It’s time for the second installment of “What Else is Matt Reading,” where I admit to the world that Chung Kuo is not the only thing I read with mini-reviews of other novels. Paolo Bacigalupi’sThe Windup Girl was recommended by a good friend of mine, who thought I might appreciate the environmental themes and and semi-apocalyptic setting.
The Windup Girl takes place in a not-too-distant future, where fossil fuels have been depleted and food production is controlled by a small number of megacorporations. In the absence of carbon fuels, the primary fuel sources are “kink-springs” that store potential energy generated from elephant labor. Protagonist Anderson Lake fronts as a Bangkok kink-spring factory owner to hide his true employment as food corporation agent on the hunt for unique Thai foodstuffs. When Emiko, a genetically modified slave girl called a windup, proves to hold a clue to the location of the Thai seedbank, well, you know: everything goes nuts.
I visited Bangkok (and Ayutthaya) on a trip through Asia a few years ago, and Bacigalupi’s depiction of a future Bangkok feels entirely authentic. Characters have depth and the story stays fresh and unpredictable. Themes of environmentalism ring true without coming off as preachy. It’s a shame there are no sequels, because this could’ve been the start to some fantastic worldbuilding.
To Chung Kuo fans, especially those who appreciate the Eastern-influenced setting, I wholly suggest The Windup Girl. I give it 5 out of 5, umm.. Tolonens? (I need a CK-inspired rating scale.)
Up next on “What Else Is Matt Reading”: The City and the City by China Mieville.
It’s been about a year and a half since I finished my PhD while working full time, and arguably the biggest change in my life since then has been the sudden availability of free time and the ability to read for pleasure.
With not much Chung Kuo news lately other than the slow but steady drip of publications of the re-cast series (and no personal contact with Mr. Wingrove since January of 2017), I’m going to write up and share some reflections and spoiler-free micro-reviews of some of the other (almost entirely sci-fi) books I’ve read recently, including comparisons to my favorite book series – Chung Kuo – where appropriate.
It’s fair to say that reading Chung Kuo prompted some interest in China, and I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time in Hong Kong and Shanghai. That’s why I was eager to read The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.
Widely acclaimed as the first Asian novel to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and famously reviewed by Barack Obama as making his own problems seem small, The Three-Body Problem relates a future in which a group of humans conspire with the aliens of a dying planet to help them with an eventual invasion.
Despite its near-universal praise, I struggled to finish The Three-Body Problem. The characters are wooden, and I found it impossible to care about any of them. Much of the book is sprawling and unfocused depictions of a virtual reality game wrapping a half-hearted detective story. Whereas Chung Kuo excels in its worldbuilding and character development, both are sorely lacking here.
This book is the first in a trilogy (as well as the basis for both a Chinese film adaptation and upcoming Netflix series) and, needless to say, I did not continue the sequels.
Next up in “What Else Is Matt Reading” is The Wind-up Girl.
Each of these erroneously say “Book 2 of 2: Chung Kuo (2 Book Series)” – no clue why, but this does appear to be the entire Book 12.
In the absence of much Chung Kuo news recently, I’m planning on posting some very short musings/reviews of the other sci-fi books I’ve read recently (and making some light comparisons to Chung Kuo to keep things on brand). I’ll post the first one soon: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.
Thanks to Bob R. in the comments section for the heads up that he received his copy of Beneath the Tree of Heaven (Chung Kuo Book 12). Last I had heard, it was still in a COVID-19-related holdup, but I guess it’s out!
Here are some Amazon links for your convenience (I’m not an affiliate and don’t make a dime off anything; consider using smile.amazon.com to donate to a charity of your choice; I donate to Woodstock Animal Sanctuary).
As we wait patiently for Beneath the Tree of Heaven, Mr. Wingrove has generously published a new short Chung Kuo story on his website entitled A Day Like This. Set in 2043, it takes place concurrently with some of the events in Book 1: Son of Heaven. I plan on reading this tonight. Feel free to share any thoughts in the comments below!
AV Club and others are reporting that film production company Village Roadshow is moving forward with plans to adapt the Myst video game franchise into a television show. It’s unclear if or how much the show will rely on stories or materials from the three published Myst novels (plus one unpublished) penned by David Wingrove, but we can only hope! It’ll be the first we’ll see any of Mr. Wingrove’s stories on screen.
The fantastic Myst trilogy was actually my entry point into Mr. Wingrove’s works prior to reading Chung Kuo, although I never really got into the video game series. Have other Chung Kuo fans out there read the Myst books too? Feel free to drop thoughts in the comments.
David Wingrove has posted an update on his Facebook page with a few new updates, including the cover for the Fragile Books re-release of Chung Kuo Book 13: Beneath the Tree of Heaven. Unfortunately, publication of the volume has been delayed because of the COVID-19 situation.
However, he teased the release of a Chung Kuo short story, presumably to be published on his own website or that of Fragile Books. Good news indeed!
While you patiently wait on this story, remember that there a couple of his Chung Kuo short stories here on this this site: Paperhouse and Black Stone, White.
Apologies for the late news on this as I’ve been out of the country for a couple week, but anyhow: Chung Kuo Book 11: Upon a Wheel of Fire has now been released… I think?
On Amazon UK, it is available, but David Wingrove’s name is not listed as author, possibly making it tough for some folks to find. There’s also no cover image, although of course we’ve seen it previously.
In the US, it’s only available from third-party sellers without Prime, so who knows how long it’ll take to arrive on my doorstep.
There’s no word on Kindle versions, I’m afraid. Hopefully this doesn’t take too long and we don’t face another Kindle debacle. If you know anything else I don’t, please feel free to drop a comment.