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on 30 May 2017
book in excellent condition and a very good read
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on 13 October 2013
Excellent read based in London and a possible future Dorset. Not exactly Trollope, but a forward view to another feudal time.
Well worth the time!
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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 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 20 April 2011
Excellent opening to a series that was already a classic in its genre and, judging by this installment, will be improved upon.
I found it very difficult to put down in the sense of a 'real page-turner' - I always wanted to find out what happened next.
I would have liked more detail around what has happened in the rest of the world following the Crash, but I can understand that this has been written from (primarily) a single viewpoint who is unlikely to know.
Eagerly anticipating the next one.
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on 9 February 2011
As a long standing fan of the Chung Kuo series, I have been waiting desperately for well over a year to get my hands on The Son of Heaven and it did not disappoint! It was never going to be easy to go back and try to refashion an opening for this massive world-building endeavor, especially in the light of the current economic climate and the constant stream of information that continues to befuddle expectations. I found myself questioning the various propositions set forth in the opening few chapters from the perspective of what is currently going on, but as I read on, the more I got engrossed in Wingrove's masterful storytelling and characters, and the less I cared about how it all came to be. I cannot wait for the next installment and going back and revisiting the entire series! Chung Kuo is one of the best epic stories of science fiction, imho, and I could not recommend it highly enough. I am just happy that I will not have to scour used book stores for extra copies to give to friends anymore :)
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on 24 April 2011
Right, I'm not sure what to make of this book. Personally, I find the 1- and 2-star reviews quite unfair, but I'm not so enthusiastic about this book and find that the 5-star reviews are exaggerating. I leave 4 stars because I genuinely enjoyed reading it (and because if I left 3 stars I'd feel like I'm not really taking a stand). I was feeling rather curious about how events would develop and about the actual "apocalypse" that lead the world to be the way it is described. Said that, I have the impression that the author was trying to connect the events in the book with what's happening now in the real world, but the leap is far-fetched to say the least. Also, there's a big element of implausibility in the historical side of it - as well as in the description of the enemy, ruthless but too perfect to be human. I recommend the book if you want to read something entertaining, just don't expect it to be mind-blowing as some 5-star reviews seem to suggest.
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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 14 March 2011
Very well written, with interesting characters who don't always act in the way you would expect. The first part of the book details the life of Jack Reed, living in a rural community in Dorset after the collapse of civilization. This is the best part of the story, it details his journey to market to trade and buy commodities his village require: fuel, ammunition and medical goods. Not much happens of relevance, but interesting characters and good writing make it a good read.

The middle third of the book flashes back 20 years and details the fall through Jack's eyes. Exciting and all too credible in the light of 2008.

The final third of the book picks up where the first third left off. The Chinese arrive to impose their will and build their city. The story is split between Jacks view of the conquest and the general responsible for conquering the region. The main thrust of this part concerns the tensions between the general and a political officer attached to his unit. Unfortunately the last section of the book is too short to give this story justice. I think, having not read the original series, its importance is in introducing some of the concepts of the series: The Thousand Eyes, The Dragon, the city.

This book is really an appetizer for the next 19 books. It's very well written with good characterisation and highly recommended. I will defiantly read the next book.
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