Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Belgariad [2] Queen of Sorcery

This is Part 2 of my retrospective for The Belgariad and The Malloreon. Please see this blog post for an overview of the retrospective. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES, AS IN BOTH THE BELGARIAD AND THE MALLOREON.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

The best way to approach these blogs is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet and plan on doing so, you may want to wait on reading this.




Book 2: Queen of Sorcery (1982)
As I mentioned previously, I had all the books in this series on hand when I first started it back in 1990.  So unlike some other long-running series of late, I didn't have to wait at all.  I was thoroughly hooked on the series after reading only the first entry, so I immediately grabbed the next from my brother's bookshelf and continued the tale. I knew that Important Things were going to happen to Garion and I was anxious to see how it came to pass, as well as learn more about the world that Eddings had created.

General Thoughts
In the previous blog for Pawn of Prophecy, as well the retrospective for The Wheel of Time, I generally break things down into "Thoughts Then" and "Thoughts Now."  To be honest, I don't remember my thoughts for each book in this series when I first read it, because I devoured them in a matter of weeks.  So I think I'll dispense with that format until maybe later, when I get towards the end of The Malloreon (I had to wait for the last two, remember).

Anyway, over time this volume has probably become my least favorite of the series, mainly because it's not as exciting to me as the others.  It starts around a month or two after Pawn of Prophecy, but it always seems to me like Garion ages a year or two between books.  He was a child before, but now he's suddenly a teenager.  Or maybe I just didn't age him enough in my mind throughout the first book.

In this volume we journey to three new nations: Arendia, Tolnedra and Nyissa.  Each of these nations are comprised of people bound to one of the original Seven Gods.  Chaldan (Arendia), Nedra (Tolnedra) and Issa (Nyissa).  These three always felt like minor Gods to me, because they rarely appear in the series... Torak and Aldur are the prominent Gods in the story, for obvious reasons.

The Cover
First, the cover.  This one shows a scene from the very end of the book, when they are in Nyissa: Garion being brought to Eternal Salmissra, Queen of Nyissa, after he is kidnapped.  The snake there is named Maas (he can talk).  And of course there's Aunt Pol, or Polgara the Sorceress, who eventually gives Salmissra what she truly wants: eternal life.  With a catch, of course.


The background map shows the three nations I mentioned earlier, Arendia, Tolnedra and Nyissa.  And there's a silhouette as well, a pattern than continues for the entire series.  This time it's an owl, which represents Polgara. It's a good cover, although the statue of Issa behind Salmissra is supposed to be massive... but I understand why it's not in this picture.

Speaking of covers, this one is falling off on my copy.  Only the glue on the very top is still good and the binding itself has split halfway through the book.  All the other volumes in the series are holding up nicely, though.

The Quest Continues
So now everyone knows for sure what the quest is, even Garion.  The party can now speak of it without fearing that the Apostate, Zedar, will hear them speaking his name.  Zedar has stolen the Orb of Aldur from the throne room in Riva, and is supposedly taking it back to his master, Torak, who had used it to crack the world thousands of years ago.  Belgarath the Sorcerer, leader of our party, stole it back and Riva Iron-Grip took it into safekeeping for the West.

The Rivan King and his family were murdered hundreds of years ago by Nyissans, and everyone thinks the line is dead.  Of course we know that's not true - Garion is the current descendant of the Rivan line, his ancestor having escaped that slaughter and his family guarded by Belgarath and Polgara over the generations.  So the quest makes for a perfect set up: the Orb stolen somehow and the Rivan heir, the only human that can touch the Orb and live (or so we think), ready to take up his destiny.  Eventually.

Join the Party
In this novel we are introduced to some new characters, who join the Quest, forming quite the eclectic and stereotypical fantasy party, i.e. one of each race / nationality / profession.

