BOOKS / Second Thoughts: Western barbarian goes to China: David Wingrove reflects on his eight-volume novel sequence, Chung Kuo (NEL)
Saturday 21 August 1993
I'd begun work on Chung Kuo some five years before, in 1983, and had spent the previous two years working exclusively - and without payment - on researching and writing early drafts of the first four books of the sequence. As a historian of science fiction, I knew just how poorly prepared future histories could be. I was thus determined that with mine I would make good the bodged work of the past.
Part of this process involved a mammoth brainstorming exercise in which every aspect of my future Chinese earth was considered and internally debated. Another was to research all things Chinese, to make this dimension of the work as realistic as I, a yang kuei tzu, or Western barbarian, could make it.
I tried hard. I put in the hours, steeping myself in Chinese culture and living imaginatively in my future world. But the truth is you can never prepare enough, and it's only now, halfway through the sequence, that I realise exactly what I was taking on all those years ago - the huge burden of invention that this involved.
Fiction is invention, of course, a wonderful game of lies which, paradoxically, attempts by that means to get at some universal 'truth', yet future history - my own chosen form of fiction - is a much more complete lie, a fuller illusion, if you like. All of those familiar touchstones that can be relied upon by a contemporary novelist to evoke a sense of time and place are denied a future historian. They have to create it all - settings, customs, character and event. Nothing is 'given'. With Chung Kuo, I was forced to start each new scene from scratch, relying not on what is but on some vision of what might be that existed solely in my head. More than that, these visions had to be consistent - had to fit in with the larger canvas I had created.
Looking back, I ought, perhaps, to have given myself 10, maybe 15 years before attempting something of this scale, yet one can only write such a thing once and the energy, the narrative dynamic of the work, seems to depend on the pressure of production. I invent out of necessity. And what I invent takes on its own life, its own shape because of, and not in spite of, that pressure.
Preparation: that's one element, and an important one, in a venture of this kind. But far more important is audacity, a willingness to carry on even when preparation fails, to create in defiance of that great whiteness - that absolute nothingness - which is 'the future'.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 4 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
Church of Scientology allegedly sent threatening letters to film distributors and festivals showing damning documentary
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl performs with broken leg seated on massive throne made of guitars
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget