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If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review Dao ke dao, fei chang dao The way that can be spoken is not the way page 220.This simple aphorism exemplifies the tone of this novel Lots of things left unsaid, but at the same time, because of that, conveying lots of meaning.I ve just finished this astonishing novel and I m still trying to deal how it made feel.One of the things that impressed me the most was McHugh s refusal to let her secondary characters remain two dimensional pictures in the novel It included several parallel stories apart from Zhang s story, each one of them quite above average writing wise. With This Groundbreaking Novel, Maureen F McHugh Established Herself As One Of The Decade S Best Science Fiction Writers In Its Pages, We Enter A Post Revolution America, Moving From The Hyper Urbanized Eastern Seaboard To The Arctic Bleakness Of Baffin Island From The New Imperial City To An Agricultural Commune On Mars The Overlapping Lives Of Cyber Kite Fliers, Lonely Colonists, Illicit Neural Pressball Players, And Organic Engineers Blend Into A Powerful, Taut Story Of A Young Man S Journey Of Discovery This Is A Macroscopic World Of Microscopic Intensity, One Of The Most Brilliant Visions Of Modern SF 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 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 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 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. 3.75 5In the 22nd century, China has replaced America as the world s dominant political, economic and cultural capital, following a political revolution in America that has displaced its capitalistic economy and brought in an era of socialism.It is an immensely well imagined and portrayed account of a plausible future where China takes precedence over the States the latter becomes akin to a third world dump following a financial crisis, while China rises in economic importance, and consequently, in cultural importance Chinese phrases, Mandarin itself, Chinese dress and cuisine and Chinese genes suddenly become the next gen cool things, the way everything symbolizing America the West is hip now With the Great Cleansing Winds in the US, followed by a Second American Revolution and a Second Civil War, the status quo is changed.Zhang Zhong Shan Rafael , the protagonist, is a young gay man of mixed heritage, a Chinese father and Hispanic mother born in Brooklyn and having undergone gene splicing in infancy in order to look Chinese the reverse of what the Chinese are doing today double eyelid surgery, for instance, to look Western and therefore attempting to gain social leverage as well as possible opportunity to study and live in China, his life takes a series of unexpected turns as he navigates through the turmoil of sexuality, cosmetically altered genes, identity and cultural legacy in and out of America, China and the Arctic.The novel takes place in roughly the same time, following different threads that sometimes merge, and sometimes merely touch each other While Zhang comes to terms with his life, Martine and Alexis, on Mars, try to eke out a living that ensures them a different kind of security, but at the same time, demands of them a hefty price San Xiang, a young Chinese girl in the US struggles to come to terms with her own marginalization on account of her ugly face, and then with the consequences of her cosmetically enhanced beauty Haobai, perhaps, followed by San Xiang, is the most compelling character the social critique hits the hardest and sharpest in these characters, while it is akin to merely a pervading mist in the rest of the work.There is so much to both like and dislike in this work there are aspects of it that sparkle throughout the text its subtexts, its layers of thought and experience form the crux of the work the sadness, the sarcasm, the brutality of an unequal, hypocritical world, the variously covert forms of marginalization that follow the lives of hundreds of people eking out a precarious survival It is a story less of hope, of the desperation to survive, merely survive because the dream of flourishing is forbidden Of forever having to move in the shadows, in the dark Knowing that coming out in the light would not bestow warmth, but blister their lives, simply because they do not fit into the majority s ideas of normalcy, of acceptability.The LGBT angle, the marginalization by making it illegal, is a double blow to the hypocrisy of the world not just a critique of the present, but also a sharp jab at the communists claim of equality of all, irrespective of everything One is constantly reminded of Orwell s statement in Animal Farm Everyone is equal, but some people are equal than others.This critique of communism is also resonant in its economic critique, where despite landing as a student of the reputed Nanjing University, Zhang finds it difficult to find a decent job back in the US As a critique of communism and its ideal of perfect equality, it is breathtaking The critique is often thinly veiled, making it all the impressive in places As a work that examines the way in which misfits are marginalized, strongly alluding to own our present times, it is truly engaging, and in some scenes, brilliant even The politics of marginalization are acutely present throughout the work as one of its subtexts.Where this work fails to engage is primarily its plot the world building is pretty neat and convincing, the science part adequate to qualify as SF climate control equipped homes and the Kite flying and ball game sequences are pure brilliance , but the plot is not linear chronologically, it is but it follows no clear direction, even at the end Like the characters themselves, the reader too is clueless of the novel s destination, which is a bad thing when it turns out at the end that the story has no coherent plot at all.Agreed, this is of a Bildungsroman novel, but then it fails mostly on that account too The story of Zhang is only one of the many threads of the novel, such as Martine Alexis on Mars, Haobai in China