  • Lelldorin (an archer... think Legolas or Robin Hood) and Mandorallen (a knight, think Lancelot), Arendians who are on opposite ends of a long-standing civil war
  • Hettar (a "horse lord" - he can talk to horses), an Algarian
  • Ce'Nedra (spoiled brat), a Tolnedran princess, daughter of the Emperor

Lelldorin gets injured about halfway through the book and is left behind, but the others are there to stay for a while.  Ce'Nedra adds a nice dymanic to the teenage Garion, who with his Sendarian upbringing is old-fashioned and awkward, whereas Ce'Nedra is forward, impertinent and often a tease.  When you learn that every Tolnedran princess must present herself at the throne room in Riva on her sixteenth birthday (part of a treaty), then things start getting interesting, because you know what that means.  Garion and Ce'Nedra, bow chikka wow wow.

And despite all the different cultures, the men all wear doublets,
tunics or hose.  Art by evolra.

Anachronistic Cultures
Now, as you visit the new nations in Queen of Sorcery (and throughout the rest of the series), you'll probably notice the anachronisms between the cultures of each nation. Eddings kind of threw together cultures from different time periods in human history onto the same continent at the same time, which doesn't make much sense, to be honest.

There's the medieval nation of Arendia complete with knights and serfs. A Roman-style "Empire" in Tolnedra (which is small for an Empire) with dynasties of Emperors.  Then a jungle nation, Nyissa, that worships snakes, a cross between Egypt and Vietnam / Laos.  Add to that the northern nation of Cherek from Pawn of Prophecy, and what are essentially Vikings.  Looking ahead to future books, there's a nation of nomads that travel the plains like Mongols, called Algaria. Desert cultures in Cthol Murgos that remind one of northern Africa.  Etc etc.

It makes for great storytelling, moving from culture to culture, but realistically all those different cultures wouldn't develop and co-exist at the same time, in the same area (a relatively small portion of the western continent, about the size of Europe).  Granted, some could exist at the same time - maybe halfway across the world from each other.  It's one of those flaws in the world that you can forgive because the story is entertaining.

You might also notice there seems to be no progress among these cultures for thousands of years... which doesn't make much sense either.  Until later, when you learn more about the prophecy and what it really represents.  That's a number of books away, though.

Arendia
Queen of Sorcery starts with our heroes in Arendia, a country just south of Sendaria (where it all began).  They sailed down there after the end of the last book.  Arendia is the medieval nation that's split into two groups: Asturian and Mimbrate.  Asturians live in the forest and are archers and the like.  Mimbrates live on the plains and are knights.  There used to be a third, Wacite, but these people were destroyed by the Mimbrates many years ago (Polgara talks about this in her memoir book, Polgara the Sorceress).

Map by Shelly Shapiro

The party travels straight down the Great West Road on the eastern side of the country, bypassing the bulk of the country.  You get a good look at both sides of the country, Asturian and Mimbrate, and Garion even helps to foil a plot to assassinate the King.  You also get a lot of "thees" and "thous" since the Mimbrates speak in flowery, poetic English.  It's amusing at times, especially the banter between Mandorallen (our token knight) and Barak (our token warrior).

Tolnedra
Next, we make our way down to Tolnedra, south of Arendia. Our stay in Tolnedra is relatively short. Belgarath wants to warn the Emperor, Ran Borune, of the theft of the Orb and the possible mobilization of the West against the Angaraks (Torak's people, the "bad guys"; they inhabit all of the east and south of the continent). The Emperor's daughter, Princess Ce'Nedra runs away because she doesn't want to be taken to Riva on her sixteenth birthday, and of course she joins our party - where it is virtually assured that she will appear in Riva, now that she's in Polgara's hands.

Map by Shelly Shapiro

Then we travel through the Wood of the Dryads on the southern border, home to the Dryads.  There are mythical and wonderful creatures here and there in Eddings's world, but they don't factor into the storyline much... vestiges of an old world that are slowly fading away.

