Living Upstairs

Blog reader Adrian Banks sent along a link to a recent New York Times opinion piece (In China, a Vast Chasm Between the Rich and the Rest) about the growing divide between the rich and poor in China. The last line, Adrian notes, are particularly interesting. Remind you of anything?

“The only difference is we [the lower classes] cannot see the sun. In a few years, when I have money, I will also live upstairs.”

Environments and Imagery in Chung Kuo

Nothing fun from David today, but I do have some thoughts to share about imagery in the world of Chung Kuo — something we haven’t really discussed at length here (touched upon briefly when I redesigned the site a few months back) but I think deserves some discourse. This’ll apply more to what will take place starting in The Middle Kingdom, but was touched on briefly in Daylight and Paperhouse, and obviously these are my own opinions and interpretations.

By the way, if anyone else has anything they’d like to share (reflection pieces like this, fan fiction, fan art, etc.), I’m more than happy to post here.

Jump past the break for more on Environments and Imagery in Chung Kuo.

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Brad Murgen’s “Chung Kuo: Last Call for Greatness”

Brad Murgen, author and Chung Kuo fan, sent along a link to his review and commentary of the original 8-book series, which he jumped into after reading Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain by finding used copies on eBay (which I’ve recommended avoiding if you can help it). His reflections are very thorough, and Brad reaches the same conclusions most readers do upon finishing the series.

If you’re a series veteran, it’s a nice read — it’s sure to bring back fond memories and fuzzy feelings of when you first went through the series. Highly recommended. If you’re new to the series, beware of the (clearly marked) serious, hardcore, detailed, ending-ruining spoilers – many or most of which may not even apply in the recasting. Read at your own risk.

Here’s the link: http://www.bradmurgen.com/2012/08/chung-kuo-last-call-for-greatness.html

Thanks Brad!

Site Redesign

After almost a year and a half, I decided this site is overdue for a bit of an aesthetic update. I thought the original iteration was a little dull and devoid of color. Hope you all like the new revision. The background image is a composite of different (royalty free) images that I thought captured the darkness and mystery of the lower levels, combined with some imagery of the very futuristic Shanghai skyline, which might reflect that the first level topography of mansions and Security installations. The header font has been updated to something more modern (the typeface is Michroma), but vaguely reminiscent of retro-futurist styling.

If you hate it, let me know. I can go back with only a handful of clicks. 🙂

Seen while on vacation…

…in an outdoor used bookshop in Ojai, CA (Bart’s Books). In the past, I’d always snatch up all the copies of any Chung Kuo novels I could find (hence this bookshelf) so that I could lend out as needed, or in case of apocalypse or something, I’d be guaranteed something good to read. These days, that urge is less urgent, knowing that the series is back in print in a bigger-and-better version. Accordingly, I left these copies there, awaiting the next collector.

Last Saturday night…

At the urging of friends, I recently hosted at my house a screening of the film Hobo with a Shotgun, an homage to exploitation films of decades ago. It goes without saying that there may have been a tiny bit of alcohol involved at said get-together, and after the film was over and the lot of us mulled about afterwords, one friend, who was in town for the weekend from several states away, saw my copies of Myst: The Book of Atrus on the bookshelf and told me how much he’d enjoyed it ages ago, although he’d never finished the trilogy. Turns out we’d both been in grade school at the time and ordered the book from the same Scholastic book catalog that was often circulated to students.

In my slightly inebriated state, I excitedly lent him my three-in-one volume of Myst and the first book of Chung Kuo in hardcover, insisting that, of course, he’d love it. BUT… it turns out, in my drunken stupor, I’d shoved an old copy of The Middle Kingdom in his face, it completely slipping my mind that I should’ve given him Son of Heaven! I actually didn’t have a copy on hand to give him, since my only non-Limited Edition (not giving that one out) is already on loan (Rosa, any day now, I’d like it back). But the immense shame I felt, the following morning, knowing I may have started him out on the old path. Aiya!

So the moral of the lesson is: don’t lend out books in a compromised state. You might lend out the wrong one.

Now let’s see if this book actually makes its way back to me. You know what they say… don’t lend books you expect to be returned…

Aiya, the spam!

This is (almost) completely unrelated to Chung Kuo, but I wanted to mention the spam issue on the site and forums. Not too long after this site went live back in early February, it started seeing the occasional spam comment, which would usually be something to the effect of “Wow your site is so great lol I never thought about it you make a good point click here” and I’d have to go in and manually clear all that out.

Then, after The Forums opened, the nonsense really started to fly. Every day, I had to go remove spam posts, oftentimes in other languages and in attempts to sell totally random crap like automobile parts. I tried banning the IPs that these spammers were coming from. No help. Then, I tried several types of captchas during (the squiggly letters that supposedly aren’t machine readable) during the registration process. That didn’t work either.

BUT… it’s now been a few weeks since there’s been any spam anywhere on the site. This is what finally did the trick:

  • On the blog (WordPress): Akismet. Akismet catches the spam comments before they post and relegates them to a reviewable spam folder in the WordPress admin panel. It works perfectly. The downside is, for a small non-personal blog (like this one), it’s $5 a month. One one hand, that adds up a little over the course of the year, but on the other hand, I just spent more than that at Taco Bell. It’s worth the money.
  • One the boards (phpBB): Q&A. Any newly registering user has to answer a simple query (of my choosing) that can’t be machine-answered and isn’t easily parsed from Google search results. The answer to the question will easily be known to anyone who’s ever picked up a Chung Kuo book, new or old. It’s so much simpler than graphic captchas, but somehow so much more effective. Since this has gone live, not a single fake registration (or spam post) has shown up.

So, in the event that you’re starting your own blog or forum, I highly recommend that you check these out. On the flipside, if you’re having issues here (comments on blog posts not showing up or unable to register for the boards), hit me up at ofgiftsandstones <[at]> gmail.com so that I can figure it out.

Zaijian for now!

My Collection

Despite what conclusions you might draw from the picture above, I’m actually not obsessed (that is, going by the clinical definition of the word), but I do find myself compelled to buy any copies of Chung Kuo novels I see when visiting any used bookstores. That’s led to the modest collection you see here. It’s not a creepy stalker fixation — it started with just wanting the ability to lend the book freely to friends and family without worry of getting it back (no one ever returns borrowed books; that’s a universal truth) and it just sort of grew from there. All eight books of the original series are represented here, at least once. There was a time when Marriage of the Living Dark could go used for roughly $150 on the used market, but I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. MotLD runs around $45 or so on AbeBooks these days.

Happily, I now have one more book to add to the collection… the limited edition Son of Heaven, numbered and signed, imported from England, still in shrinkwrap… how it will remain for the foreseeable future.

Anyone else have a Chung Kuo shelf collection?

PS – Yes, those are the Myst books on the left side. Where else would I put those?