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China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
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China Mountain Zhang (1992)

by Maureen F. McHugh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1173612,230 (4.02)60
'I am Zhang, alone with my light, and in that light I think for a moment that I am free.' Imagine a world where Chinese Marxism has vanquished the values of capitalism and Lenin is the prophet of choice. A cybernetic world where the new charioteers are flyers, human-powered kites dancing in the skies over New York in a brief grab at glory. A world where the opulence of Beijing marks a new cultural imperialism, as wealthy urbanites flirt with interactive death in illegal speakeasies, and where Arctic research stations and communes on Mars are haunted by their own fragile dangers. A world of fear and hope, of global disaster and slow healing, where progress can only be found in the cracks of a crumbling hegemony. This is the world of Zhang. An anti-hero who's still finding his way, treading a path through a totalitarian order - a path that just might make a difference.… (more)
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» See also 60 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
This book is one that's brilliant on multiple levels, but first, you have to manage your expectations. What do I mean?

This came out in 1990 but it resembles the more modern trend of literary SF in that most of the focus is on characterization and social interactions but in my opinion, it is superior to those because McHugh's wild worldbuilding is detailed, pervasive, and devoted to a fundamental conclusion. Or several conclusions. Interesting ones. In this respect, it's more like Samuel Delany's work.

Stand out features: Post-American revolution where China takes it over. The MC and the focus are on the LGBT community, including a very dystopian view of living conditions, especially in China. Revisionist history, it also has complicated things to say about how history is made that breaks away from most older SF in that it relies on Systems Theory, and best of all, the whole book IS a Study In Systems Theory.

I loved the world-building, and I really got into the main character, himself named China Mountain Zhang, but it's the interwoven nature of the tightly focused life he lives, the one day at a time style of writing that gradually catches hold of you and won't let go.

Like I said, it's more literary SF than anything, but it has a really awesome hard-SF core that satisfies on several additional levels. I definitely recommend this for any classic SF afficiandos who like their stories full of character. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
A little meandering, depressing to imagine the world can still be so nasty... but enjoyable, too. Very human SF. ( )
  Loryndalar | Mar 19, 2020 |
I know clunky world building is often part of SF and fantasy, but oh boy this book. For example, when you're fluent in a language, you don't usually tend to translate words and phrases back into your native language, because you know, you speak the other language fluently. Zhang, the main character of this book, speaks Chinese basically fluently, and lives in a world steeped in Chinese culture. His story is also narrated directly by him. Nonetheless, Zhang constantly translates just about every Chinese word, and explains every particular of Chinese culture he encounters. Obviously this is for the benefit of the reader with no background in either of those two subjects, but God, find a less distracting method of telling your story then. It just speaks to the heavy handedness and lack of technical imagination on the part of McHugh.

The smaller stories built into the book are a distraction as well. They serve no real purpose -- besides padding out a story McHugh clearly didn't believe could stand on its own -- and were distractions.

And not so much the authors fault, many SF novels suffer from changing technology and attitudes, but the very retro slang and behavior towards LGBT people didn't help it for me either. I mean yes, the Chinese government to this day is still homophobic in many ways, but the novel is so painfully a product of late 80s/early 90s America in regards to queer people. It damaged some what one of the novel's few strengths, its diversity. But this complaint is more nitpicky. ( )
1 vote ajdesasha | Nov 8, 2019 |
This novel was nominated for Nebula award for year 1992. The author describes its genre as anti-SF, meaning that it lacks the usual trope of a protagonist trying to change/affect their world. It can be viewed as a contemporary fiction, just set in the future.

So, what the future brought? Due to some events (briefly outlined closer to the end of the book) the US and China changed their political and technological places: China is a rich (possibly post-scarcity) society with best tech and education, center of the world, while the USA had a socialist revolution (helped by Chinese) and later its version of Cultural revolution (what it was like may SF readers may know from [b:The Three-Body Problem|20518872|The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1)|Liu Cixin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1415428227s/20518872.jpg|25696480]), named the Great Cleansing Winds campaign, making a lower middle income country.