Nyissa
Nyissa is where we end the book.  It's a forboding land, most of it swamp or jungle, and the party is forced to go there because trail of Zedar (and the stolen Orb) lead there.  The party splits, Belgarath and Silk heading into the wilds on the trail, the rest sailing up the River of the Serpent to the only major city in Nyissa, Sthiss Tor.

Map by Shelly Shapiro

This country is interesting... many people talk with lisps, they worship serpents, completely shave themselves and wear little (because it's so hot and humid), have slaves, and are experts in poisons.  We stay in Sthiss Tor for the rest of the book.  Garion is kidnapped by Queen Salmissra and rescued, then Belgarath and Silk rejoin the main party.

If you've been keeping track, that makes Garion five for five when it comes to rulers.  He's now met the ruler for all five countries he's been in.  Will he get a clean sweep?  Stay tuned to find out!

Belgarion and the Voice
The last thing I'll touch on is Garion's nascent powers of sorcery.  It is revealed in this volume that he can use the Will and the Word, which is the power that Belgarath, Polgara and all the other sorcerers use.  It's a surprisingly simple magic system for a fantasy.  He begins to use it in this volume and there's no turning back.  The first time he uses it willingly is to kill Asharak / Chamdar, who is revealed to be the person that killed his parents.  Garion burns him alive.

The other sorcerers now call Garion "Belgarion," which is his true sorcerer name.  Garion, being young, wants nothing to do with it and spends a lot of time sulking and feeling sorry for himself.  We are also introduced to a dry voice in Garion's head that gives him advice and helps when he's in trouble - the Voice is very important when Garion is kidnapped by Salmissra, for he was poisoned and the Voice tells him how to counteract the poison using the Will and the Word.

Later we learn that this is the Voice of Prophecy, who will remain with us for the rest of our story (both series).  A lot more to come on the various prophecies as Garion learns more about them.

Next:

Book 3 - Magician's Gambit

Previous:

Book 1 - Pawn of Prophecy

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chung Kuo: Last Call for Greatness

I believe I've mentioned this a few times before, but over the last few months (since January, in fact) I have been reading this 8-book science fiction epic series called Chung Kuo, by David Wingrove.  I just finished the series, and felt compelled to write something about it.  I don't do many reviews these days, but this will be part review and part commentary on the experience of reading this epic.

The only good logo I could find online.
From the official website.

The Background
A little background on the series.  I had never heard of it until late last year, when someone recommended it on Kindle Boards (I post there every once in a while).  I did some investigating and found the premise fascinating and immediately searched online for it - only to find that it was entirely out of print even though it was not that old (1989-1999).  Apparently the author was "forced" to complete the series a book ahead of schedule by the publisher (there were supposed to be 9 total), that he didn't get paid for it, that very few people liked that last, rushed/condensed book (#8) and that it had a short print run, making it very rare and commanding prices upwards of $40-$50 online for a used copy.

Then I discovered that the series was in the process of being reissued as 20 volumes by a new publisher, with 2 new prequels and a rewritten ending.  How do they get to 20 from 8?  Well, the originals are quite long (roughly 250K-300K words long each), so each of them were split into two volumes for the "recasting."  Intrigued, I noticed that the first prequel (Book 1 of the new version) had just recently come out.  So I got it on my Kindle and figured I could read the series as they were reissued, rather than buy the original version - the schedule was for 4 books a year for 5 years.  That's pretty fast, I thought.

The Premise
It's hard to be brief when you're talking 8 large volumes, but here is the setup in a few paragraphs:

Nearly 200 years in the future (the original version of the series spans 60 years: 2190 - 2250), the world is dominated by the Chinese, or the Han as they are called in the story.  They essentially conquered the world by the late-21st century and built vast continent-spanning Cities made of a super-material called "ice."  There are seven Cities, one on each continent (except Antarctica, which is ignored), two on Asia.  These cities are massive, rising thousands of feet into the air, with hundreds of levels that people live on.  Beneath the Cities themselves is what's called the Clay, the actual earth upon which these Cities rest, which houses the remains of old Earth and stunted humans that have regressed.

