Friday, June 10, 2011

Rise of the Middle Kingdom

Hey guys! Here in the West we feel threatened! Why? Because of the insatiable appetite of the RED DRAGON known as China! Alas, our industries; nay! Our very livelihoods and cultural values are in peril! Head for the hills! China's coming!

So that was my weak attempt at a satirical look at how many North Americans may be viewing China these days. While there is some truth here, I'm much more optimistic. I can't help but say, "would China 'ruling' the world be so bad?" I mean the United States of America did it for the greater part of the 20th century and they were not exactly saints; but guess what?! we're all still here (more or less)! Now I'm not stupid (although you might want to argue that). I know China is not the USA and China's government has been privy to certain policies over the years that may be disconcerting to some. A record of human rights abuses likely being the main problem here.

But ya know what? I'm not here to have an academic conversation about China's political history I'm here to tell you guys about a novel I just finished reading that was recommended by a good buddy of mine called Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove.


Cover art for David Wingrove's epic, Chung Kuo

This book here, is the first in a seven part science fiction epic that was started in 1988 and ended in 1998. It rivals Frank Herbert's Dune in scope and is centered around a world of the future in where; you guessed it, China RULES THE WORLD!!! Yes! It seems that at some point in the 2100's (or was it 2200's? I'm terrible with dates) a horrible tyrant gains control of China and sets out to conquer the world! And he does.

The result of this campaign is that the world becomes known  as "Chung Kuo" which is the Wade Giles' romanization for "the middle kingdom"; the historical name for China in Chinese. There are also a number of other things that have changed from the world we know today. Japan has been obliterated, so no more anime and sushi and weird video games. NNNOOOOO!!! western history has been censored, edited, and reformed (perhaps the most interesting article being about how Genghis Khan was Chinese and was the first person to take over the world for China).

Finally the worst of the changes made; a racial "cleansing" which has left the world devoid of blacks, aboriginals, and basically anyone else whose skin color could be considered "darkish". So yeah, some pretty bleak stuff here. Eventually the tyrant was overthrown and a new, more sensible, more peaceful regime took over. One that was not so big on genocide and evil stuff like that. That's where this novel starts off.     

However, this isn't you're Daddy's communist China. This China's old school! So the government is actually based around the traditional dynastic Chinese monarchy of old, and not the more modern one-party-state communist stuff. So basically we have people wearing traditional clothes and drinking tea, while practicing archery and horseback riding, IN THE FUTURE!

But of course this is science fiction! So we need some cool science-fictiony future stuff! So yeah, basically the entire population of the world lives in a giant tower made of tempered plastic and the rest of the world has been transformed into farms and plantations which provide food for the billions of people living in the giant tower! There is also some mention of casual space travel although its not explored too much in this installment. There is also tonnes of next gen technology that makes appearances throughout the novel.

What I found most interesting about the setting was the tower itself, and how it was divided into levels. The highest level being home to the elite; company owners, royalty etc. and the lowest level being a waste filled cesspool home to humans who have suffered generations of malnutrition and have pretty much reverted back to neanderthals. Pretty interesting stuff!

Another interesting factor is that the writer doesn't make so much distinction as to who the good guys and bad guys are until fairly late in the novel, but even then there are a lot of gray areas. It's pretty cool. There is also a lot of attention to detail and some great world-building, but despite that, its quite easy to read and flows well. I can't help but think that in lieu of China's rising economic prosperity, this book is a little more relevant than it was in the late 80's when it first came out.

      
Released in 2011, the first prequel to the Chung Kuo series, available in any major bookstore.


















In truth, after it was recommended to me, it was hard to find this book without going online. I had to peruse a number of used bookstores as it seems to have gone out of print. The reason for this however, is that the series is being re-released and revamped over the next few years, by a new publisher with added content and additional volumes by the author, that can be found here! http://www.chung-kuo.net/ They have already released a prequel to the first volume just this year called Son of Heaven which is available just about anywhere. Check it out! (if you want.)

P.S.: I like China.

-Alex

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