Son of Heaven (Chung Kuo Series #1)by David Wingrove
A monumental publishing event: a brand new prequel to Chung Kuo, a masterwork of future history standing alongside Herbert's Dune and Asimov's Foundation. The year is 2085, two decades after the great economic collapse that destroyed Western civilization. With its power broken and its cities ruined, life in the West continues in/i>/i>
A monumental publishing event: a brand new prequel to Chung Kuo, a masterwork of future history standing alongside Herbert's Dune and Asimov's Foundation. The year is 2085, two decades after the great economic collapse that destroyed Western civilization. With its power broken and its cities ruined, life in the West continues in scattered communities. In rural Dorset Jake Reed lives with his 14-year-old son and memories of the great collapse. Back in '43, Jake was a rich, young futures broker, immersed in the datascape of the world's financial markets. He saw what was coming—and who was behind it. Forewarned, he was one of the few to escape the fall. For 22 years he has lived in fear of the future, and finally it is coming—quite literally—across the plain towards him. Chinese airships are in the skies and a strange, glacial structure has begun to dominate the horizon. Jake finds himself forcibly incorporated into the ever-expanding "World of Levels," a global city of some 34 billion souls, where social status is reflected by how far above the ground you live. Here, under the rule of the mighty Tsao Ch'un, a resurgent China is seeking to abolish the past and bring about world peace through rigidly enforced order. But a civil war looms, and Jake will find himself at the heart of the struggle for the future.
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Son of Heaven
Chung Kuo Book 1
By David Wingrove
Atlantic Books LtdCopyright © 2011 David Wingrove
All rights reserved.
A thin layer of mist wreathed the meadows all the way down to the reeds that traced the meandering path of the river. In the early morning light, the few trees that jutted from that paleness seemed iron black, leafless now that the season had changed. This had all been heath until a few years back, from Corfe to the South Deep. Now the sea had encroached upon those ancient fields, covering stretches of the lowlands to a depth of several feet.
Jake stood there on a ridge of higher ground, surveying the scene, his shotgun tucked beneath his arm. He was dressed for the season in a thick sheepskin coat and warm britches, a hunter's cap and black waders. Close by stood his son, Peter, fourteen and the image of his father, down to the gun beneath his arm. Beside him was Boy, their eight-year-old border collie, his coat sleek and black, his sharp eyes and ears taking in every movement.
A cuckoo called; possibly the last of the year. For a moment after there was silence, then a slushing noise and the sound of beating wings, a heavy sound in the early morning air. As they watched, the bird flew up. Jake's eyes followed its path, then settled on the ruins of the old cottage.
Until six years back this had been a busy, bustling place. Jed Cooper and his family had lived here. A cheerful man, Jed had shared the cottage with his equally cheerful wife, Judy, and their twin boys, Charlie and John, who had been Peter's age. Only then the sickness had come and they'd been swept away, along with scores of others in the surrounding villages. Last year the roof had fallen in and now the walls were crumbling, nature reclaiming the building, its damp brickwork sinking back into the earth.
Jake looked down and sighed. At his back, a mile to the west, the land climbed steeply to a ridge. There, its ruined keep outlined against the sky, was the castle. Almost a thousand years it had stood. When the Normans came, they'd built it to subdue the locals and place their mark upon the land. Later, in the years of the Civil War, it had been partially demolished, yet still it dominated the skyline, its ruined towers like slabs of living history.
Boy tensed. Peter looked down at him and smiled.
'Seek 'em, Boy! Go chase 'em out!'
The dog was off at once, a streak of darkness cutting through the mist. Jake raised his gun. Beside him, Peter did the same, the two of them waiting patiently as Boy turned the game towards them.
Two gunshots echoed across the meadows, barely a pause between them. Boy slowed then barked, settling beside one of the fallen rabbits.
'Good lad,' Jake said, looking to his son and smiling.
They walked across, Peter going straight to Boy; kneeling down to ruffle his neck and hug him close, telling him again and again what a good boy he'd been.
Jake stooped, once, then a second time, to lift the dead rabbits and slip them into the big leather satchel at his side. He straightened up. The gunshots would have frightened off any other game, but they had plenty of time. The fields beyond the river were pocked with rabbit holes.
'D'you think it'll ever come back?'
Jake thought about it a moment. 'I dunno ... It's just ... if it were coming back, then I guess it would have by now. Only ...'
Jake looked down at the dog. Boy enjoyed being petted. His eyes looked back at Peter adoringly, his tail wagging eagerly.