One term the Chinese have for their country is Zhōngguó, which basically means "Central State" or "Middle Kingdom."  The Anglicized version of that name is Chung-kuo, hence the title of the series.  The Chinese have renamed Earth to Chung Kuo.  And their empire doesn't stop at Earth - there are colonies on Mars and various industrial operations throughout the solar system.  The rulers of Chung Kuo (the seven T'ang) even have palaces in space, orbiting the planet.

At the center of the epic is what is called The War of Two Directions.  This essentially is the struggle between those who want change (the West, non-Chinese) and those who don't (the East, Chinese).  The Chinese have been winning this war in a variety of ways, one being that the true history of the world was abolished and rewritten to say that the Chinese have been dominant for thousands of years.  Over time the few that remembered the truth died, their descendants forgot and soon accepted what they were told.

The Prequels
(Minor Spoilers)
Sounds like a kickass premise for a sci-fi epic, right?  That's because it is.  Essentially what I expected was that by the end of the series, we'd see the vast empire of Chung Kuo torn down somehow, as no empire lasts forever.  History has shown us that, right?


So I start reading the first entry in the recasted 20-book version, Son of Heaven.  The first two books are new prequels, covering the years 2043 - 2098, and explain how the Chinese came to conquer the world, how they built their enormous Cities and made the world Forget about the past.  This first book was slow to start, but picks up about halfway through.  I thought it was awesome.  It was realistic and gripping.

It also made me think... if suddenly our economies completely collapsed, what would I do?  Where would I go, and what lengths would I go to protect myself and my loved ones?  Watching the main protagonist (Jake Reed) go through the collapse of society, the aftermath and then the coming of China and the Cities - it was fascinating.

And the next prequel, Daylight on Iron Mountain, took that even further.  Here we see Jake Reed growing old, the current world in the new Cities so drastically different than what he was born in.  He has fallen on hard times and just cannot let go of the old world, much to the consternation of his progeny.  It is very sad and touching to see how he copes with that as the seven T'ang wrest power from the tyrant Tsao Ch'un, the man who conquered the world and built the Cities.  These new books set up the rest of the series perfectly.

So I Bought The Original Version Used
After the prequels, I couldn't wait for the rest of the recasting to get released.  It was scheduled to end in 2015, but things were already delayed and off to a slow start.  Impatient, I decided to just buy used copies of the original 8-book version.

So I ordered the originals used off eBay.  Even the rare Book 8, which I bought from a UK seller and spent $34 on (for a normal paperback).  Below is the list of books in the original version:

1. The Middle Kingdom
2. The Broken Wheel
3. The White Mountain
4. The Stone Within
5. Beneath the Tree of Heaven
6. White Moon, Red Dragon
7. Days of Bitter Strength
8. The Marriage of the Living Dark

The used copies I bought of the original 8-book series.

The Reaction
I can confirm that most of the series is awesome.  It has just about everything you'd want in an epic tale. There is a ton going on, lots of story threads, yet Wingrove weaves everything together into a cohesive tapestry and the more you read, the more you want. He sure can write, there is no doubt about that. The series is a fascinating view into how events shape the future and I loved seeing how the world changed within the lifetime of the main characters, and how they changed (or didn't change) with it.

It also added many twists and interesting subplots that I did not expect, and expanded beyond Earth / Chung Kuo to Mars and the moons of Jupiter.  It's like a casino buffet for fiction: anything you want, any time of day.  It has touching and shocking moments, some so graphic and disturbing that I had to pause for a bit and think about what I'd just read.  There was one near the end of Book 3, The White Mountain, during Kao Chen's storyline.  When you read it, you'll know what I mean.  It is easily the most shocking moment of the series for me and shows just how cruel humans can be to one another.

He's not afraid to kill characters, either. Before George R.R. Martin was famously killing main characters, Wingrove was doing it. Each book has a list of characters at the beginning, and by Book 8 the list of dead characters is 12 1/2 pages compared to the 4 pages of living characters.

