Wednesday, 31 August 2011

China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh

Title: China Mountain Zhang
Author: Maureen F. McHugh
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 1992
Formats: Hardback/Paperback

Available at:
Amazon UK
Alibris UK

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh was chosen as the August read for the Women of Science Fiction Book Club and I almost never read it. The synopsis just didn't grab my attention and as it was getting to the end of August I didn't even know if I had the time to read it. However, in the end I just took the plunge and managed to finish the book with 2 days to spare.

The book is set in a future world where China has become the dominant world power and the US had become a poorer communist nation. The majority of the novel is set around the ordinary life of Zhang, a gay half-Chinese American, as he navigates a world in which his sexuality and American identity make him less than perfect in the eyes of the current world order. In addition the novel breaks away from Zhang on several occasions to give us a glimpse into kite flying, Martian settlers, and an "ugly" Chinese girl who is trying to make her way in New York.

The first thing I have to say about this book is that there isn't much of a plot and what we do get is very slow. Instead the book more came across to me as being a collection of loosely interlinked stories that served to create and showcase both the world and it's various characters. What the author has created is realistic and very well built; I just wish there had been more of a defined story to really draw me in as a reader. What I found was that whilst I was reading the book I found it interesting, however once I put it down, I didn't feel any huge drive to pick it back up again. I suspect that if I didn't have the deadline for the book club this may have been one of those books that I just read the odd sections here and there.

However, what Maureen F. McHugh has done well is create some really believable and interesting characters. They are just getting by in life, doing ordinary things and the author really captures the emotions and struggles of their everyday life. It is these characters and the way they face ordinary issues in this extra-ordinary world that ensure the book is a good read despite the lack of any substantial plot. I have to say that I specifically enjoyed reading about the various people living on Mars and would have loved to see a spin off novel really expanding of their lives.

In summary, this book is not an ordinary Sci-Fi novel as the author hasn't made the protagonists major political rebels, defenders of freedom, etc. Instead, it is an intimate portrayal of ordinary people trying to survive is a slightly dystopian future world. Because of this, the plot is rather weak which means it is really not a leisurely read in my opinion as the book can drag. Therefore, I don't think that China Mountain Zhang will appeal to everyone, however it was an interesting read and if you are after something thoughtful and cerebral then you might want to give this book a try.