Only nothing. But he didn't say that. It was gone, that old world. Never to return. And good riddance. Only Peter, who had never known it, was fascinated.
'Well?' Peter insisted, getting back to his feet.
Jake laughed. 'You'd have hated it.'
'Why? I mean ... all that great stuff you had.'
They had this conversation often, and as so often happened it led nowhere. The Past – the great computer age – was dead, and most of the 'great stuff' with it. All that was left were the husks.
'Come,' Jake said, walking on, not letting his mood be affected by such talk. 'What's gone is gone, lad. It's no good grieving over it.'
'But Dad ...'
A look, a raised eyebrow, and Peter fell silent.
'Come, Boy,' he said, standing, shouldering his gun.
They paused at the ruins, baring their heads, paying their respects, then walked on. Cooper and his family were buried in the churchyard. Long buried now, along with the rest of those who had died that winter. Six years it had been. Only it didn't seem that long. To Jake it seemed like yesterday.
And there too was another truth. That back in the old days they would have survived. Most of them, anyway, if not all. A jab of something and a week in bed and they'd have been right as rain.
Only these weren't the old days.
Jake pushed the thought away, then looked to his son once more.
'Come, lad. Let's go bag some more before breakfast.'
Two hours had passed and they had just decided to turn back, when Jake spotted the strangers, some distance off to the north-west, out on the Ware-ham Road.
His satchel was bulging with dead game. That, and the sight of strangers on the road made up Jake's mind to leave. Now, before they were spotted.
There was an old barn, partway up the slope. There they hid, Jake perched in the gaping stone window, the Zeiss-style glasses – a pair of Bresser Hunters his father had bought more than fifty years before – to his eyes as he checked out the newcomers.
It was as he'd thought. They were refugees. Just a small party, eight strong. Five adults and three children, all of their worldly possessions either on their backs or on the sled one of them dragged along.
He moved from face to face, seeing the tiredness there, the fear. They were a peculiarly shabby lot, with an emaciated, almost haunted look. As far as Jake could make out, a small, fussy little man was leading them; stocky and balding, he never seemed to stop talking. Alongside him was a much taller woman. She was a pale, consumptive-looking creature with lank hair and a pair of broken spectacles that gave her a slight academic air. There were two other men – nondescript fellows with shaven heads and the kind of faces you instantly forgot, they were so generic. Working men, Jake thought, seeing those faces. At least, they would have been, once upon a time. But these two were barely into their thirties. They'd have been ten at most when things fell apart.
The last of the adults – another woman – was perhaps the most interesting, and he took his time, studying her. She didn't seem part of this party. She had a distracted air to her and an uncertainty – a lack of ease – that suggested she had joined them somewhere along the way. For protection, maybe. The look of her – the quality of her clothes – did not go with the others. And there was one other thing. She was pretty.
Jake switched his attention to the children. The eldest was a tall, spindly boy of adolescent age. The clothes he was wearing looked thin and ragged. He seemed to hug himself against the morning's chill. Most noticeable, however, were his eyes – pale eyes that were dark-rimmed and fearful, like he suffered from bad dreams.
His siblings, if that was what they were – a boy and a girl, one perhaps five and the other eight or nine – shared the same, dispirited look.
It made him wonder just how long they had been on the road. Three days? Four? Had they eaten in all that time? Were they hungry?
They certainly looked hungry. Hungry and afraid. As always, something in him responded to their plight and wanted to help; only he couldn't. He had learned that lesson long ago – not to trust anyone in these untrustworthy times. Not strangers, anyway.
Even so ...
Jake focused again on the little man, the fussy one, trying to get some clue to it all. A lot of people made the journey west. He'd been told that life was a lot better out here. Only this party didn't seem to be driven by the desire for a better life. No. They looked as if they had been chased out.
Jake lowered the glasses. 'They're no threat,' he whispered. 'But let's get back anyway and warn the others, just in case.'
Peter nodded, then turned to Boy. Boy had been laying there, silent, patient; now he jumped up, eager again.
Peter leaned in close, speaking in a whisper to the dog. 'Hush now, Boy. We're going home, right?'
Normally Boy would have given off a bark – an eager response – but Peter had trained him well. When he used that hushed voice, Boy was to keep quiet.
Jake, looking on, smiled. He was a lovely dog. One of the best. He hadn't known how good it was to have a dog until they'd had him. He put out his hand and Boy came across at once, nuzzling him, licking his fingers and giving off the faintest whine.