And some of the science behind the world is also explained here and there.  When I started, I was confused about the Cities.  Did they cover all of the land?  If so, how is oxygen generated for the atmosphere?  Where did all the food for tens of billions of people come from?

The size of the Cities are a bit vague and halfway through the series you learn that they really only cover certain parts of each continent.  The rest, like mountain ranges and generally uninhabitable areas, are left vacant.  Massive oxygen generators are built across the world to help maintain the atmosphere. There are giant plantations and orbital factories for food, as well as massive "meat animals" that are nothing more than a huge cube of living flesh that is alive, ever growing, trimmed regularly to provide meat for the masses.

Pretty wild, but it all fit into the context of the series and felt realistic to me.  It truly was an epic, unlike anything I'd ever read before.  The review blurbs painted it as a mix of Dune, Blade Runner and Shogun.  That sounds about right.

Um... kinda looks like Chung Kuo, I guess.

And then I came to the final book.


NOTE: HARDCORE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES AFTER THIS POINT!  SKIP TO THE VERY END IF YOU DON'T WANT ANYTHING SPOILED.


The End
I was nervous when I started Book 8, The Marriage of the Living Dark.  Was it really as bad as everyone said?  Most reviews I've found have panned it.  You can find some on Amazon, but here are a few that you might want to check out.  The titles alone say it all.

The Worst Ending Ever to a Novel?
Marriage of Disappointments

The giant spider here is your clue to the
craziness that soon follows...

Anyway, by Book 7, Days of Bitter Strength, the great Cities are gone, destroyed, all the T'ang but one dead, yet humans are still at war with each other.  Without any new frontier on Earth to discover, all they do is fight and bicker for power.  History repeats itself.  It seemed the only way forward for the Human race at this point was to leave Earth and colonize the stars, much as many left Europe / Asia and colonized the Americas hundreds of years ago.  Spreading our seed, so to speak.  And it seemed that's where it was headed, for at the end of Book 7 a plague had devastated much of the world population and some survivors were doing just that.

But that's not really where it went.

I will admit, Book 8 is a page-turner.  Wingrove knows how to keep the reader engaged.  It's just about the longest in the series, but I zipped through it in a week, faster than any other volume.  And you can guess where things got condensed and rushed, because there were 4 parts when normally there are 2 in each book.  The volume essentially brickwalls from climax to climax with little filler in the second half.  Major events and deaths are skipped and mentioned off-handedly later on to help speed things up.

Now, in all fairness this happens occasionally throughout the entire series, but here it was too much - especially when it's the death of a major character.  After 7 books of following a character, to be suddenly told, "Oh yeah, he's dead now... anyway, to get back to what I was talking about..."  To be suddenly told that is a kick in the teeth.

Something's Not Kosher...
But what's even worse is how the story takes the low road to WTFVille and pretty much throws out the window everything that happened in the previous 7 books.  Again, to be fair, there are small clues throughout the series that some things are not exactly kosher in the world.  But those are drops compared to the coming tsunami.

There's this Western character named Howard DeVore who, at the beginning, basically wants to overthrow Han rule and destroy the Cities.  A worthy aspiration, you think.  He starts out okay, the underdog you want to root for... then soon degenerates into this ruthless, sadistic psychopath who wants to destroy all life and colonize the world with millions of copies of himself.  He anticipates everything.  And I mean everything.  He has an answer for every plot against him.  A back-up plan for every failure.  Even when you think he's killed (in Book 4, I think), oh no it wasn't really him, the whole time the real DeVore was on Mars and the one you were reading about was some clone he sent to Earth.  Really?  It gets tiresome and it's no fun to read when you know he's going to get away every time.  Oh, and he doesn't seem to age, either.

Then there's Tuan Ti Fo, a wise old Han who kind of abruptly appears in places where he shouldn't be without explanation.  It confused me, but I figured that despite all the DeVore nonsense, the series is ultimately rooted in reality and there will be some kind of explanation eventually.  Who knows what kind of technological advancements we'll come up with 200 years from now, right?

