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London, 2043. Jake Reed is a young futures broker, trading stock on the datascape, the high-tech virtual stock market, one of the best in his field. When the datascape comes under attack from hackers, Reed is called in to investigate who could be responsible. However, the virtual attack is but the opening move in a struggle years in the planning. Cities burn, riots erupt and armies are neutralised as the long-feared collapse of modern civilisation begins.

Twenty-two years later, Reed lives in a rural community in Dorset. Millions have died in the post-Collapse years and the UK is now a patchwork of farming communities. Supplies of advanced medicines and high technology are running low, with no infrastructure available to replace them. But strange things are happening. Waves of refugees are appearing out of the east, strange craft with dragons painted on the wings have been seen in the sky and, on the horizon, a vast structure has appeared and is getting closer. The age of Western dominance has ended and the future belongs to the East.

Son of Heaven is the first novel in the new version of David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, a science fiction epic spanning 200 years of future history. In Wingrove's series, the entire world has come to be dominated by China, which has constructed vast, continent-spanning cities packed with billions of people and begun to expand into space. Wingrove previously attempted to tell this story in the late 1980s and through the 1990s in eight large volumes, but the series was not completed properly. Now Corvus are republishing the saga in twenty volumes, with a new beginning and ending and a thorough revising of the previously-published material.

Son of Heaven starts the story much earlier than the original first volume, depicting exactly how Western civilisation and modern economic system were destroyed and how China survived the aftershocks to rise to dominance. This is an interesting movie: the original first book started with China's supremacy firmly established and the reasons for its rise consigned to backstory. Here we see it in progress. It also means we are introduced to the world through the eyes of outsiders (Jake and his neighbours and family who are 'incorporated' into the World of Levels) rather than from inside, which is perhaps a little more forgiving to new readers to the series.

On the downside, this means that the methods by which China's dominance was established have to be depicted in a lot of detail, and these methods are somewhat fanciful, requiring a catastrophic and colossal failure of tens of thousands of Western intelligence, military and economic experts across many years whilst still requiring China to have acquired technology far in advance of the rest of the world (particularly the AI and nanotech required start building its massive continent-spanning cities in the space of a few years). Lots of SF is based on far more ludicrous premises, of course, but generally these work by taking place in the distant future with the transition from modern society being a vague or mythological event. Here it's more central to the story and therefore more open to scrutiny. This isn't helped by Wingrove having to take into account twenty years of additional real history (such as China's economic explosion) and then weld it onto the front of his original narrative. Ironically, China's real-life economic success provides a much more reasonable grounding for it becoming the dominant world culture over the course of decades, but using this as the grounding of the story would have presumably required a much more thorough rewriting of the entire series.

Moving beyond this, Wingrove's actual writing is pretty solid, depicting both the high-tech world of 21st Century London and the post-Collapse, almost post-apocalyptic agrarian society quite well. The conflict presented by the latter is handled intriguingly: the 21st Century, money-fixated world of haves and have-nots is shown to be comfortable but also shallow. The post-apocalyptic world initially lauds the absence of pointless materialism but then exposes the ugliness of living in a world where people die of cold exposure in the winter or from very minor wounds a modern hospital would sort out in a few minutes, or where girls are encouraged to get pregnant before the age of twenty to increase the chances of propagating the species. This sort of duality was one of the key themes of the original series, with the conflicts between progress and stasis and the state and the individual being key, but with the various options being presented as having their own benefits and disadvantages.

In the latter part of the book the Chinese finally show up and we meet a raft of new characters. General Jiang Lei is leading the subjugation of England and is presented as an effective soldier but also one with a sense of history and a conscience. He is contrasted against Wang Yu-Lai, a savage and ruthless intelligence agent who is all for rape, plunder and genocide. Jiang is an interesting character whose attitudes mirror many of the conflicts inherent in the series in microcosm. Wang is a caricature and a cartoon villain at best, however, lacking convincing motivation or characterisation.

