The White Mountain (Chung Kuo Book 8) by David Wingrove. (Corvus £14.99)
Reviewed by John Howard
David Wingrove’s huge novel Chung Kuo originally appeared in eight volumes between 1989 and 1997. Now Wingrove has ‘recast’ the entire series, spreading out it across twenty volumes, with the addition of completely new material in two prequel volumes and two more planned at the end. The White Mountain initially formed the second half of the original book three (which was also called The White Mountain).
The story continues from where it left off in the previous volume, The Broken Wheel. It takes place over a short period of time, autumn 2207 to the summer of the following year. The situation for Chung Kuo, both its near-absolute rulers and its people – and those who seek to overthrow the rulers – has not improved. A virulent disease, particularly aimed at the younger members of the ruling elite, has been unleashed. Li Yuan, the leader of the T’ang, acted with ruthlessness to prevent it spreading, but his prevention of an epidemic came at great cost. For once this fell, not on the ordinary people, but on the rulers themselves – and their families. Li Yuan finds some of his fellow rulers and supporters turning against him for the first time.
And there is the ‘White Mountain’ itself: Mount Kilimanjaro. This is the location of Kibwezi Station, a special facility, almost completely unknown, where ‘terrorists’ are held. Kao Chen, one of the T’ang’s most loyal security officers, is sent there incognito in order to investigate the fate of one of the members of the ‘Yu’ – the group dedicated to the complete destruction of the status quo in Chung Kuo. No inmate of the camp is officially ‘alive any longer, and is thus available for experiments with the shadowy scheme designed to ensure the complete control of the entire population of the world. It soon becomes clear to Chen that the system he has spent his adult life in upholding is even more monstrous than he thought it possible to be.
Perhaps, at last, the divisions and contradictions in the continent-spanning, multi-levelled world, city-state of Chung Kuo will bring it down. But, with twelve books in this new ‘recast’ series still to go, the future seems likely to be as complex and violent as the past. Wingrove continues to weave a fascinating portrait of a society, alien in the extreme but yet populated by people who want nothing more than peace, security, stability, freedom. The exploration of the means, the various ways of achieving those ends, promises to be as stimulating and absorbing as ever.