The protagonist is a son of American born Chinese (ABC for short) father and Hispanic mother, the latter paid for his plastic surgery, so he looks Chinese. True ‘pureblood’ ABC have an advantage in theirs world, for they may go to China, which is a dream for many. However, there is a genetic test for ‘purity’ and our hero of cause will fail it. The higher position of Chinese (even in the US) causes a kind of racist hatred (maybe self-hatred) in our hero. His full Chinese name is Zhang Zhong Shan or China Mountain Zhang:

“Zhong Shan is the name of a famous Chinese revolutionary, the first president of the Republic; it is the Mandarin version of the Cantonese name Sun Yat-sen. To be named Zhang Zhong Shan is like being named George Washington Jones.”

He works on the construction and he is gay. The latter is a crime under Chinese and US law, but I the USA it is close to ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy. Each uneven chapter of the novel is from Zhang’s point of view, as he grows both physically and emotionally. Each even chapter is a story of other people, loosely connected to Zhang, such as a kite flyer (a dangerous new sport/entertainment, similar to the early 20th century plane pilots, with similarly high rate of death/traumas); a woman and a man in new Martian colony; a Chinese girl in the US.

Mars maybe the most SF part of the story – it is heavily reminiscent of [b:The Dispossessed|13651|The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle #6)|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1353467455s/13651.jpg|2684122], (struggling poor society, which try to govern itself via root democracy) but takes a more cynical look at it, showing the problems of equality. Another SF element from then popular cyberpunk – people can jack-in to computers (only passive connection i.e. w/o a feedback is legal, but of course, where is a tech, there are people to use it). A new concept is Daoist engineering – making the perfect, intuitively approachable system, e.g. a construction system. To some extent it is what all designers mean under friendly user interface, but broader.

The novel is written in a very solid prose style, but I cannot say I greatly enjoyed it: there are a lot of high quality contemporary fiction and when I read SF I expect more interesting ideas and what if situations.
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
This book follows four characters in a future where China has taken over most (all?) of Earth, and humans have colonized Mars. The characters are occupy various fringes: a gay man in a culture where homosexuality is illegal, an ugly woman whose parents couldn't afford plastic surgery, a middle-aged loner who has a farm on Mars, and a young athlete in the sport of kite racing.

The four stories only barely intersect: all of the characters are acquaintances of the gay man, China Mountain Zhang. Other than that, there is no connection between them, and you could remove any one of the story lines without affecting the others. I found this frustrating. The stories also didn't really seem to go anywhere, except for China's but even his didn't really have a satisfying arc. I was particularly disturbed by the storyline of the ugly woman: there is a long, detailed, and predictable chapter about her date rape, which is totally gratuitous.

The world building is pretty interesting, but there's a paradox here: I think the main point of the book is that people strive and struggle to find happiness in connections to other humans, and that people on the margins of society have to swim upstream to find their way. In other words, the point is that people are the same in any time and place. That makes the world-building totally incidental - if people are the same everywhere, then it doesn't matter what the world is, which means that the world is just background and doesn't really play a role in the story. This made the world-building unsatisfying.

I found this book very engaging while I was reading it, but then it was over and it was unsatisfying. ( )
1 vote Gwendydd | Nov 19, 2018 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maureen F. McHughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barlowe, WayneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riffel, HannesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Romero, Pedro JorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salwowski, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Windgassen, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
A simple way to get to know more about a town is to see how the people work, how they love and how they die. - Albert Camus, The Plague
Dedication
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The foreman chatters in Meihua, the beautiful tongue, Singapore English.
Quotations
She is very religious and she believes in Marx and Mao Zedong. Do not make the mistake of thinking her stupid; she has to juggle a lot of Kierkegaard and Heiler to explain but she manages a full wipe.
Legally everyone is equal, but even here at the other end of the world in the Socialist Union of American States we all know better than that.
I don't believe in socialism but I don't believe in capitalism either. We are small, governments are large, we survive in the cracks.
I feel inadequate. I know that politics is important, I just don't like to think about it. I don't know what my opinions are, I just know that very little I hear ever seems to have much to do with me, or with my life.
But I am only free in small places. Government is big, we are small. We are only free when we slip through the cracks.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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