What Else Is Matt Reading? (#2): The Windup Girl

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.

What Else Is Matt Reading? (#1): The Three-Body Problem

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.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

The Art of Chung Kuo

Like many of you, I’m also patiently waiting on the Kindle version of Chung Kuo Book 10: The Stone Within. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some details from another book: Transluminal: The Art of Jim Burns.

Jim Burns is widely known as one of the most prolific and influential science fiction book artists, and he has long been involved in the Chung Kuo series. If you’re a reader or collector of the original books, you’ve certainly seen his cover art on several issues; if you’re reading the new Fragile Books releases, you’ve seen the dragon ouroboros imagery that adorns each cover.

Transluminal, published in 2000, is one of a couple books of Jim Burns’s art and the volume that covers the art of the original Chung Kuo novels. In addition to the cover images, the book also includes narrative accounts of Burns’s experience with the source material and his thought process as he created each piece. The section on Chung Kuo art is several pages long and his write-up on the pieces is fascinating. For example, he discusses the shuttle in the background of the original cover for The Stone Within (book 4 in the classic sequence):

We are told that the technology of the time (about 200 years into the future) is essentially American-derived stuff and one gets the impression that technology progress has in some ways slowed down. So I wanted the shuttle in the background to look like a fairly near-future development of the kind of design-thinking we have now…

Transluminal is a great conversation-starter and coffee table book, and it’s a nice glimpse in the history of classic Chung Kuo. It looks like there are plenty of copies floating around if you’re interested in a companion to your CK novels.

Jim Burns’s portrayal of Fei Yen with the City in the distance, also featured in Transluminal

Publication date announced for The Stone Within

Mr. Wingrove has announced a publication date for Chung Kuo book 10: The Stone Within on his social media: September 20, 2018. Just a little over a month away!

It’s not appearing yet for pre-order on Amazon USA or UK, but I suspect it will soon enough.

It seems as though many of you, based on the comments on the last post, are planning on waiting until all 20 are out before collecting a set. It’s an understandable position – we’ve been burned by publishers a few times now. Personally, I think it’s important to show support by picking up each book as it comes out; I don’t think I have to spell out the logic of what could happen if everybody held off on buying.

On a personal note, I just returned from a two-week vacation in the UK (I’m US-based, if you hadn’t picked up on that already). I was pleased to see this in Forbidden Planet:

More news as it comes in (if a day or two late…).

The Stone Within to be published this year

It’s been fairly quiet on the Chung Kuo front these last few months, but Mr. Wingrove has announced on his Facebook page that Book 10: The Stone Within will be published within the year with the exact date to be known hopefully soon. Following the cover art style from the first nine books in the Fragile Books re-release, here’s the ouroboros-themed cover for the volume (click for full size).

Personally, I’ve recently started a re-read of the Chung Kuo saga. This will be my third time on this journey and I’m currently on Book 3: The Middle Kingdom. Part of this is me missing the story and involvement with this site; another part of it is just procrastinating on my PhD dissertation.

Anyone else out there doing another read-through? Feel free to drop a line below.

Making Room

Moments ago, a box containing the first eight books of the Chung Kuo re-re-launch arrived at my doorstep, courtesy of Fragile Media’s Susan Oudot, each containing a kind inscription from the man himself. The books are beautiful — far nicer in person than in any picture. My wife, who is away at a work conference for the week, will likely be none too pleased to return and find that I’ve relocated a picture of the two of us to make room on the Chung Kuo bookshelf in our small library. Yes, the guy who runs the fan blog has a Chung Kuo bookshelf.

Seeing the books in print again, now with a renewed confidence that this time we’ll be able to see things to their proper conclusion under the wing of Fragile Books, is a wonderful feeling.

Master of Time in the house!

I finally received my copy of Master of Time today. It’s a little beat up from the transatlantic journey, but it’s here. Reading the first few pages, I’m realizing that I remember basically nothing from the first two books. Either I read the first two books way too quickly, or I’m starting to get old, or my brain is turning to mush from being in a PhD program. I suspect it’s probably a function of all three.

Anyhow, I expect it will come back to me as I make some progress. I may check in periodically with some reflections.

If anybody would like to leave any spoiler-free thoughts about the last book in the Roads to Moscow trilogy in the comments below, please do!

Catching Breath

I wanted to take a moment to recap and unpack some of yesterday’s news. As I read it, there are three big and important updates. Let’s explore.