or San Xiang in the US, and yet, it is, despite taking up the most space, the most flimsy character He comes out only slightly mature than he first encounters the world s injustices A hugely disproportionate time is also spent upon Alexis Martine, and though it is a charming little episode, they, or the whole existence of the Martian colony, does not in any way affect Zhang s life, save allowing him to think in a different way of solving engineering problems.The most glaring drawback is that the story of Alexis Martine is left incomplete, in the sense that there is no definite conclusion into what happened to their farms, which could have been used magnify even better the consequences of being pushed back onto the fringes.The most striking characters, rather, are the ones that have served as the background in Zhang s life San Xiang, the ugly girl she appears fleetingly in Zhang s life, but does not make any impact on the way his life turns out, so in that sense her role is inconsequential to the main crux of the novel , and Zhang s erstwhile mentor and secret lover Haobai Their scenes are truly touching It is primarily in these two characters and their scenes that this novel achieves its brilliance, bringing out the sadness, the thinly veiled critiques, the helplessness and the incurable anguish of surviving on the periphery of an unforgiving society, of being utterly marginalized without hope of redemption their stories, especially of Haobai, is dealt with astounding maturity and skill, which sort of falls flat in the case of the major character, Zhang Zhong Shan.Another major drawback of this work is in how much space is allocated to insignificant details Cooking and eating take up an enormous time, both in the US, China and Mars food, when used as metaphor, is a brilliant device but gets in the way when used without significance Almost every other page threw up pizzas, pastas, salads, noodles, tandoori chicken, burgers, poori, rice and beans, cakes and God knows what Thai food.While it exceeds expectations and shines bright in many places, it also falls below its own spectacular achievements in quite a lot instances And yet, this is one book I m glad to have read Not one of the best, but definitely commendable Although, I think, it has garnered adequate attention by winning the Lambda, the Locus and the Tiptree Awards, while rightly getting only a nomination for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The brilliance of China Mountain Zhang lies in the lack of complexity of this well drawn near future world McHugh delivers on a slice of life journey with some very smart and clever extrapolations on the ordinariness of life This book is a scifi version of humorless but culturally observant Seinfeld The mundane becomes fascinating in this novel where nothing much happens McHugh puts us on a life journey with everymen who are unmistakably human view spoiler Rafael Zhang is your average Joe Born without much privilege, his Chinese heritage in a China dominant world does him little good when his ABC American Born Chinese bloodlines are intermixed with Spanish China Mountain is a nickname because his it is a rough approximation for translation of his name In McHugh s vision of the future, China has taken over the world, not by domination per se, but by culture America had a civil rebellion that enabled the Chinese to pick up the pieces and spread their culture and way of life Essentially a bloodless coup in the aftermath of chaos Anyways, Zhang lives in the underbelly of New York City These are people on the margins Poor people living in very small, seedy apartments barely affordable The nearest affordable housing is far away from the city and made in a substandard manner The poor can never get ahead They are stuck Zhang loses his job and his apartment and is forced to leave New York City In this loss that he did not plan and never envisioned, he finds a way to survive and thrive in this system Zhang struggles with the lack of power and options to steer his destiny He is also gay which is problematic in this future world where being gay will destroy career and life aspirations.In this world professional athletes risk their lives daily in a sport called kite flying This sport is sufficiently unfamiliar and allows McHugh provide a look at people that the world perceives as powerful and privileged are realistically just like the football players of today Essentially a commodity and in this sport the athletes are responsible for their own patronage They like internet channels have to find consumers to be successful The dismissive nature of the world of the professional athlete where crass consumerism can lead to prosperity but otherwise to poor and suffering for the pleasure of an oblivious indifferent audience The story is around these not necessarily gifted athletes and what it takes to survive in future world Where success is not dependent upon their skill, but their ability to generate interest in their brand Reality TV show stars, which can mean taking unnecessary risks to standout or subjecting oneself to strange procedures products to enhance the interconnectivity between oneself and the kite For me it was like an extrapolation of performance enhancing drugs of today McHugh tells a story of survival on a Martian colony under a capitalistic system The Martian colonists and their political struggles in my view resembled our current rural vs urban struggles today The political system on the Mars colony in the midst of being formed the inequities and inadequacies quite apparent Here the struggles were almost purely economic right down to the system of government The haves and the have nots A couple married for political reasons and through their struggles discover they found love as well.There are quite a few secondary characters that play a huge role in the painting and world building of the novel There s San Xiang who is a woman born and grows up physically ugly with all the emotional and psychological baggage that carries, who also has overbearing and protective parents who shelter her As she takes advantage