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Ice and Fire: Chung Kuo Series
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2201. Chung Kuo, the world-girdling city ruled by the Seven T'angs, is caught in a struggle between two ideologies. The T'angs favour stability and stasis. The House, the bureaucratic body that rules City Europe in the T'angs' name, advocates change and progress, exemplified in their construction of a generation starship. The Seven are now faced with the choice of allowing their Empire of Ice to be swept away by progress or by launching a pre-emptive strike to win back control of the situation...but risk triggering a civil war.

Ice and Fire is the fourth volume in the 'new' version of the Chung Kuo series, picking up shortly after the events of The Middle Kingdom. As well as being a continuation of that novel (understandably, as Ice and Fire was originally published in 1988 as part of the original Middle Kingdom), it also contains a number of self-contained character and story arcs standing against the epic events unfolding from previously.

If Ice and Fire does have a self-contained theme, it's the hope of the young to bring a brighter future than what their elders have achieved, only for that hope to be eroded by cynicism and, in some cases, cruelty. The novel focuses on characters such as Li Yuan, the heir of one of the T'angs, who hopes to be an intelligent and fair ruler but is distracted by his love for his murdered brother's widow. Ben Shepherd is a highly intelligent, gifted artist who is also ruthlessly intelligent and able to see what others cannot. Kim Ward is a young boy from the Clay, the darkest, lowest levels of the world city, who has shown an aptitude for science and engineering. However, Kim has also discovered the Aristotle File, a document which exposes the lie that Chung Kuo is built upon.

Wingrove manages the character development of these individuals with surprising effectiveness, given the slimness of the volume (under 300 pages) and the large number of storylines that are in motion. There are also complex political machinations between the Seven and the House, whilst Howard DeVore (the series' main antagonist) is manipulating both sides to his own ends. It's a busy novel, somewhat less relaxed than its immediate predecessor, and is a fast-paced read.

The book suffers from two distinct weaknesses. The first is a result of Corvus, a small (-ish) publisher, picking up the series. Rather than publishing the series as ten 600-800-page novels (still a lot shorter than the individual volumes of many epic fantasy series) over three years, they have chosen to publish it as twenty 300-400 page ones over six. This has its benefits (each book is a concise and fast read), but it also risks frustration as each book stops just as it is getting going. There are also cost issues (buying twenty hardcovers, paperbacks or ebooks is simply more expensive than buying ten, whichever way you cut it). Ice and Fire is the first book in the series where it feels like this is a bit more of an issue, and it may well become more of one as the series continues to progress.

The other is a notable rise in the amount of sex and violence in the book, including a torture sequence which recalls the more gratuitous excesses of Terry Goodkind (fortunately this torture sequence only lasts five pages, not the forty plus of a Goodkind novel). The sudden increase in such scenes feels a bit jarring after the first three books, which certainly were not for children but did not contain as many scenes. Probably not an issue for some readers, but definitely an element of concern (and, based, on how the original series unfolded, something that might become more notable in later volumes).

Ice and Fire (****) is a well-written, fast-paced and page-turning read. It suffers a little from its shortness, with the story cutting off just as it's getting going, but otherwise this is another solid instalment in what is turning out to be an impressive SF epic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2013
Having read the original series and been very impresssed I was a little dubious about the prospect of a re-write but have to say that I am very impressed. Everything i loved about the originals is here but with additional polish and detail to make everything feel somehow new and different while still telling the same tale. I can only hope that Wingrove can manage to keep the mix of old and new going for the long haul to book 20.
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well I bought these because I loved the first editions and wanted to have this in digital format so I could read it again while travelling. it's been a while but it's a brilliant series with the. exception of some weird stuff in the S&M area. well developed characters and storyline that takes into the world of the hive and concepts other than European Renaissance thinking, a new paradigm for westerners and perhaps also for Asians.
great concepts innovative and exciting and scary on what the future of resource starved world and pollution covered could look like while looking at space and tradition...
interesting characterisation of people's and outlooks, occasionally a bit stereotypical but it works when there are the odd maverick to mix it up a bit.
highly recommended
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2013
I have read all 3 books in the series so far and it never stops being intriguing. I miss the characters of the 1st 2 books but love to read about Kim. I will keep on reading this to the end.
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on 23 February 2013
i have the original set of chung-kuo and thought seriously about buying the new versions but they are very good.one drawback is knowing which are the originals and which new.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2013
In summary, don't be drawn in by the quality of books 1 and 2, as they stand apart from what I have read of the original books.

I started, quite by accident and not knowing about the series, reading book one, Son of Heaven, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Just recently I read book 2, after reading that there is in fact a long series of books. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed book 2, a well written book. Moving on to the original, but re-written books 3 and 4, I began to have doubts and started not to enjoy the series. There were also some inconsistencies in the books, which go against the rules of the universe that the author has dictated, which really put me off.

For me, book four will be the last book I read. I quickly worked out the price of all 20 books, in the new series, with the additional 500k words (not much if you consider there are 20 books). The price is going to be something like £160! Way too much for this series. I assume the author is just trying to cash in, which is understandable to make a living, but far too expensive, in my opinion, for these books. The same material in 10 books would be more reasonable. I read books 2, 3 and 4 in under a week. Short books for the price.

One thing to note is, books 1 and 2 are very good. I noticed reading books 3 and 4 that the quality of the writing was not as good as the first 2 books, which I assume is down to the author having written the new books 1 and 2 just recently, so had more experience. I found most things to be believable in books 1 and 2, in books 3 and 4 I was frustrated a lot by actions taken by characters which were really quite dumb and not very likely to happen in real life, now or any conceivable future society.

If you do get into this series, expect to pay dearly for all 20 (see below).

Son of Heaven (February 2011)
Daylight on Iron Mountain (November 2011)
The Middle Kingdom (August 2012)
Ice and Fire
The Art of War
An Inch of Ashes
The Broken Wheel
The White Mountain
Monsters of the Deep
The Stone Within
Upon a Wheel of Fire
Beneath the Tree of Heaven
Song of the Bronze Statue
White Moon Red Dragon
China on the Rhine
Days of Bitter Strength
The Father of Lies
Blood and Iron
King of Infinite Space
The Marriage of the Living Dark
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2012
It is amazing how prescient this series was first time around given China's position in the world now. It is an incredible feat of world building and the reworked version is even better. Highly recommended.
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