“China Mountain Zhang” by Maureen F. McHugh
review ©️ 1993 by P. Douglas Reeder
In the future of this novel, Communist China is the dominant world power. Zheng Zhong Shan is an American homosexual engineer whose mother is Hispanic. He struggles to find a place in a world where he must hide both his sexuality and his ancestry.
There is little in the way of a plot and the narrative switches every twenty pages or so from Zhang to other viewpoint characters who interact only peripherally with him. Each of the other characters faces some problem (unrelated to Zhang’s), which is resolved by their final sections and well before the end of the novel. Their narratives broaden the picture of the society, but fragment Zhang’s story. Zhang is a very minor character in their stories, which I found most disconcerting, as I was trying to remember who was what after hiatuses of many pages.
McHugh unfortunately leaves the explanation of how this unexpected society came about until near the end, since the background is more plausible than it may at first seem.
There are several science-fictive elements: direct brain-computer interfaces, Mars colonies, and towering latticework cities, but thematically the novel is less SF than East-meets-West, with China of a decade past projected onto America of two centuries hence.
The characters are well drawn and the events of the novel very realistic, natural, and believable, but I found it difficult to identify with them, perhaps because their problems would not occur (at least to the extent they do) in our society. They accept their society as a fact of life and don’t consider that it might be different, which is a common theme in science fiction and one which many readers will have in their minds. Economic collapse followed by revolution and the rejection of capitalism is not implausible, but that the U.S. would emulate modern-day China is much, much less so. I would find her society much more believable if it was set far in the future on some other planet, and did not require the reader to swallow a total reversal of current trends. Future societies which do not believe in our current values of freedom and tolerance can be fertile ground for fiction, but identifying one with our near future makes it very difficult to accept.
The minimal plot and storyline fragmentation will cause many readers problems. If the material was re-arranged as a collection of short stories with Zhang’s novella coming last, it might allow readers to follow it more easily. If the aforementioned elements do not throw you, you may find this an interesting read.
%A Maureen F. McHugh %T China Mountain Zhang %I Tom Doherty Associates %C New York, NY %D copyright 1992 %G ISBN 0-812-50892-0 %P 312 %K SF, China %O paperback $3.99