of an opportunity to change her physical appearance, the baggage stays in place and inhibits her life process Though she eliminates what she interpreted as a shortcoming, she is ill equipped emotionally to take advantage of her expanded opportunities An allegory about dangers of the superficial nature of both privilege and amorality Haitao is a representation of privilege within the academic community He is successful and prosperous in his role His future is so bright, he has to wear shades He is also gay man in a world where being gay gets you exorcised at best, killed at worst Haitao is in danger of his secret being exposed When faced with dealing with the consequences of his conditions, he like San Xiang is ill equipped The plight of the privileged who are unprepared to navigate the way of life forced upon others with lesser means They have options but make choices based upon the idea that everyone has similar thoughts and motivations and feelings as they do Until something awful happens, they exist blissfully na ve both San Xiang and Haitao McHugh has delivered a well drawn, entirely realistic vision of the near future This book written over 25 years ago is still quite prescient and does not come across as dated Yes there are some anachronisms At one point there were references to faxes faxing I was an adult in the 90 s and I can say with some measure of confidence that there is no coherent technological extrapolation of faxing It just never did have a future beyond the 90s But wow I was really enad with the future technologies she did use in the book Viruses to counter cure diseases, organic engineering architecture, goat cloning on Mars, viruses to resequencing genes and rebuild bones, the integration of the kite with the flyer, the list goes on hide spoiler WARNING This is a reading journal rather than a review, so it will be riddled with unmarked spoilers You have been warned China Mountain Zhang So far, Zhang is nothing like I expected, neither the character nor the book I expected a cyber punky action thriller, and it may still become that, but this first chapter offers no signs that a change is going to come At this point it is a study of two characters Zhang and San xiang the former is our gay half ABC American Born Chinese half Spanish from Spain engineer the latter is our unfortunately ugly political girl It s them, together, moving through New York in a Chinese dominated near not so near future, thrust together by her Chinese parents and finding that they quite like each other despite his sexuality which she never seems to peg and her ugliness which fascinates him It s moody, it s atmospheric, and the milieu is entirely plausible But the banality of the tale, so far, is quite a surprise It is an average character study that could just as easily be told in your city, right now, today, and it would still be as likable and readable as this story is If there is going to be something like actiony Sci Fi I can t imagine how it would come about But then, I don t think I want it to I am liking this book for its banality Why not set a story like this in the future Works for me.Kites Angel Now it feels like my favourite of things a book of short stories loosely, loosely connected, and I will be disappointed if this book is pegged into a novelistic plot I don t want to go back to Zhang at least not too often I want new people, new experiences, in this future Socialist Union of American States I want criminals or a nurse in a future hospital or maybe even some other kite fliers I want exploration of gender, of the bents and the straights I want a far reaching set of stories rather than one deep exploration told close to the body I loved Angel and her kite flying genius, but I need someone new.Baffin Island Zhang I am fully convinced now that if this is a novel it is a novel consisting of short stories, even though two of them already follow the same guy There is no plot to speak of, and I love that Fuck plot, I say This is all about character and place, and places be they New York or Baffin Island are characters in this book I continue to adore Arctic tales too, so the story of Zhang in the Arctic station doing the maintenance work for a bunch of scientists tracking whales, nearly losing his shit in the land of the noontime moon is exactly the sort of tale I am made to love I feel the need to go North before it is completely gone, before I am gone Enough about me it s a great chapter as Zhang begins to see himself, and I find myself cheering him on I can t wait to see what we get and where we go next Jerusalem Station Martine A commune on Mars Crazy Nothing prepared me for the leap from Earth to Mars, but it was deftly handled by McHugh, and it s another place lovingly turned into a character in the tale Martine s goat farm apiary, and the round about way she falls in love with or falls in care for Alexi and Theresa is exactingly created It is all nuance, nuance written to capture truth in a future that almost seems like it is rather than it could be I am officially in love with this book now And Martine and Alexi I have no idea what else Maureen F McHugh has written but it is something I am going to read one thing as I finished the chapter I couldn t help noticing the word nurse in the first line or two of the next chapter I love that I am going to get my wish Ghost Zhang The hint of a plot finally appears in Ghost Zhang, but only because it is our third chapter following the life of Zhang He s in China after his stint in the Arctic, studying Engineering at the prestigious University of Nanjing, and he s in love with his tutor, a man named Haitao In love in a place where being bent is a crime that the government either Reforms Through Labour or solves with a bullet in the back of the head Zhang seems a bit na ve about the threat and the world he s living in, but that na vet is gone by the time Haitao kills himself The slightest nudge and all the gains we ve made will tumble and we ll be hiding in back alleys and parks all over again It s a fucking tightrope This story hit me where I live Homework Alexi Goats Goats