The Middle Earth

The Middle Earth by David Wingrove, Chung Kuo Recast #3


The year is 2196. The great Empire of Ice, Chung Kuo, has finally been shaken after more than a century of peace enforced by brutal tyranny. The Minister of the Edict - an official responsible for licensing all technology that could lead to Change - has been assassinated. The seven ruling T'ang struggle to maintain Stasis, even as their mile-high, continent-spanning cities descend into chaos.


Amid the chaos, the rebels responsible for the assassination seize the opportunity to effect Change. But the assassination was orchestrated by those far closer to the ruling power and this betrayal, the first of many, will lead them all into the world-shattering War of Two Directions.


The Middle Earth is the original first book of the Chung Kuo series, but makes up the third book in the Chung Kuo Recast series, the rewritten version of the original one.  The Recast series featured two entire new prologues, Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain. Those first two book left quite the impression on me and was therefore quite eager to see how the series would continue and especially how the prologues would be linked to the original story.

The Middle Earth picks up in the year of 2196, almost a 100 years after the events of the prologue (2043-2098). In the start of the book there is summary of events that happened in the prologues to give you a short introduction. But I must recommend that you read Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain, first they are both great and second they give a much better detailed view of what the Chung Kuo Recast series is about. The summary mentions the fall of the world and rise of China under the tyrant Tsao Ch’un, how he nukes Japan and took over North America. And how now with populations increasing, something had to give… Which brings you directly into the storyline of Middle Earth.

Looking back on the first two books, Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain and comparing those events with The Middle Earth, I must say that I think the prologue books worked out well. The whole universe that was created within these two first books and all the technology and planning of the Chinese empire was worked out well and allowed me to fully grasp the storyline once again. I think that it was a wise decision to write Son of Heaven and Daylight on Iron Mountain since in those books, David Wingrove breaks down several elements that are being only mentioned in The Middle Earth, like the Seven and also the company Genetic Synthetics (GenSyn). So again, its wise to start at the new beginning.

Like I said above the third books picks up a century after the prologue and this books has a whole new cast. And likewise I have learned in the first two books, there are a lot of characters that you get introduced to. This book is also divided into two parts, with the first part playing in 2196 and the last in 2198. Since this story build on the foundation of the prologues ,the new world is ruled by the Seven T’ang. A seven headed counsel that has the final verdict overall laws and decisions to be made. They are strict and in their opinion Chung Kuo is prosperous. The Seven are holding back the Change. However not everyone supports those ideas as well and the rebels find that it is time for a change.

Within the city of Chung Kuo the two “races”, if you can say it in that way, the Han (original Chinese people) and the Hung Mao’s (European people) co-exist with each other. And what I learned from the prologues is that there have been incidents in the past (like the ruling in court against Jake in Daylight on Iron Mountain) where the Hung Mao’s are being discriminated and made to be the lesser people. It is also “frowned upon” when a Han beds an Hung Mao, you disgrace your family. What I really liked about the city, Chung Kuo, itself was how it was described, both in detail and in the big picture, this really plays a cool part with you imagination. As soon as you read about how many miles it’s spanning and even more so the countless number of levels, each more suited for the elite living in there is really amazing. But this city is not all fancy, high tech and clean. As you go down into the levels you reach the Net where more troublemakers can be found. And when you go even further, you reach the Clay, which is ruled by vicious tribes of cast-offs, who have “sacrificed” their intelligence for cunning. The description of what is possible within the city combined with the levels of politics and division of people in how wealthy you are, certainly created a rich feeling to begin with. This rich feeling is only further fortified by the story that takes place within The Middle Kingdom.

The first part of the story focuses on two character’s Howard DeVore a Major in the Security forces of the T’ang, Li Shai Tung and General Knut Tolonen, general to Li Shai Tung. Like it is mentioned in the synopsis of the book, assassinations are in the planning. And the first part of the book shows how this was set into motion and how it all played out and partly what consequences it takes with it. It’s a bit hard to mention who is behind the planning of the assassination’s, though it becomes quite obvious during this part, it was great to see how this part was explained in detail. It’s General Tolonen’s job to find out who exactly. What he doesn’t know that is the person is closer to him that he thought. The great thing here is that you as a reader do know who it is, though for the confirmation I did re-read several paragraphs. In the subsequent dialogues that follow between the two persons I really got a smirk on my face to see how Tolonen was crossed and that he didn’t really have a clue who it was. As for Howard DeVore he has to navigate his way through a lot of problems of his own, tying up loose ends here and there, and this latter part can proof to be much harder then he first assumed. Overall I really liked the how convinced Howard was to reach his goal, whatever it costs. And halfway I was in for quite a surprise. Nearing the ending of only the first part of the book, I was glad that I had my notepad next to me to write down all the characters, their interactions, who betrayed who, who is allied with each other and who pulled of a double cross etc. David Wingrove really sets a great storyline into motion within only these few pages.

The second part of the book again introduces new characters and two really stand out and I think we will see more of them in the following books. Kim Ward and Fei Yen. I already mentioned the clay part underneath Chung Kuo, well Kim is from that “level”, it was pretty cool to read about his adventures down their and how he was saved, the people living in the clay are real brutes, and the only meat to find down there is on a another persons body… that should say enough. But Kim is pretty smart and knows how to think outside the box, with him being saved from the clay he is being sold trained and sold off to the highest bidder. I’m curious as to how his story will unfold and what he will make. The second character is Fei Yen, a young girl, that is about to marry the son of Li Shai Tung to keep the elite ruling. Though you do learn a bit about her already she does remain still obscure but the way she is shown, especially later on with the other son of Li Shai Tung, does make her, I hope, an important character later on.

Furthermore the second part of the book pretty much deals with the consequences of the assassinated Minister. Thing are getting out of hand and General Tolonen has his hands full with managing the situation. And what I said about the cloning part and copies in my Daylight of on Iron Mountain, well yes! It is followed up in this part as well. As an unknown corporation to GenSyn makes highly advanced copies set to overthrow the Seven. Pretty cool to read about that the copies have a higher conscious or something as one of those said “They made me better than that. More devious. More human”. So again my interest was pretty high in this part of the story.

The ending of this book follows up the chaos at the wedding of Li Yuan and Fei Yen and leaves the other storyline that of Howard DeVore and Kim Ward at an open ending. Now the fourth book in the series Ice and Fire was originally combined with The Middle Earth so I expect that those ends will be picked up in this book.

But this is turning into a pretty long read already. So here are my last few words.

The Middle Earth neatly follows up the two new prologues. Even though the prologues were written after The Middle Earth, I couldn’t find any fault with that transition everything that was explained in the prologues only added that much more depth to The Middle Earth. Furthermore The Middle Earth is great action-packed story, starting of with an assassination, followed up by political intrigues that weaves a tight web around a lot of characters. The characters that you are introduced all are from a varied amount of classes, from the elite to the cast offs which keep the storyline diverse as you follow each and everyone in quite the detail. It can be hard to keep the focus on such an amount of character but from the beginning David Wingrove managed to put everyone down just right and doesn’t let one character falter along the line. I do think that he is in quite for a challenge as the story now really takes off. Probably not only on Earth... I’m looking forward to read about the world-shattering War of Two Directions.

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