Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Weird & Wonderful- China Mountain Zhang

For the July meeting of City Lit's Weird & Wonderful club, we discussed China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh. A fairly near-future tale, it follows its main character and a number of others through a world in which China has become the primary world power and humans are colonizing Mars, but does so in kind of a discursive, very human way.

We dug the heck out of this! Brief notes below:

  • Started out with some mild argumentation about what constitutes world-building, with some of us arguing that precisely why this novel works is because it's doing so much, so subtly; others argued it wasn't worldbuilding at all, just characters, which is why it worked for them.
  • We wondered why, published mid-AIDS-crisis, AIDS wasn't mentioned at all (given that a number of our characters are persecuted gay men).
  • Zhang's chapters (and character) are written very well. We thought a few of the side-stories, like Angel's, were fairly disconnected. We liked San Xiang's, though it was kind of excruciating to see her one storyline coming from far away.
  • Talked a bit about McHugh's career otherwise, which isn't much in novels--some short stories available online, and otherwise she's been involved in game writing.
  • We really liked the way fashion/shopping were portrayed here. Enjoyable, believable, fleshed out the characters and their position in society.
  • We loved the Boffin Island section, and recommended Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica for more like that. Queer Polar Exploration is, apparently, a sub-genre that we are totally here for.
  • Lot of delightful KSR similarities in this novel as a whole.
  • We liked the tech, the level of (non-) description of some of the "brain wifi" and architectural software.
  • "I betcha there are straight ball clubs."
  • It's kind of a subtle coming-of-age novel, learning to say "yes" to good things, "no" to bad things.
  • Aside on Herzog & suicidal depression in penguins.
  • Lot of talk about Alexi & Martine's relationship & what to make of it.
  • Also a lot of talk about bridging two cultures, "passing", and assimilation.
  • Talked about translation, cultural context, and the footnotes to the Chinese release of Twilight.
  • Talked about some structurally-similar or otherwise-resonant books, including Zadie Smith's White Teeth, Ariel Levy's The Rules Do Not Apply, and William Finnegan's Barbarian Days.

Weird & Wonderful clubs and many other wonderful events can be found on the City Lit Books website.

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