[SF_Lit] Wingrove’s Back: Chung Kuo 01-Son Of Heaven

2888.Quite a long time ago (it’d seem) I’d fallen, and fallen hard, for a series by a British writer, David Wingrove, called Chung Kuo. Released through the 90s, it’s a series that depicts a future history taking place starting at the fin de siecle of the 22nd Century and extending through the middle of the 23rd. In it, the Han Chinese had, with amazing technology in tow, ascended toward domination of the entirety of Earth, covering major sections of every inhabited continent with sealed arcologies – continental Cities – made of an impossibly durable and strong plastic material called ice.

The conflicts between the author’s depiction of Han culture and European culture and the increasing demands of a global population exceeding 34 Billion-with-a-B provided the tension that drove the conflicts in the novel, both on the personal and the global level. This series extended to eight novels (seven very good ones and one unsatisfying concluding novel) and, though in reviews lauded with the best of Herbert’s Dune, never got the lasting stature it deserved.

Well, Wingrove’s back and he’s rebooting Chung Kuo. To be honest, I’m a bit late to the party; he started this back in 2010 and I’ve only now gotten to read the first novel in the sequence, Son of Heaven. 

The original novel cycle started over 100 years after the conquering of the planet by the Tyrant, Tsao Ch’un, and his continent-girdling Cities of ice, with the advent of Han ascendency hinted at by flashes of backstory. This novel, in contrast, is set in two periods and places: a post-technological Dorsetshire of 2065, and a London of 2043 that is alternatively the land of the polished, glittering, technological elite and the lower castes who have been left behind by them.

The pivotal character is a man named Jake Reed, one of 2043’s Masters Of The Universe; a financial wizard by way of William Gibson, a man who’s equal parts 1-percenter and TRON. He worked in the ‘datscape’ (a word that perhaps suggests that all the good nicknames for the noosphere have pretty much been taken) managing the wealth of nations, taking a pretty cut for himself, and leading the charmed life, pretty much insulated from the incredible poverty that lies more or less invisible from him from his chauffeured ‘hopper’ flights and behind the security of the walls of enclaved communities.

The hammer falls through the actions, though the aren’t apparent at first, of the Chinese named Tsao Ch’un, only hinted at in this first book. Essentially, everything is fine … until over the course of two days, it isn’t. Well coordinated sleepers, infiltrated throughout the Western technological and financial strata, go off, rendering the West decapitated and vulnerable; nations collapse quicker than you can say “I can’t load Facebook and I can’t Google why.”

The book itself is structured in three parts; In the first, we get to know Jake, his son, the community that took him in and the post-technological society of 2065 (essentially, S.M. Stirling’s The Change with electricity); the second book portrays The Collapse starting just before its major inflection point (the assassination of the sixtieth American President, James Griffin, at Comiskey Park) through Jake’s escape from a Collapsing London to the English countryside and his acceptance into a rural community; the third book portrays the coming of the Chinese and the invasion of the hivelike City onto the British isle.

As a beginning its particularly effective; as someone who was a fan of the original series, it’s intriguing and exciting to explore the interregnum that gave growth to the globe-spanning society of the Han in the later books.  I get the sense that Wingrove has found a publisher and an editor who are sympathetic to him telling the story the way it always should have been told. The reborn Chung Kuo has the taste of a Director’s Cut about it, a feeling reinforced by the author’s own telling of how that book The Marriage of the Living Dark, was rushed out under pressure and made to be the end of a series that it was never meant to be. After reading this first book, I’ve got the feeling that we’re about to see the story told the way he really wanted it to be told; in the beginning, I thought, why mess with what was already a great story? and now I can’t wait to get my hands on the next volume.

Maybe now, Wingrove will get the world-building approbation he really is entitled to.

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