Saturday, 14 January 2012
Son of Heaven (Chung Kuo Recast 1)
It may be that I come to regret these words, but I don't think I'll be racing back to David Wingrove's Chung Kuo Recast series to devour the next volume as a matter of any urgency. There is, of course, every chance that I'll pick up Daylight on Iron Mountain at some point in the future, but it's not on my essential reads list.
To be fair, Son of Heaven wasn't on my essential reads list either. I was aware of it after it got a good write-up in Interzone, but I already had a dozen books to be getting on with (including the peerless The Windup Girl). But it was only when it became available as Amazon's daily Kindle deal that I felt compelled to splash out the princely sum of 99p for the privilege of having it sit unread on my Kindle for the best part of six months.
Son of Heaven is the first volume of the recast series. Chung Kuo was first released as an eight-book series in the late 80s and into the 90s. I've never read it, but as I understand it it gained a strong following as it told its tale of the rise of China in the future. David Wingrove took the decision to rewrite it as a 20-book series (do you see one reason why I'm a bit reluctant to get stuck in to the whole series?), and Son of Heaven appeared in the middle of 2011.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Dorset village for the most part, Son of Heaven follows Jake Reed and his family and friends. We find out the nature of the catastrophe that has seen a return to almost-feudal times in the Western world, and follow the day-to-day existence of the village for the rest of the time. I have a bit of a problem with this, or, more specifically, with the way it's structured. I don't have a problem with flashbacks and telling the backstory (as the apocalypse itself is told), but I do have a problem when it results in a complete change of pace and focus. It would have been better, in my opinion, to have somehow interspersed the apocalypse with the main narrative, keeping the pacing going and not rendering the idling early scenes almost irrelevant.
Being quite honest, there are around 100 pages that could have done with cutting or restructuring. It may be my own personal taste, but it felt like nothing happened for the opening third of the book only to be plunged into the flashbacks where it was all action. Looked at as a whole, the structure just about works, providing ample prelude to what eventually comes about in the end. But it could be improved so it doesn't feel like reading it is a drag. When things do happen they feel nastily out of place.
Wingrove is actually a pretty good writer. His style is brisk and readable. I just found myself annoyed by the amount of profanity he used. Seldom did a page go by without a 'fuck' or some other strong profanity. I get it, strong language is realistic, but did he have to make it so noticeable? Another issue with his writing I had was his almost-embarrassed handling of sex scenes. I'm confident I could write several better than at least one of them in Son of Heaven (and there are a few, let me tell you). 'Her hands cupped his sex' is about as good as it gets. And then there were the unintentionally hilarious moments ('the odious Wang' being my personal favourite).
So it's fair to say I didn't enjoy Son of Heaven as much as I would have liked. It had its moments, but to me they felt like they were few and far between. If I see the next volume going cheap, I might pick it up because it did feel, towards the end, like there was real promise in Chung Kuo Recast. The premise of a rising China is in itself interesting and relevant. I just wish there hadn't been so much mucking about at first.