1. The rights to Chung Kuo have finally reverted to David Wingrove.

This is what we’ve been hoping and waiting for ever since Corvus hung us out to dry with the completion of the re-cast series. Now that David and Co. have the rights, that opens the door for the series to find a new home that will finally see the series out to completion. Which leads us to…

2. Chung Kuo will be re-published by Fragile Books, a new publishing outfit owned and operated by David Wingrove.

I think we can all agree that Chung Kuo has had not the greatest luck with its publishing history. In the series’ original run, a contract dispute led to a truncation of what was to originally be a 9-book series, resulting in a final book, Days of Bitter Strength, that neither its author nor its readers were particularly fond of (although, personally, I didn’t mind it as much as most). In its Corvus/Atlantic re-birth, all began well with what seemed like an enthusiastic publisher, but for whatever reason, Chung Kuo ended up getting the short end of the stick once again, leading to the latter half of the re-cast series evaporating without notice.

I feel like there’s no one that will treat the series better than Wingrove, himself. In that regard, I think Fragile Books is a good home for the series. I’m hopeful that the new

3. A possible TV deal for Chung Kuo is in the works, involving Headline Pictures.

To me, this is the most exciting bit of news. I think the first two were inevitable, but this could really be something cool. If you’ve seen Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, then you know that this is a production company that can do right by a sci-fi franchise, I think the Chung Kuo TV series is in good hands, particularly with DW involved a creative advisor capacity. If you haven’t seen High Castle, then I highly recommend you go check it out. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, I don’t know how you live your life.

In other news, to coincide with these happy times, I’ve started working a re-design for this site. Nothing too major, but definitely a fresh coat of paint. I’m also hoping to get some more robust discussion forums in place – something that won’t be ruined by spambots like the last one. If anyone can recommend or has experience with any (free) platforms, do let me know. Expect to see a redesign here fairly soon.

That’s it for now. More news as it comes.

GenSyn in real life?

I’m writing this from the site of the eMerge Americas conference, sunny rainy Miami Beach, right before the second day of the conference proper begins. In a session yesterday, a speaker mentioned a company I had never heard of before: Synthetic Genomics. This company claims to have produced the first synthetic cell, and also works on “humanized organs” and “digitizing life.” As crazy as this sounds, this isn’t some goof company or hoax — they have financial backing from BP and a few different venture capital firms.

Sound familiar? In case you need a refresher, Genetic Synthetics, or GenSyn, is a mega-corporation in the Chung Kuo universe that creates artificial life forms and other constructed genetic products. Once again, life imitates art.

For what it’s worth, I think GenSyn rolls off the tongue far better that SynGen.

For a short story that illuminates some of the life of a GynSyn creation, check out One Moment of Bright Intensity, which takes place during the events of The Middle Kingdom.

Leave thoughts in comments!

Of Gifts and Stones: A Retrospective… and Moving Forward

I’ve been doing some soul searching lately. This site has been around since February 2011, when the re-release of Chung Kuo was announced. A lot has changed since then. The re-release has been cut off at the hip, but Roads to Moscow is now a thing (a thing you all should be reading if you’re not already). I originally created this site to archive of the old essays that were floating around the internet for a fear that those sites would disappear and we (the relatively small and disconnected Chung Kuo fanbase) would lose that content forever. It grew into something I never would have expected… a community. A small one, yes, but there are regular readers and commenters (that’s you!) who also care about these works and want to see them continue and grow and succeed. And on top of that, David Wingrove, himself, became an integral part of the site, regularly supplying the community with updates and special content. Hell, the man dedicated one of his novels to me. This site has been

I first read Chung Kuo as a freshman in high school. Here I am now, 30 years old, starting a doctoral program this year, and I can’t help but look back and reflect on the effect Chung Kuo has had on my life. Small influences, but influences nonetheless. I took Mandarin in college. I visited China. I feel like the lessons in Chung Kuo about hierarchy, control, culture, and diplomacy have enabled me to approach the real works with a more critical, nuanced eye.

Having reflected on these things recently, I’ve decided to dedicate more effort into this site and this community.

Starting with… Twitter. I’ll be semi-live-tweeting as I read from @giftsandstones, starting with The Ocean of Time, which I’ve just started now that I’ve finished a re-read of The Empire of Time. Expect the first of these tonight or soon. I’ll be including the chapter number in parenthesis and a hashtag for whichever book I’m on.

I have other goals in mind for the site – some big, some small. A redesign is in order, perhaps. For sure, I want to get off horrible GoDaddy and migrate to a better web host. That might include some downtime, but hopefully not much.

I’ll leave you with two questions. First, has Chung Kuo, Myst, Roads to Moscow, The Trillion Year Spree, or any other Wingrove work left an impression on you to the degree that it has me? Second, what would you like to see out of this site? Return of the forums? A Kickstarter to re-re-publish the books? Let me know, and we’ll make it happen,  hopefully together.

Zaijian for now…