Embassytown by China Mieville

Embassytown by China Miéville

Ballantine Book, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my local library.

I am always nervous and excited when I open a new China Miéville novel.  I never know what to expect.   It took me a while to immerse myself in this new one, but once there I didn’t come up for air until it was done.  In the beginning I found Embassytown almost impenetrable, like entering a forest thick with undergrowth, but Mieville’s a master and has created a marvel.

Deep space traveler Avice Benner Cho has returned to her home planet Arieka,  a planet colonized by humans and home to the Ariekei, intelligent beings known for their unique language.  This language is so difficult only a few altered human ambassadors can communicate with their Hosts.  When political manoeuvring brings a new ambassador to Embassytown, the fragile connection between humans and Hosts is broken, an event that could mean the end of the city and of its human and alien colonists.  For Avice it means something entirely new.

I admit defeat.  I’ve been trying to present these events with a structure.  I simply don’t know how everything happened.  Perhaps because I didn’t pay proper attention, perhaps because it wasn’t a narrative, but for whatever reasons,  it doesn’t want to be what I want to make it.  From page 145.

At first reading Embassytown made me feel the same way.   I had to really pay attention and let it to be what it wanted to be.  This novel allows China Miéville the space to work with language, something he obviously relishes.  Nothing can cause trouble between humans like language. Miscommunication, poor translation, semantics, words taken out of context. Think about all our media, the words we read, see and listen to.  Now think about it in terms of communication between alien life forms. What could alien language be?  Would in be constructed like human language? Use the same kind of grammar? The same figures of speech?  Embassytown asks these and more detailed questions.  Add the byzantine mixture of human bureaucracy and politics along with Mieville’s ideas of our universe and what might be beyond our universe and you have a very fine science fiction tale.

Embassytown may not be as accessible to readers fond of  The City & The City or Kraken, but I hope those readers give it a try.  I loved it.  I am a true Miéville fan.


Filed under China Mieville, Review, SciFi

16 responses to “Embassytown by China Mieville

  1. I’m still to read anything by Mieville… I reckon I’ll start with Kraken though! Glad you enjoyed this one though… perhaps I’ll get to it eventually.

  2. I’ve got this and after enjoying both The City & The City and Kraken, I can’t wait to start this. Then I’m hoping to read his Bas Lag books. I’m so glad you enjoyed this!

    • I want to reread all the Bas Lag books eventually. Perdido Street Station is where I started with Mieville. It blew my mind.

  3. I still have to read my first Miéville. I have Kraken on the TBR pile but this one sounds even better. I need to get to him soon.

  4. I need to read some Mieville but I haven’t been able to make myself get to it so far. I couldn’t get into The City and the City, and I’m afraid to read anything else and find that I hate Mieville. That would be so sad! When everyone loves him so!

  5. I can’t wait to read a China Mieville book! I’ve been hearing quite a bit about them. I mostly want to read Kraken first, but this is also on my wishlist.

  6. I have Kraken and Perdido Street Station on my TBR piles right here by the desk. I’ve been hearing good things about Embassytown, so your review has moved the book up in my ‘planning to read’ list….good review, Gavin.

    • Glad you’re back, Susan! Perdido Street Station is where I started with Mieville. I want to reread all the Bas Lag novels eventually.

  7. Ti

    I haven’t read anything by Mieville. To be honest, I am a little intimidated by that first paragraph you wrote, “…like entering a forest thick with undergrowth,” I’m scared! :)

  8. I ve been meaning to try him at some point ,this and city and city appeal to me he seems like a innovative writer every book different to the one before ,all the best stu

  9. Pingback: Sunday Salon – What I’ve Been Reading | Page247

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