An even more rambling but far more tedious novel is Norman Mascall's Year of the Ox (Galaxy, 462 pages, $23 trade paper). The basic plot revolves around Neville Maynard, who convinces the British government that it would be a mistake to cede Hong Kong to the same people who were responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacres in 1989. Hence a plan is devised-and carried out largely by Maynard himself-by which the British would hold on to the Crown Colony despite the Joint Declaration of 1984.
To put it succinctly, the result is a sprawling political thriller without much thrill. Stock characters (for example, Margot Saunders, the British PM, is described as "brilliant, beautiful, and bitchy"), trite dialogue, the requisite spy antics, mountains of political detail, and uninspired scenes-in which the political issues overshadow all attention to the art of novel writing-combine to result in a work whose "insights" reach about the level of this one: "Could it be a fact that Chinese women as a general rule were as over-sexed as Shi-Li? That would certainly explain the country's billion-plus population. He was able to discount that idea-many of his one-night stands with concubines had proved far from satisfactory."
The final chapters read like a general's war memoirs, complete with battle maps and a play-by-play re-enactment of the combat. Perhaps Mascall has his genres confused. Or perhaps he enjoys stereotypes. Or perhaps he is just attempting to cash in on a timely subject.