[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.