The contrast between these two characters is symptomatic of much of the book: some excellent worldbuilding stands contrasted against some highly unconvincing developments needed to make China top dog. Jake and Jiang's solid depictions stand against some under-developed characters (particularly women) elsewhere. Respect and admiration for Chinese culture is contrasted against stereotypical elements elsewhere (the 'cold, brutal' Chinese stereotype is played up a bit, even when characters like Jiang are shown to be nothing like this). Overall though, the book is readable and sets up a world intriguing enough to make even the modest wait for the second book, Daylight on Iron Mountain (due in late 2011), feel somewhat disappointing. Whether it's enough to sustain twenty novels released across five years is another question, but we'll see.

Son of Heaven (***½) is a solid opening to a very long epic SF series, overcoming its weaknesses to deliver an unsettling (if implausible) depiction of the future. The novel will be published in the UK on 3 February 2011 as a limited-edition hardcover and ebook and on 1 March as a regular hardcover.
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on 1 March 2011
Unlike others, I have had no exposure to the Chung Kuo series of books previously. I was looking for a SciFi read and stumbled across this, so I think my view will differ from those who have had that previous exposure to Wingrove's epic work. I had read that it was up there with Asimov's Foundation series and Herbert's Dune series - and that was good enough for me.

We are introduced to Jake Reed as a survivor in rural Dorset, living within a community that gets by through farming and trading. Those of you familiar with Terry Nation's Survivors may recognise the battle to make ends meet in an environment devoid of technology. This setting is some 20 years after the world's technology ceased to be, and the community have got pretty used to getting by. The first third of the book is all about that community and how it works.

The next third goes back in time to when Jake was a trader in a virtual mareketplace called the Datascape. It is an AI world where stocks are represented by buildings, colours and smells that assualt the senses. It details his life, and how the world, both real and virtual, works - the haves and the have-nots. It is a world where social wellbeing seems to be broken, where the rich live in protected enclaves and the poor have to survive on their own as second class citizens. The Chinese then destroy this system in a matter of days. We learn about the shock it is to the establishment when it happens, and that there is an intelligence out there far greater than their own (think of the Mule in Asimov's Foundation series for a comparable example, perhaps).

The final third of the book shows us how everything changes when the Chinese finally come to Britain and begin to subjugate it. Jake also become aware of the complexities and the gestation period twenty years ago when all the Chinese agents were put in place to destroy Western civilisation.

The book deals a lot with how humans can be incredibly cruel and sadistic when under stress, or when they think they have total power and control. Yet is also shows that there is hope in humanity. It's bleak, but peppered with enough to hope that "everything works out in the end".

There are 20 books planned for this series, so if you read this be prepared to be in it for the long run.

I thought it was an excellent SciFi novel, and I look forward to reading the next instalment. Some have said the scenario is a little too fantastic, but I found it digestible. The Chinese are rapidly becoming a super power in today's economic climate and the book takes this domination and tweaks it with a "what if some nutter wanted China to dominate the world" scenario. It's not a million miles away from the Cold War SciFi from the middle part of the last century.

Highly recommended.
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on 6 February 2011
It's been a long time coming but the first book in the new Chung Kuo sequence is well worth the wait. I read it in one (long) sitting and am about to start over again. What more can I say? For people who've never read David Wingrove, you're in for a real treat, and for those who have, Son of Heaven will remind you what an excellent and ambitious series Chung Kuo is. And there's going to be twenty volumes! Great stuff!
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on 30 May 2016
I bought this one a good time ago, and kept putting off reading it; but do not know why. I found, however, that when I got around to reading it, I was hooked, by a great story line, realistic characters, well set out plot and good prose. I would recommend this as a book worth reading.
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VINE VOICEon 27 March 2013
Ah, the irony.

David Wingrove's alternate history SF gets it's very own alternate version.

