions stand against some under-developed characters (particularly women) elsewhere. Respect and admiration for Chinese culture is contrasted against stereotypical elements elsewhere (the 'cold, brutal' Chinese stereotype is played up a bit, even when characters like Jiang are shown to be nothing like this). Overall though, the book is readable and sets up a world intriguing enough to make even the modest wait for the second book, Daylight on Iron Mountain (due in late 2011), feel somewhat disappointing. Whether it's enough to sustain twenty novels released across five years is another question, but we'll see.

    Son of Heaven (***) is a solid opening to a very long epic SF series, overcoming its weaknesses to deliver an unsettling (if implausible) depiction of the future. The novel will be published in the UK on 3 February 2011 as a limited-edition hardcover and ebook and on 1 March as a regular hardcover. American imports of the latter should be available via Amazon and the Book Depository.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
    As for the Chung Kuo series, uhmmm, it's alternate history sf so I'm totally not interested.
    It isn't alternate history SF. It begins about sixty years from now and continues forward to about 300 years from now.

    The confusion may be because in the setting 'real' history has been deleted and replaced with a fanciful version in which China destroyed the Roman Empire and has ruled unchallenged ever since. I think I've seen some reviewers of the original books get confused and think it's an alt-history, but it's not. It's not very plausible (in fact, China's rise to economic supremacy has made the story Wingrove is telling even less plausible), but it's not alt-history.

  3. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Werthead View Post
    Chung Kuo 1: Son of Heaven
    It isn't alternate history SF. It begins about sixty years from now and continues forward to about 300 years from now.

    The confusion may be because in the setting 'real' history has been deleted and replaced with a fanciful version in which China destroyed the Roman Empire and has ruled unchallenged ever since. I think I've seen some reviewers of the original books get confused and think it's an alt-history, but it's not. It's not very plausible (in fact, China's rise to economic supremacy has made the story Wingrove is telling even less plausible), but it's not alt-history.

    To me that would still qualify as Alternate History.

    If he's re-imagining real history, past or present, into a recognizable future turned on its head than I don't know how that differs so much from the numerous sf stories where the Nazis and Imperial Japan win WWII?

  4. #19
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
    To me that would still qualify as Alternate History.

    If he's re-imagining real history, past or present, into a recognizable future turned on its head than I don't know how that differs so much from the numerous sf stories where the Nazis and Imperial Japan win WWII?
    Because the rediscovery of the real history is a major plotline in the books, as it inspires rebellion movements against the government.

    Also, whilst not remotely on the same scale, it's something that has happened before in real history, and today in places like North Korea. Rewriting the past to your design and raising generation after generation believing it. A fairly Orwellian idea which seems to work (although it requires generations and generations to fully be effective: even a lot of North Koreans don't really buy it after sixty years).

  5. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Werthead View Post
    Because the rediscovery of the real history is a major plotline in the books, as it inspires rebellion movements against the government.



    Ahh, that makes more sense then.


    Though many Americans don't know their own real history, even recent history.

  6. #21
    Registered User Roland 85's Avatar
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    I read the first four books once upon a time and totally loved them. The only thing that sours this reprint is the fact that my grandchildren will still be waiting for the whole thing to be published...

  7. #22
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roland 85 View Post
    I read the first four books once upon a time and totally loved them. The only thing that sours this reprint is the fact that my grandchildren will still be waiting for the whole thing to be published...
    You expect to have grandchildren by 2015? Or do you mean you doubt the exercise will be successful enough to get all the books out?

  8. #23
    Registered User Roland 85's Avatar
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    Considering it would be a major achievement to have grandchildren at all, I'll have to go with "both", but yes, I really find it not very plausible to have them all out in just 4-5 years.

  9. #24
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roland 85 View Post
    Considering it would be a major achievement to have grandchildren at all, I'll have to go with "both", but yes, I really find it not very plausible to have them all out in just 4-5 years.
    It's certainly the most ambitious publishing schedule I've ever head of (although there's probably been ones that are moreso), but at the same time the publishers do seem to be putting a lot of muscle behind the series (although I note that blogging and genre coverage seems to be pretty limited at the moment). So long as sales are not catastrophically bad, I think it's doable. It's also interesting that they are only releasing two books in 2011 before switching to the full 4/5-book-a-year schedule after that. Presumably if the first two books (which are a semi-self-contained duology anyway) bomb, the whole thing will be called off.

  10. #25
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Review's on the way....

    From what I remember, apart from the two Myst books, David's been working on these for over twenty years. So it's quite possible that a lot of it is there already, especially if the original eight books need little else but minor tweaking/restructuring.

    (Admittedly, the last of the originals does, but from what I remember David saying it was written, just not published in the form he preferred - so it may be just a case of putting back what was originally written.)

    Got to admire the man's tenacity!

    Mark
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  11. #26
    Seven Mary Four Glelas's Avatar
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    Is this a UK only release? Either way I am going to purchase them but was just wondering if the US has any plans to release them.

    Is Son of Heaven the first of the entire series? Is it an omnibus of sorts?
    Last edited by Glelas; January 2nd, 2011 at 08:55 PM.

  12. #27
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    UK only at the moment, I believe: have a look at the website.

    It is the first book in the new series, and a completely new book, set some time before the original series.

    Wert's put a list up elsewhere in this thread showing how the new schedule pans out.

    Mark
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  13. #28
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Yup, the rewrites and re-edits to Chung Kuo are now complete and done. Wingrove is in fact already working on a completely new project, a time travel SF trilogy called Roads to Moscow.

    IIRC, a US publisher is interested but is waiting to see how the UK releases do before committing themselves.

  14. #29
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Werthead View Post

    IIRC, a US publisher is interested but is waiting to see how the UK releases do before committing themselves.
    I know I say this alot about the books you fine folk in the UK get on your shelves we don't, but I'd love a US publisher to pick up the series.

  15. #30
    I never heard of this series before but based on what i read here i will buy the first book. But i doubt that all 20 books will be released. Usually the first in a series sells the most and then the numbers drop, and with 20 books you would have an enormous drop by the time the last book is released. I think the original number of books would have been better.

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