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.