Actually bought it on Sunday and read it on Monday.
Very cool book - winner of the 1992 Tiptree award, amongst many other awards.
However, it is also a book I described later that night as "the type of book you reach then end, turn the page, and wonder where the final chapters went".
An online review I read described it (rather kindly I think) as "a book where character development, not plot, is what is important - so the book ends with a major character development, leaving lots of plots points unresolved" or something very close to that.
The point being, that the book has great characters, but lots (and I do mean LOTS) of dangling plot points left at the end. The online reviewer went on to comment that it ended "just when other books would be getting to the interesting plot points" and I have to say that I agree.
Stuff I enjoyed about the book - a very interesting alternate future with a richly detailed view of a culture I know only a little about (China), and fairly interesting characters who aged and changed throughout the book.
Stuff I really did not like, beyond just the rather abrupt and annoying ending - severe lack of resonance with the current future, even granting that it was published in 1992, it depicts a future where all the gains in acceptance of alternative lifestyles have been completely erased. Also, the shift in character perspectives was interesting, but frequent endings before loose ends of plots are resolved was not very satisfying - with such detailed characters and environments, you the reader want to know what happened - and just seeing the same character in a future scene is not as enjoyable as knowing how they had survived the perils the author had left them in.
Perhaps the past 10 years has seen more changes than I think, but even 10 years ago society here in the US and worldwide has been mostly moving to a more open, less homo-phobic one. Certainly my many friends of alternate sexualities have each had very different life experiences, but in China Mountain Zhang the future is depicted as one where homosexuality is highly repressed socially (but prevalent).
Somehow this is not in resonance with a society today that has a show like, I kid you not, "Gay Marriages" as yet another "reality" tv show, on Bravo. I say "I kid you not" because it does make one feel that the whole reality tv show concept is getting very very stale - but still fascinating as well.
In any case I think that the future will continue to be a world that is more than ever a world where diversity is not just accepted but expected - I think that this is something of a generational difference between the young generations at present and their parents (the "boomers"). The "boomers" of all races and orientations grew up in a world defined by differences, and defined by limitations based on those differences. The current generation (of which I am perhaps on the older edge) is one that has grown up in a highly diverse, multicultural, international, Internet based age. Where people, ideas, and images mix and mingle in countless ways.
If you question me on this, or say "perhaps that is true in Chicago, but not ...." then I would suggest you look at such bastions of youth culture as MTV.
Okay, not a great source of culture perhaps, but it is a leading indicator of the outlook of a very high percentage of the generation - who have grown up with Cable (or other digital) TV.
MTV's youth soap opera "undressed" portrays literally every possible combination of relationships that the writers can image - potrays them to the point of scantily clad bodies and lips locking (men with men, men with woman, woman with woman, three people in various combinations with each other, etc).
Perhaps it is deliberately comprehensive, but it is also a show with a racially diverse cast, who do not, for the most part, make a big deal out of each other's races - they are all still friends, lovers, or enemies (in an ever shifting soap opera way).
I suspect, that if you look at current soap operas (at least those that target a younger generation) you might see a slightly similar trend, though I do suspect that MTV's soap opera has gone places the networks and their sponsors may still fear to tread.
Targeting a slightly older demographic, shows such as "Six Feet Under" and "Sex in the City" also explore lots of relationship permutations, and also inhabit a world where races interact without race being the primary driving force.
I recently read, though I don't recall the exact source, but it was a business publication I think, that this current youth generation EXPECTS diversity. The author, probably not very young, found this very different.
So, when I read a book, set in the future, I find it jarring to consider a future where diversity is less not more than it is today. Where one's sexual orientation or racial background could be used to discrimiate against you in the workforce, where it would be assumed that your relationships are just with the other sex (and the government would be monitoring your communications to ensure this).
Somehow this does not fit my view of the future, which is that the world will be an ever more diverse and accepting place - where you will be judged and the basis of your merits (though I do still expect that personal relationship and family kinships will always play a role) and that religion or other group actitivies will still remain important, but that religions or groups with core beliefs that one set of people are fundementally flawed and lesser will not be popular forces in the world.
At least that is my hope.
And I say this as a white, straight, American, male (perhaps a minority in the not too distant future - probably already if you look on a worldwide scale).