China Mountain Zhang

Maureen F. McHugh
China Mountain Zhang Cover

Really Wished I Could Like This Book


I always feel guilty when I quit a book halfway through, and I don't think I've ever felt guiltier than with this novel. Everything about it sounds like I would absolutely love it. But yet as I made my way through the pages, I found myself dreading my reading sessions more and more, until I just decided it was time to move on.

That's not to say I don't recognize the book's strengths, and there are many. The idea of a futuristic world where China has taken over the United States is brilliant, and it's executed with brio. Ms. McHugh clearly understands Chinese culture and grasps the flavors of language. I've lived for three years in China, and I was thrilled at these aspects.

Also very appealing was the protagonist, Zhang Zhong Shan. He's such a refreshing change from the usual SF tropes: he's of mixed ethnicity, gay, and an everyman in a genre that seems to prefer world-shaking Übermenschen.

So, where did China Mountain Zhang go wrong with me? Two major issues.

First, even though I liked the realistic, toned down nature of the characters, they just felt flat to me. They lack any ambition or spark, and feel colorless and depressing. Zhang himself was no exception. He has nothing to live for, no ambition that drives him. He's flotsam. That sounds like an interesting choice of character on paper, but it just drove me nuts reading it. I found myself growing increasingly annoyed at his flat delivery, his restraint, his lack of emotion.

Second, the plot doesn't go anywhere. It wanders slowly through a world which in its scope is promising, but in its details is dull and colorless. The kite races didn't inspire wonder; there was no adrenaline to them, only some sort of detached description of going through the motions.

All that being said, I can't shake the feeling that this book was great, but I was just not a great enough reader to appreciate it. China Mountain Zhang, it's not you, it's me. I hope you go on to better readers who will show you the love you deserve.