They moved quickly, purposefully, up the steep grassy slope and along the Ridgeway, the castle – a massive thing of fallen tawny stone, huge chunks of which were embedded in the grassy hillside – directly ahead. Beyond it, beyond the broad green slope of the castle's enclosed lower field, nestling in the curve of the valley, was Corfe itself. A V-shaped spill of grey-brown two-storey cottages that hugged both arms of the forking road, the parish church with its square tower thrusting up from amidst that great sprawl. It was a sight Jake never tired of, and as always he paused, to take it in, sensing a connection that was beyond his own lifetime. For some reason this was his place and he had come here out of instinct when it had all gone wrong. Here and nowhere else. Because here was where he belonged.
Some of the locals were at the Bankes Arms Hotel already, despite the early hour, unloading carts and carrying bits and pieces through to the gar -den at the back of the big coaching inn. They were preparing for the evening ahead, it being their custom, once a month, to hold a gathering of all the surrounding villages. It was a celebration – of life and friendship, and of the Past, of the quite astonishing fact that any of them had survived these past twenty or so years.
Jake's best friend, Tom Hubbard, was there, with his youngest daughter Meg, who was Peter's age. While Peter ran across to talk to her, Boy at his heels, Jake sidled over to his old friend.
Tom met his eyes. 'Somethin' up?'
Tom spoke with the same Dorset dialect as Jake's son, Peter, and even as he answered him, Jake was conscious at some level of the lack of that same richness in his own voice. He had been here for more than twenty years, but he was still, in some important way, an outsider. This place, home as it was to him now, was still foreign parts.
'Strangers ... on the old Wareham Road. No threat, I'd judge – they're a bit of a ragtag assortment – but we ought to send a warning round.'
Tom nodded, then turned and whistled through his teeth. 'Alec! Young Billy!'
Two young heads appeared from behind the cart. 'Yeah?'
'Leave that for now. There's strangers on the Wareham Road. Best put out a warnin' to Stowborough and Furzebrook ... oh, and East Holme while you're at it.'
He turned to Jake again. 'How many was it, Jake?'
'Just the eight. Three men, two women and three kids. It's just that they looked hungry, and hunger makes thieves of us all.'
Tom turned and gestured to the two youngsters, who ran off at once. He turned back, then nodded towards the bulging satchel.
'It's a wonder there's any rabbits left, what with you and the lad.'
Jake grinned. 'Thought I'd bag a dozen or so for the do tonight.'
'An' the rest?'
But it didn't need to be said. Tom knew who Jake had bagged them for. Old Ma Brogan, down on the East Orchard. If Jake hadn't brought her a brace of rabbits every now and then she'd never have tasted meat at all, now that her son had run off.
Tom looked up again. 'She's fine. Lookin' forward to tonight. Like a bloody teenage girl, she gets. Can't get no sense out of her or our eldest pair. You'd think it were Christmas.'
The two men laughed, then fell silent. There were shadows over everything they said these days.
They were living on borrowed time and they both knew it. But life had to be lived, not feared. You had to get on with things, no matter what was headed your way. And sometimes that was enough. Only it made it hard to plan anything, hard to look beyond the immediacy of things, and that, so the more astute of them realized, robbed the experience of something precious. When you didn't have a future, what did you have?
Jake turned, taking it all in – the castle, the village, all of it unchanged for centuries – and felt a shiver pass through him. It was like living in a vacuum some days. There was Peter, of course, and his friends, but what was it all for? What was the point if it could all be swept aside in an instant?
He patted the bulging satchel, conscious of the smell of the dead creatures which hung upon him.
'Anyway ... I'd best deliver these.'
Tom smiled. 'You know what? I'm glad it happened ... cos if it hadn't ...'
He reached out, holding Jake's arm.
It wasn't like Tom to comment on the past. Nor was it like him to be quite so tactile.
'You all ready for tomorrow?'
'Packed up and ready to go.'
Jake walked away. He ducked through the narrow entrance, stooping beneath the low-silled door and out into the garden. Stepping back into the sunlight, he called out to the little group of wives who were gathered around the big trestle table halfway up the grass.
'Bessie ... Mell ... who wants the job of skinning these little fellas?'
There was laughter and for a moment the shadow passed. But walking home afterwards with Peter at his side and Boy trailing them, he saw Tom's face again, saw something there behind the eyes, and wondered what it was.
Old Ma Brogan was working in her vegetable garden when Jake came calling.
