My Month of Science Fiction: Embassytown by China Miéville (2011) by China Miéville

When I was asking around for recommendations for my Month of Science Fiction, the name "China Miéville" kept coming up. Now, I had heard the name before, but knew nothing about the author. Eventually, I chose Embassytown to read and BOY OH BOY am I glad I did (and all the other Miéville? Yeah, gonna read those too!).

Anyway, there are books that you read and you feel great afterwards- enlightened, almost buoyant. Other books leave you feeling confused and dizzy. Still others suck you in and make you work so hard that you come out on the other side saying "that wasn't a book, it was an EXPERIENCE."

Embassytown was an Experience.

As a work of science fiction, it does a wonderful job integrating new words into the reader's vocabulary in order to introduce us to alien objects and concepts. As a book devoted to exploring "Language" and how it (might) operate in our own and alien cultures, Embassytown knocks it out of the park. The park? The continent. For Miéville introduces us to an alien culture for whom language IS the world. The Hosts/Ariekei communicate with two distinct mouths, and for them, lies are impossible. Indeed, the Ariekei make certain humans perform tasks and then use those events as similes to expand their Language.

The human colony that has settled on the Host planet (very very long ago) has adapted to communicate with the Ariekei by growing human "doppels" (also called "Ambassadors") who can speak Host Language to them, even though the Ambassadors are two distinct people (but their minds are linked through the use of technology).

Just as we're trying to figure out this complicated system that has been established between the humans and Ariekei, Miéville introduces a new kind of Ambassador, a pair that hasn't been "created," and this Ambassador's speech sparks a revolution in the Ariekei and human societies.

Told from the perspective of a widely-traveled, brilliant human named Avice Benner Cho, the novel asks us to consider questions of ethics, addiction, revolution, violence, power, and communication. Miéville makes us work to keep straight how Ariekei and humans communicate, because this is all that holds them together. Once the new Ambassador speaks, though, everything changes, resulting in a breakthrough in Ariekei language that brings them and humans even closer.

I'm not going to get any more specific than that because I want you to read Embassytown (if you haven't already) and experience that same feeling of tantalizing suspense. There's so much more to the novel, as well, like the concepts of "immer" ("always") and the third iteration of the universe. Miéville's writing is beautiful, and technical in the most creative way.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read Perdido Street Station and The City & The City.

1 comment:

  1. I consider Embassytown to be Mieville's masterpiece. Everything he writes is weird and wonderful and immersive and just nuts, but the only one that comes close to Embassytown (in my opinion) is The Scar.

    I've recommended Embassytown to a bunch of people, and a bunch of people have said it was too hard to get into, that they gave up 50 pages in because it didn't grab them, the just couldn't figure out what the heck was going on. Did you have that experience, that it was hard to get into at first?