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 Maureen McHugh

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PostSubject: Maureen McHugh   Tue Aug 21, 2018 2:05 pm

I've shuffled through a dozen & a half books on my "to read" bookshelf in the past month, reading a couple of chapters in each before deciding, nah, not in the mood for that.

Decided to fall back on an old sci-fi I read decades ago -- been thinking about it for some reason -- remember loving the shit out of it at the time.  I needed a piece of good writing to re-invigorate my love of books.

"China Mountain Zhang" (1992) is a novel about near-future New York, after the USA has collapsed through mismanagement and China has emerged as the world's sole superpower.  All the good jobs, the management jobs, are held by Chinese citizens.  If an ambitious student wants to get ahead, he must study in China.  The ultimate is to get a job in China.  Barring that, being trained in China is imperative for getting ahead

China Mountain Zhang is an ABC, American-born Chinese.  He speaks some Mandarin because his father was Chinese, so he leverages this to advance his career as an engineer.  The book is partially about his drive to become an engineer.  But it's also much much more.

There are three or four other stories, other characters, who intersect with each other in minor ways.  You see each of these characters through the eyes of the others, and their perceptions tell you a lot about post-Chinese culture and society.

Like most great fiction, the plot is just an excuse to describe a whole reality which lurks behind it.  McHugh does an excellent job of describing how the US collapsed and why (it has something to do with a despotic president who suspended civil liberties, triggering a revolution, which failed and took down many institutions with it.  This was written in 1992 remember.)  It is masterful.

Made me go looking for other McHugh books yesterday.  Found a short story collection called "After The Apocalypse," describing five real life scenarios of how people are coping after five different types of apocalypse.  Like CMZ, the apocalypses aren't really described, you just begin to work out what happened in each one as you read the stories of life afterward.  Again, the stories tell VOLUMES about the worlds described without really addressing them head-on.  Very clever writing.

Reminds me, in fact, of Connie Willis who writes similar stories about circumstances she really doesn't describe but during the course of her stories you come to understand that something very substantial has shifted in society.  Stories that make you stop, after you finish, and go, "Whoa."

I love that.
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PostSubject: Re: Maureen McHugh   Mon Aug 27, 2018 6:37 pm

Reading a third McHugh, “Half the Day is Night” from 1994, her second book. There’s a scene in the police station where the main character, David Dai, is being asked to provide a sketch of a woman who just threatened him.

What the police do is show him a quick series of womens’ faces on a computer screen and measure where his eyes go and how he reacts. As they find a chin that matches, then eyes, then eyebrows, mouth, cheekbones, hair, etc. until eventually the screen picture looks more or less like the woman he saw, and he doesn’t have to say a word.

Pretty clever.

And it might actually work.
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PostSubject: Re: Maureen McHugh   Sun Sep 09, 2018 9:50 am

I ended up bailing on “Half The Day is Night” because it dealt with terrorism and war and I wasn’t enjoying it. Life’s too short.

But her short story collection “Mothers & Other Monsters” is divine. Each story is vastly different from the others, each a glimpse into a whole different universe. In one, werewolves are just a fact of life. In another a woman accidentally sets her groceries on fire by staring at them. A young girl escaping Mississippi after the Civil War is denied services because she used to own slaves. A settlement on another planet, probably Mars but never specified, is visited by Earth people after having been forgotten for a couple hundred years.

Each story is a sparkling jewel, using just the right words and giving just enough detail without belaboring anything. Really stunning writing.
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PostSubject: Re: Maureen McHugh   Tue Sep 11, 2018 11:16 am

One story is about Alzheimer's. In the near future stem cells are being used to repair the brains of Alzheimer's patients, but of course any lost memories are gone forever. The "recovering" patient is better able to function independently, but they're literally no longer the same person they were before the treatment.

Heartbreaking story, told from the wife's POV.
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PostSubject: Re: Maureen McHugh   Sat Sep 15, 2018 10:07 am

Started a novel called "Mission Child" which was a continuation of a short story in "Apocalypses" (the short story forms chapter one).

Unfortunately the story, when strung out into a novel, leaving nothing to the imagination, makes for tedious reading. I shan't be finishing it.
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