Book review: Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove

ChungKuoTheMiddleKingdomChung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove

[From Critical Wave #13, 1989. Initally released in hardback by New English Library, the novel was reissued as a Corvus paperback in 2012; this later edition, as well as its seven sequels and a version for Kindle, are currently available via Amazon.]

 

David Wingrove claims this opening novel in a planned seven-book sequence is concerned not only with the cultural schism inherent in a Chinese-dominated twenty-second century, but also tackles “the real matter of history”; this latter comment betrays the author as an advocate of that premise which dictates that the historical process is governed by a few key figures rather than by social forces (a theory crucial to the new Tory curiculum).

This would presumably explain why a novel already founded upon a shaky premise (are we really expected to believe that the Han overlords have effectively rewritten the past to secure their superiority, or will the sequel reveal that the Earth was ravaged by endemic amnesia?) owes more to Harold Robbins than, say, A J P Taylor. Indeed, Wingrove shows the same casual disregard for the minor players of his drama as the dictatorial Council of Seven which controls the entire planet, rarely averting his gaze from the palatial splendour of the T’ang estates to the claustrophobic conditions suffered by the billions below.

Worse, The Middle Kingdom echoes the likes of Robbins in his use of sex and violence as plot devices to underpin the book’s more tedious sections; the text is ridden through with undisguised misogyny and homophobia (the only reasonably strong female character is sexually tortured and later murdered, gays are portrayed either as fools weakened by their “disease” or as malevolent thugs). A potential bestseller this might be, but, I suspect, for many of the wrong reasons.

Book review: Horror: 100 Best Books, ed. Stephen Jones & Kim Newman

Horror100 2Horror: 100 Best Books, edited by Stephen Jones & Kim Newman

[From Critical Wave #27, 1992. Released in hardback by Xanadu and subsequently revised for a mass-market paperback from New English Library, Horror; 100 Best Books was further updated for Carroll & Graf’s 1998 edition, with a second volume following in 2005. The third version is currently available via Amazon.]

 

Originally published by Xanadu in 1988, this “revised and updated” edition features the same collection of critical essays by leading genre figures (Clive Barker on Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Steve Rasnic Tem on Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Lisa Tuttle on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House), although the contributors’ biographies have been re-written and in themselves provide a useful reference tool.

By placing the critiques in chronological order, Jones and Newman have laid the groundwork for an historical retrospective charting the development of horror and dark fantasy over the past four centuries, even if such an overview is absent here. It’s a pity, however, that room could not be found for post-1987 works, especially as the “recommended reading” appendix highlights such important releases as Brian Stableford’s The Empire of Fear, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and Thomas M Disch’s The M.D.: A Horror Story.