Straightening her thin, age-worn frame, she raised a hand to shield her eyes, straining to see who it was. Stray wisps of long grey hair lay across her deeply-lined face. There was mud on her boots and on the hem of her long, green velvet skirt. Elegance gone to seed, Jake thought, studying her a moment before he unlatched the gate and stepped through.
'It's all right, Mother. It's only me.'
'Ah, Jake, my love. Come give me a kiss. Been a while.'
He went across and gave her a hug and a kiss, then stepped back, admiring her handiwork. For a woman in her eighties she was something else. Frail she might have been, but there was no sign of that frailty in her vegetable garden. Nothing but straight, healthy rows of carrots and beans. The last of the season.
'I've brought you some conies, Ma. Skinned 'em and prepared 'em, I have. Where d'you want me to put 'em?'
A smile beamed out from that ancient face. It made him realize how beautiful she must have been as a young woman.
'Ah, you're a good boy to me, Jake Reed. A better son than that good-for-nothing boy of mine.'
'Now, Ma ... he had his reasons.'
'Reasons!' She spat the word out contemptuously. 'You're too kind to him by half. Let his cock rule him, more's the truth!'
Jake smiled. He was used to Ma Brogan's foul mouth. Besides, it was true. Her son, Billy, had been infatuated with a girl, and she only half his age. 'Cock-struck' was how Ma Brogan had termed it at the time, and so he was. When she left, he went after her, leaving his aged mother to fend for herself. It was cruel, but it was also life.
'So ... where d'you want these?'
'Through here,' she said, turning and leading the way along the brickwork path towards the back door. 'You goin' along tonight, lad?'
'I am.' And he smiled again as he said it. He liked being called 'lad', as if he were Peter's age again. And he liked being mothered. More than that, he liked Ma Brogan's irreverent approach to life. Some didn't, but he did.
In the kitchen doorway she half turned, looking to him. 'You want a brew, boy?'
'I'd love one, Ma. If you're having one.'
'I am. Now put those conies down on the side, then take a seat and rest your legs while you tell me all the latest gossip.'
Which is precisely what he did for the next hour, sat there in that low-ceilinged, heavily-shadowed kitchen, among the overflowing shelves and the clutter.
Back in the old days he might have scorned it as a waste of time, but now he knew. This was what life was for. Not for accumulating wealth, nor making an impression. It was for this. The old lady – Margaret, she insisted, flirting with him – made him laugh. Not only that, but she made him think, and if she'd been thirty years younger he might even have slept with her.
He knew a great deal about her life, about her work as a painter and as a potter, and the children she had raised, never to see again. But aspects of her history were still a mystery to him, even after coming here these past twelve months.
'Yes, my love?'
'Can I ask you something deeply personal?'
She turned to face him. 'You may.'
Excerpted from Son of Heaven by David Wingrove. Copyright © 2011 David Wingrove. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
David Wingrove is the Hugo Award-winning co-author (with Brian Aldiss) of Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. He is also the co-author of the first three MYST books—novelizations of one of the world's bestselling computer games.
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Awesome sci-fi. Brillant and deep. Loved many of the characters and plots within plots! I read these many years ago and I'm very happy to be able to get them in my nook. I missed getting one book in the series and could'nt find that one anywhere, well now I have all of them .I'm very happy about this!
I enjoyed this novel. The author came up with an intriging means of destructon. Very believeable. Let's hope things get better and common sense overcomes greed, not just in the west, but worldwide. Greed and the love of power exists everywhere. Look at extremests everywhete. Do it my way, or you are evil! I disagree with the reviewer that felt the female characters were weak. I still break down in tears when I remember my life before my husband died after a long, life and soul tirog illness. He and I worked hard to make ourlives as happy as possible. After his death, I literally fell apart - and I live a comfortable life - not one like these characters face - no fear that my home wll be invaded because someone ia starving and deaperate, or just plain mean-crazy. Remember, the men cried too.
I have high hopes before I read this book after I review many positive feedback. But towards the end of it, I am very disappointed. First of all, the character development is too formula and too linear. The description of the Chinese characters are also too stereo type. Any Chinese who enjoys poem is the good guy and any Chinese who is not will be the evil type. This is way too linear and too shallow view of the Chinese. For the male characters, they are always the hero type, the righteous kind and the female characters are always the passive kind, cry too easily and always soft. Again, very linear and formula like. If the author eventually establishes a deeper world and a deeper characters, then this first book fails to draw the attention to it. I assume that if you have started reading the original books first and then read this one, I guess that it may be ok. But I haven't read any other books in the series other than this first one. So it is disappointing.