Jul 28, 2009

Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove

Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom

This one was a roller coaster. Not because it was a wild ride that left me excited and exhilarated and ready to jump on another, but because the first half took forever to build up and the second went by fairly quickly. Come to think of it, maybe I should have said, "This one was a steep grind up a tall hill and a quick ride down the other side." So there you go - honesty in review.

I have a hard time remembering names sometimes, both in real life and in literature. Imagine my horror when I cracked this one open to find something like 5 pages of lists of motherfuckin' names, all set out in families, so the reader could have some hope of keeping everyone straight. I almost decided to skip it, but since I own three of the books in the (7 volume) series already, I figured I'd better give it a go. I'm glad I did, but god save me. 704 pages of Li Yuan and Fei Yen and Li Shai Tung? I eventually just let go and stopped trying to remember who was fucking, killing, torturing, bribing, or dominating who.

That's pretty much what happens the whole time, by the way. It sort of reminded me of Perdito Street Station, except that instead of a brilliantly fleshed out world of fantasy and steam punk and politics and blood, I instead found myself wading through some English guy's imagine of what the heavily overpopulated and regimented world would look like if run by a pre-Communism-style China.

Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy a story about imaginative brutality as much as the next (sick minded) guy. Once I stopped stressing about who exactly was who, the book clipped right along for me. I loved the image of the world encased in towering, flowing structures of "ice" (air-light plastics). Some of the characters managed to lift off the page eventually (although most stayed as flat and stylized as the characters of China's written language), even if most of their actions involved either being stomped on or stomping on someone else. I guess I just felt like, if I'm going to wade through that much necessary world building, I want more back in return.

final thought: After I cleanse my palate with a half dozen other sorts of dystopias, I'll give the second book in the series a shot. I hear that once Wingrove gets all his ducks in the row, the novels do pick up and roll.


Rhiannon Hart said...

Oh god, lists of names! Preserve me from lists of names! Foreign names no less. You're a more persistent person than me. (I SHALL read Battle Royale. One day. With a pencil and paper in hand.)

That's the second time I've heard the "ducks in a row" phrase this week and goshdarnit if it doesn't conjure up the cutest visuals. "Get in that row! Don't you quack at me like that, you little tike!"

downtown guy said...

Oh, BR was a walk in the park compared to this one. More action, and at least everybody had a number.

Ha, I also like "herding cats".

Rhiannon Hart said...

You've got an award on my blog.

It's pink, hehe.


JRSM said...

Wow--I'm glad you read and reviewed this, as I've contemplated starting on these books several times, but been put off by the number of them. Maybe I can save myself the weeks it would take.

downtown guy said...

RH, thanks!

JRSM: I'll do the second one next month, and you can see how you feel about them then. Do you have copies? You're welcome to mine.

JRSM said...

That's very kind of you--I have book 4, I think, bought cheap when I was sure I'd read them all, but then never followed up on... I couldn't really ask you to send them on, as I suspect the postage to Australia would be ridiculously high. Thanks anyway!

downtown guy said...

Especially since I've go the first one in hard back.