Reviewed by John Howard
David Wingroveâ€™s Chung Kuo originally appeared spread over eight large volumes between 1989 and 1997. Now he is revising and recasting the series into twenty not quite so large volumes, with publication scheduled to be completed during 2015. The first two of the new books, Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain, form a sort of prologue to the main sequence, setting the scene and introducing characters.
In basic terms Chung Kuo depicts a near-future Earth (with its Solar System colonies) falling under Chinese domination which quickly becomes rule. In 2043 a catastrophic economic collapse causes the already fractured societies of the West to finally fall apart. And there is reason to believe that elements in China were manipulating things behind the scenes, ready to step in and pick up the pieces â€“ on their own terms. A little over twenty years later rumours solidify into fact as Chinese aircraft appear in the skies of a balkanised England, and a strange and vast white structure, like a glacier, starts to loom on the horizon. The new ruler of China, Tsao Châ€™un, asserts absolute control over Asia and Europe. Japan and the Middle East are obliterated, and the statelets that once formed the USA are being conquered one by one. In 2087 Tsao loses his grip and a new clique assumes power in a short but bloody war.
As the twenty-second century is about to dawn the bulk of the worldâ€™s population lives in colossal pre-fabricated stack cities nearly a mile high, rising and falling through their hundreds of levels depending on their positioning in the new society. The rulers aim for a world moving forward into a future of peace and stability â€“ achieved through wiping out all traces of the past, rewriting history, and strengthening their iron controlling grip on all aspects of everyoneâ€™s life.
It seems that nothing can withstand the weight of the new order. Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain move at a cracking pace, with concepts old and new thrown into a lively mixture of the alien and commonplace, the brutal and often sentimental. The scale ranges from the tremendous and remote to the intimate and deeply personal. But Wingrove always makes sure the story is about people. Itâ€™s still too early to tell how this version of the Chung Kuo future history will turn out, but right now it seems to be well worth staying with.