Then two younger characters establish some kind of mind bond where they can talk to each other telepathically.  It's weird and not fully explained, yet it works within the context of the series and the progression of the science of the day, so you suspend your disbelief a little bit to cover that.

So we have these little drops of "strange things" going on from Day 1 and as a reader you are aware of that, but generally gloss over it all because the rest of the series is solidly grounded in reality and science, is gritty, hard-edged epic sci-fi filled with tons of action and drama and interesting subplots, and you never know where it's going next.  Even the subplot of the Old Men searching for immortality (and eventually succeeding by transferring a mind to another body) was realistically done.

WTFVille
But then, in the last half of the final book, we enter WTFVille.  I don't mind surprises or unexpected directions, there had been a lot already and I had embraced most of them, but this got too wild even for me.

David Wingrove even admitted to sffworld.com recently that he "got the ending wrong."


"...the real reason I wanted to rewrite and rework CHUNG KUO was because I’d got the ending wrong. Totally wrong. To my annoyance and to the fans’ annoyance. If you stick around long enough to read Books 17-20 in the new edition, you’ll see a radical transformation of the material. You’ll have the ending it ought to have had first time round. One which, I hope, will move the reader, not leave them with a feeling of disappointment."

So let me just briefly go over the mess that is the old ending, just to give you a taste of how ridiculous it is.  I can only hope that Wingrove truly means the current ending will change, and not just be an expansion of the existing one.  Because he's right, it merely left me with a feeling of disappointment.

1: Voracious Plants
Earth is suddenly overrun by "floraforms" - mutated genetic material released from the labs of a prominent research company.  The entire planet is slowly turning into intelligent flowers while the humans fight each other.

2: Immortal Space Spiders
DeVore and Tuan are not actual people, they are interstellar, immortal, giant space spiders - a race called the Eddariminaru (and hence the cover of the book).  The two are twins, but DeVore had "forgotten" who he really was, and spent thousands of years on Earth, unaging, sowing discord throughout history.

3: Parallel Universes
One of the main characters, Kim Ward - a scientific genius who came from the Clay and heads the effort to leave Chung Kuo and journey to a new planet - stumbles across a way to enter a parallel universe.  It's like the current one, but slightly different.  He meets his doppelganger in the alternate universe, they collaborate on jumping back to Chung Kuo to stop DeVore once and for all, but in an alternate universe that's much closer to "reality" (i.e. the Chinese never took over the world, Li Yuan is instead a stockbroker, his once-wife Fei Yen a whore, etc).  The two Kims have a three-way with the first Kim's wife.  Oh, and there are now two DeVores to destroy.

4: Oh Hey, FYI, He's Dead
Really Important Main Characters abruptly die off-screen.  Why care for Kim and the struggles he's gone through across 8 books when he's only going to get shot in the head off-screen at the end and be replaced by yet another of his doppelgangers (the second one, his first gets killed too), one named Joseph from a parallel universe?

5: The Chung Kuo That Never Was
Both "immortal" DeVores are destroyed easily and people from both realities merge into a new one, and they are on a new planet and can begin a new life, forgetting about the Eddariminaru aliens and the science behind parallel universes.  Which means the Chung Kuo universe we've been reading about for 7 books really never existed and is gone...?


WTF?  Doesn't all that sound ridiculous?  That's because it is.  It's essentially the same reaction I had after seeing J.J. Abrams's horrible 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise that took a huge, steaming dump on everything that previously happened in that universe.  And it doesn't help that all of the characters (even in the parallel universe that's supposed to be more "real") basically accept all the strangeness that's going on as if it happened every day and not once in a billion years.  It is not believeable at all.  Not after the content of the previous 7 books.