Amongst my favourite books of all time, the Chung Kuo series was in my opinion an SF masterpiece, right up until the publisher killed it stone dead by insisting that it was cut down in its prime. So, it's great to begin again, with this new first volume, which sets all the themes up with Wingrove's easy and assured style.

If anything, this is a more mature and considered approach than the (literal) explosion of the original first volume. But this time around the author can have no doubt about what is to come, and is able to re-invent the momentum for the series. It really worked for me, but the proof of the pudding will be with the next volume, completing the umbilical cord from mummy to new life.

I enjoyed this enormously. It was like finding a favourite shirt from 20 years ago and realising it still fits. I can't wait for the rest, and the re-written ending.

Brilliant!
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on 1 September 2012
I suppose I must start by saying that I enjoyed this book but I must also add that I found it strangely old-fashioned. I wouldn't have been surprised to find that it was really written by John Christopher - it had that sort of feel about it. The book is the first in a long series (which I'm not sure I'm going to actually chase up) but can stand alone. The series appears to be a more modern rewrite of the originals produced in the 80s.
The story is in three parts; the ruralistic, slightly dangerous, post-apocalyptic situation in England, as seen through the eyes of our hero, Jake Reed; the apocalyptic melt-down as experienced by Jake fourty years earlier; and what happened next. We shift from a "survivors" scenario, a small community living and working together... some of them carrying a bit of techno-baggage... all trying to build a better world, to an amazingly recognisable yet obviously advanced world where virtual reality plays a significant role in maintaining economic stability. We watch as this future-world is attacked and destroyed. Our hero manages to reach safety (a little too easily in my view). ...and then it all comes falling about our ears as the architects of destruction come to reap their rewards.
It's not a bad read... just strangely out of joint.
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on 6 February 2014
I really enjoyed this book. The characters caught my attention early on, I liked the mix of flashbacks and 'current events' and the writing is superb. I think it says it all that I bought the second in the series about 5 seconds after I finished this one!

Ok the arrival of the Chinese happens pretty late in the book and I was wondering when they would arrive, but I'm not holding that against it on the basis that I really didn't miss them, but they lived up to expectations when they did finally get there:)
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on 22 October 2013
Good social and political vision if the very near future.
Don't want to give anything away but it's another post collapse book but extremely well written and plays on many of our current fears regarding a certain nation that appears to be taking over in the real world.
Good level of intimacy with the characters that are well filled. Good degree of action and very good levels of intrigue and suspense.
Very well written and can't wait to read a follow on that I've just downloaded as a result of the entertainment this story gave me.
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on 29 July 2011
Never having heard of David Wingrove or this series, I found it 'by accident' when trying to find something new to read. The reviews and synopsis made me want to read more but being cautious I downloaded the sample first. I was really gripped by this and downloaded the book very shortly after.

I was totally caught up in section one, setting the scene for 'present day'. I found the writing style very easy to read and was able to visualise from the text, particularly knowing Dorset. However, section two was much harder going as the concept is much more difficut to grasp but still intriguing. Section 3 - returning to present day, I somehow found less gripping but stuck with it to the end, although I confess to 'skimming' some bits. I cannot explain my perception of a different 'feel' to the two present day sections and sadly am not convinced that I want to read any further books in the series. Those who know this series of old, suggest that it gets better but I need persuading.
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on 8 June 2011
For readers new to David Wingroves epic series this is a bit of a misleading starter. Having previously read the series i stuck with it, knowing just how awesome it gets, but if i'd of been new to Chung Kuo i'd of probably wondered what all the fuss was about.
This new beginning to the series has been grafted to set the scene. It's a slow starter but well written. The main issue to grasp is that it starts 20 years after the 'crash' of society, there's almost no technology, and people are scavenging to survive in small groups. Then the plot jumps back to the event itself. Then back to the future/present to deal with the coming of the Chinese...This is where the classic series starts. And THAT is worth sticking around for! Then you will see what people rave about. And realize it's far, far more than a post apocalypse survival tale. And do the Chinese bring back technology? oh YES they do!
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