11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Intelligent but all over the place,
This review is from: Daylight on Iron Mountain: Chung Kuo Book 2 (Kindle Edition)
David Wingrove wrote the Chung Kuo series of eight science-fiction novels in the late eighties/nineties. Now he is apparently rewriting them, and has added two prequels, published in 2011, Son of Heaven and now Daylight on Iron Mountain.
These prequels sit very firmly within the "future history" sub-genre. Son of Heaven was a drama in three acts, dealing with the aftermath of a digital apocalypse, the catastrophe itself, and finally the triumph of its Chinese initiators.
This second novel picks up where its predecessors left off and is split more or less equally between the now dominant Pei Ching - based elite, and the lives of the main protagonists of the earlier novel Jake Reed and his family and friends.
As the book opens, the ruling despot T'sao Chun is faced with rebellion in the Middle East as he prepares his final assault on a divided America, lead by honourable poet-general Jiang Li and Caucasian adviser and computer genius Amos Shepherd.
The book covers a 20 year period. On a micro level Jake firstly sees an opportunity to regain a former life and then, bizarrely and possibly uniquely in a science fiction novel, gets involved in a dispute about his pension rights. On a macro level the book deals firstly with the final, brutal triumph of Tsao Chun, and then with conflict between him and his closest allies.
On a plus side, this is a close to being character driven as any science fiction. Jake and his family are real, believable people, with credible human reactions to the extraordinary world around them. Also, where the third act of the first novel was its weakest part, here as the war between Tsao Chun and his advisers reaches its height, it is the most thrilling. Finally, as with much great science fiction, this deals with contemporary issues. Pension rights is a rather bizarre one, but more interestingly, Wingrove looks at the role and fate of a tyrant, with T'sao Chun seen as a necessary means to an end but who runs the very real risk of becoming a Sadam/Gadaffi like figure. Also interesting and very relevant is the role of capitalism in an autocratic Chinese society.
On the downside, the scope of the novel is just too wide, and many story lines are either left to peter out or are left inadequately explored. To be cruel, the plot of the novel is all over the place, a bit of a mess. The conflict in the Middle East, Jakes attempts to rebuild his former life, his son Peter's career, Jiang Li's conquest of America, are just some of the themes which feel inadequately explored.
At the end of the day, this is intelligent science fiction, and as such is worthwhile, but it does have the feel of being a transitory novel within a series, rather than being a coherent standalone work. It is a reasonable sequel to Son of Heaven. Whether its position in the ultimate rewritten series atones for its faults remains to be seen.