In Retrospect
I'm really not upset by how the final book came out as a whole.  I understand why it seems rushed and why events are glossed over, based on what Wingrove said.  I understand why some characters suddenly vanish and are barely heard from again, their actions 10 years later unexplained.  I understand the trade-offs and cuts he had to make to get to the end.  I applaud the fact that he gave us some kind of conclusion even though he wasn't getting paid.  It's the conclusion he did arrive at that I don't understand.  It's his story, of course, but still... it's baffling to me that he would end it that way after all that came before.

I was okay with those guys being aliens.  I can accept that.  But the alternate reality crap and jumping around at the end and merging was so unnecessary and confusing.  It turned what was a gripping, serious and believeable sci-fi epic into a laughable and campy farce that's so ridiculous you actually can't stop reading.  By that point the Chinese/Han element of the story has completely vanished.  It's not about Chung Kuo and the War of Two Directions anymore, it's Immortal Space Spiders vs. The Three Kims Across the Eighth Dimension!

The idea of aliens helping humans when they are on the cusp of new technology and science, helping them colonize the stars - that's an ending I could have lived with it. The series would then basically be about the next evolution of the human species, and the united world of Chung Kuo was the last great attempt at an empire on our home planet of Earth.  I thought that was the point of the series.

Yet in Wingrove's Buckaroo Banzai version, the last few chapters basically invalidate everything that went before it.  It's almost as if Wingrove himself became the First Dragon and was told to wipe out the true history of Chung Kuo in order to start a new world, much like the Han in the series wipe out the true history of the world and build their Great Cities over it.


I can only hope that Mr. Wingrove has now morphed into Shang Han A (Hannah) and written the true history and conclusion of Chung Kuo with his recasted version, and I hope he can forgive me for being a bit harsh.  He did have this to say in that same sffworld.com interview I quoted earlier, so the future is looking good (Books 17-20 in the new recasting basically correspond to Book 8 in the original version):


"...Book Nineteen, THE KING OF INFINITE SPACE ... will be an entirely new book. Four long chapters of it are already done. After that, books 17, 18 and 20 will receive a cut and paste job with at least fifty per cent of new material added to each. And the ending, LAST QUARTERS, will receive the most radical reworking of all (for a start it’ll be twenty times larger!). As I said earlier, I want the reader to go away this time round with a lump in the throat and the whole thing resonating in their head, and with them wanting to start the journey all over again."

I will say, though, that having read the prequels first and armed with the knowledge of how the world "ended" - Jake Reed was involved in the global stock market and saw the whole thing collapse - it was nice to see that element again in the alternate reality at the end.  It felt like it was coming full circle (pun intended if you've read the last book), which I'm sure is part of his intention with the new recasting.


END HARDCORE SPOILERS.  THANKS.


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Last Quarters
Alright.  So I loved the original series until the last half of the last book.  It's tough to recommend that version, though, because you will get addicted to it and most likely only end up disappointed and feeling incomplete like me.  I haven't read anything quite like it, though, so in the end, if you have the chance to read the original 8-book version, I recommend it merely to experience something different and sufficiently epic.

One side note... it was nice to be able to read a long series like this for the first time without having to sit and wait for the next volume.  I did that with Harry Potter; I refused to read any of it until the last volume came out.  As I've mentioned before, I've been burned by neverending and meandering series that span decades of my life (The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire) and I'm very reluctant to start anything without an actual end these days.

All I can say now is to repeat my hope (prayer, really) that the new ending in the 20-book version is truly the "right" one that Wingrove keeps mentioning, and not merely an expansion of what already exists in the original Book 8.  If it is different, and lives up to the quality of the material that preceded it... then this will definitely be an epic for the ages.

For more info on Chung Kuo, you should visit the following sites:

http://chung-kuo.net/ = David Wingrove's official site for the series
http://ofgiftsandstones.com/ = A fansite (the only one, really)
http://chungkuo.wikia.com/wiki/The_Chung_Kuo_Wiki = Work in progress Wiki
http://corvus-books.co.uk/ = Publisher of the new 20-book recasting