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Chung Kuo

Painting the office recently meant that I moved the books around. I figured this was probably a necessary evil, because the books had spread across the floor, left the shelves, and were trying to escape, or so it seemed. They had to be captured, returned, kept, caged... and in doing so, I have discovered a lot of things that I have just not seen for a while. One of them was the Chung Kuo series written by David Wingrove in the 90s. I've no idea how many of you read it, or have heard of it, but it was this huge sprawling science fiction series wherein China had become the world power, and rewrote history to remove the West.

It was, from memory, pretty fucking cool. The last two books, in the eight book series, were complete ratshit, but the first six were more than enough to cover me for how it ended. It was a sprawling, generational saga, one in which desire, greed, responsibility, friendship, sweet city scape designs, interesting social designs, and history played amongst each of the characters and plot, and I seriously dug it. Maybe if I went back to it, it wouldn't be so cool. Books can be like that, after all, and in truth, I don't plan to go back to it. Still, out of curiosity, I did a google search on Wingrove, to see what he had done since then. I knew he'd written a few Myst novels, but there seemed to be nothing those work for hire pieces, until it is that I read this:

Quercus has bought world rights (excluding France) in David Wingrove's monumental Chung Kuo future history from Diana Tyler at MBA.

Nicolas Cheetham, Editorial Director of Quercus, said ‘Chung Kuo is a two-million-word, nineteen-book epic that brilliantly fuses Shogun and Blade Runner to rival the scope of Frank Herbert's Dune or Isaac Asimov's Foundation. In a genre of big ideas and even bigger books, this is the biggest and most ambitious of them all.’

Set 200 years in the future, the Chung Kuo sequence introduces a world dominated by China. History has been rewritten and the West forgotten. There is no official record of Shakespeare, Mozart or Einstein and any reminders of the past are literally buried under mile-high, continent-spanning cities. An ornate, hierarchical society of 34 billion souls is maintained only by unremitting repression. Revolution seems inevitable but in such an overpopulated world any change could spell the end of humanity.

Chung Kuo has been over twenty years in the making. Eight books were published between 1988 and 1998, with rights sold in fourteen different territories. In 1988, the idea of a world dominated by China seemed outlandish, but two decades later, Chung Kuo's vision of the future seems all too plausible. The series has been recast in nineteen volumes, including a new prequel and a new final volume. After a series launch in May 2009, Quercus will embark on an ambitious publishing programme that will see all nineteen volumes available by the end of 2012.

Reprinted in nineteen volumes, and with a new start and a new end... makes you just want to cry, doesn't it?




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Jan. 8th, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)
Never heard of him before... but this sounds really, really intriguing...
Jan. 8th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
like i said, man, the first six were really cool. this whole prequel and new end business sounds like a bad idea--i mean, when has it ever been a good one--but i did dig them...
Jan. 8th, 2009 01:46 am (UTC)
If nothing else, I already respect his ambition.
Jan. 8th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
Slightly tangential, but do you know what "chung kuo" means? I ask because it's something that comes up in Deadwood when Al Swearengen and Mr Wu become allies to rid the camp of the "San Francisco cocksucker". Mr Wu doesn't speak English, but he and Swearengen confirm their alliance by repeating the phrases "hang dai" and "chung kuo", words which Swearengen does not understand.
Jan. 8th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
i was under the impression it stood for middle kingdom or something like that. i just double checked on the net, and that seems to be it.
Jan. 8th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
Hmm, what is this google you speak of? Can't believe I didn't just search it myself. Guess I was short on a spelling before. Now, to find out what "hang dai" means ... apparently it could mean "brother", which would correspond to the two fingers gesture that Wu and Swearengen use together with it.
Jan. 8th, 2009 09:30 am (UTC)
heh. you know, the funny thing is i didn't google the other term you had there...
Jan. 8th, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)
It is literally middle kingdom but it is just being used to mean China.
Jan. 8th, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)
I read the first five in the mid-Nineties but took my eye off the ball and between him finishing the series and me looking for the last volumes they want out of print. Re-issued as nineteen volumes, eh?

He also updated Billion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss as Trillion Year Spree after finishing Chung Kuo.
Jan. 8th, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)
i can only assume that those nineteen volumes will be... smaller.
Jan. 8th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
I think Trillion was first - 1987 [edit: in paperback; I suspect the hardback was 1986] as opposed to through the 1990s.

Back in the day these were deeply controversial - the size of the advance paid to an author who had at that point only published nonfiction and apparently only a handful of stories and the response to reviews of the early volumes.

Ken Lake reviewed the publicity bumph - apparently sent to a considerable subset of the membership of the BSFA - and Catie Cary negatively reviewed the third volume as (if I recall correctly) pornographic or verging on it. Wingrove and others responded to this - always a mistake for an author to take issue with reviews, although I'm not supporting the reviewers' views. But a very definite storm in a tea cup. (I seem to recall similar spats over the reviews of Trillion in Foundation)

Edited at 2009-01-08 11:21 am (UTC)
Jan. 8th, 2009 12:03 pm (UTC)
I was getting confused because my edition (House of Stratus) does cover the Nineties. I've just looked it though and apparently he did a very short update chapter in 2001.

The books do indeed contain a lot of graphic sex.
Jan. 8th, 2009 12:34 pm (UTC)
House of Stratus always struck me as a 1970s aftershave - or maybe a porn imprint - and this may be why they failed. I wish I'd picked up more of their stuff before they crashed (moreorless complete Wells, ditto Blackwood, most of Aldiss) but they did seem pricey.

From memory the argument was that the seven books (later eight) were to cover the fall and rise of a society, from yang to yin (or vice versa) and thus the early books would include Dark Stuff to indicate the decadent fallen world. I think the response from some readers (I think I only read the first two) was that this was insufficiently clear from the way things were desacribed with apparent relish.
Jan. 21st, 2009 03:00 am (UTC)
chung kuo
chung kuo means central country or middle kingdom, was reference to china because of their self imposed isolation. The volumes written by David Wingrove was very engrossing and imaginative, very imaginative. The last novel was admittedly rush and was not the firstly conceived ending. David had said in an interview that he would redo the ending, glad his is a man of his word. I recently found out about the prequel and the reprinting of the original volumes. I even heard of a screen play to be written, wow.
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