I’ve read a book or two lately

Most notably Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang. In a way, it’s surprising that I hadn’t read this before, since I loved McHugh’s collection After The Apocalypse (it might actually be one of my favorite 2 or 3 story collections), but I know exactly why this one went unread. It’s because I picked it up 10 years ago, read the first few pages, and found it boring. Sometimes it’s hard for me to overcome that initial impression.

Nonetheless, Jo Walton’s take on the book in her essay collection What Makes This Book So Great (which I’m finding to be an invaluable source of recommendations) made me take another look at it, and I’m glad I did. There’s not much science fiction like this: SF that’s about ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives–trying to find love and make money and be happy. I thought it was great.

The conceit of the book is that it takes place in a near-future where China is ascendant and the US has undergone a proleterian revolution. What I found most interesting about the book is the delicacy with which it portrayed a China-style mixed economy (part state-controlled and part free-market). Since this sort of economy was pretty new when the book came out (in 1992), it’s actually astonishingly prescient.

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