and marriage Goats and marriage and a tutor for Alexi s correspondence course through the University of Nanking a tutor named Zhang This is, perhaps, the most banal chapter of the lot, but lovely in its simplicity, even so Three Fragrances San xiang I can t help thinking of my biannual re reading of Jonathon Swift s A Modest Proposal Written nearly 400 years ago, Swift s pamphlet is a catalogue of everything that is wrong with the world Except it s not simply a catalogue of what was wrong in his world of 1729, it is a catalogue of what s wrong in our world of 2012 The problems are all the same What s wrong never changes hence, my confidence that we are doomed to create our own extinction because we can t change We like to pretend things are better, but they re not And here s San xiang, face finally restructured, jaw firmly and perfectly in place, looking pretty for the first time in her life, and a predator picks out her vulnerability, and she walks inexorably into the predator s lair, and he rapes her McHugh doesn t shy away from telegraphing what s to come, and that dramatic irony is what creates the suspense that pushes this story forward When it finally happens, when Billy rapes San xiang, but worse seems oblivious to having raped her, I felt the ache that took me to Jonathon Swift and the thought that nothing changes Why doesn t it I m convinced it is because we invariably treat symptoms rather than diseases But I have been known to make mistakes from time to time.Rafael Zhang I could read another three hundred pages in McHugh s future world The stories were that good This final short wraps up the novel precisely as it should with life continuing for everyone in the directions they ve chosen or had thrust upon them There are connections that all link back to Zhang, connections to all the other players from all the other stories, that are touched with the most delicate of touches, and none of them feel too good to be true There is no destiny at work, no impossible predetermined coming together of people from different places They re simply intersections and crossings between lives all of which make perfect sense the sorts of things I ve experienced again and again in my own life China Mountain Zhang is about a possible world that probably won t happen, but could It is an act of Sci Fi world building that I ve rarely seen matched But for me, Mchugh s real achievement is the people she created They are beautiful The whale scientists and engineers and hustlers and Martian colonists, the wounded the harmed the foolish the suicidal the nasty the kind the living, and the dead, San Xiang and Haitao and Invierno and Peter and Zhang I will miss them. McHugh told a story in the gaps between her words, about people who live in the gaps A heartbreaking, compassionate, imaginative story that reminds us that people are people, no matter how far into the future, or from home we get, and that exhorts us to remember that unity is not the same as similarity.CONTENT WARNING view spoiler extreme homophobia, rather explicit rape, suicide, loss of a loved one, racism, vehicle crashes, pretty extensive medical scenes hide spoiler I feel pretty confident in saying that this is the best book you ve never read I had the joy of discovering this book when it first came out, almost a decade and a half later, I still feel it is one of the best SF novels I ve ever read The novel is made up of several stories loosely intertwined.McHugh draws upon her experiences living in China to craft future in which China has become the dominant power, and America has been reduced to a third world country controlled by China Chinese born Chinese are the top tier of society, while American born Chinese occupy a lower tier but are still higher than non Chinese.Into this setting, she places Zhang Zhong Shan which literally translates to China Mountain Zhang , an ABC struggling to move up in society while hiding the fact that he is gay which is, if I remember correctly, against the law Zhang s story is the main story, and there are a few other stories, too To me, Zhang s story is the most interesting.The novel won a ton of awards when it came out, and deservedly so Sadly, McHugh became ill and her writing fell by the wayside after only a few novels Here s hoping she returns to writing soon In the meantime, definitely pick up this book, and check out her other novels, as well. A lovely, subtle, humane, intelligent, sensitively detailed novel about the interior lives of a diverse and deeply interesting cast of characters There were moments of incredible pathos and humanity, and a wonderful sense of self discovery that flowed through the narrative In its best moments, it deeply moved me. These are the slices of normal life that I like Usually when I read non sci fi literature relating to the human condition and pieces of everyday life, is either too much like what I see all the time and I am bored or I can t actually relate at all For some reason the blend with clearly fantastical backdrops give me enough interest or wonder to keep me engaged.China Mountain Zhang is really just a glimpse of an everyday life, someone who is trying to figure out where he fits in the world, along with some other characters and events to fill everything out The kite flyers could be any sort of modern day daredevil racers, motocross, cliff divers, etc why I am interested when it is a futuristic flight structure I am not sure but I am The communistic colonization of Mars could be something else found on Earth now but the fact that it is on Mars and fantastical, allows me the possibility of hope instead of focusing on all of the sure to doom issues I can think of happening right now.The job search, the repression of gays, the finding and losing of friends are all easily written about in normal literature but it never has the same pull as if you add a bit of unreality to it Zhang s path towards finding how he wants to live his life looked good at the end, my path in discovering why I like to read , what I like to read has also taken one tiny step.4.5 stars rounded down for no real good reason