Friday, December 16, 2011


Embassytown by China Miéville

Miéville has said that one of the things he likes about science fiction is the feeling of not knowing what's going on that you have a lot of times when you start reading a book in the genre. I agree. It's that feeling of disorientation that you have until you start to get your bearings and figure out who, what, when, and where you are. For me it's what gives the genre a lot of its appeal.

Well, with Embassytown, he gave me that feeling in spades, and he stretched it out for the book's entirety. It's wonderfully written, it's a fantastic showcase for Miéville's creativity, but that feeling never left me. And I think that's exactly what Miéville intended. His descriptions of the characters, the setting, and the technology are very nebulous. He gives you little insights here and there, but never a complete picture. So it's not an easy book to describe.

If you've ever read one of Miéville's books, you know that he loves language. In his books he heavily uses words whose meanings can only be unlocked contextually. With Embassytown, he makes language itself the core of the story. The Ariekei are a peaceful alien species whose language is so closely tied to reality that it does not allow for lies. The restrictive nature of their language has given the Ariekei almost a lustful desire for the contrary nature of lies.

The Terre are human colonists who live on Ariekei in Embassytown. The Terre and their Hosts have long enjoyed a peaceful coexistence. The Terre have created Ambassadors, sets of cloned "dopels" bred and genetically linked together who can both understand and speak the Ariekei language. Through the Ambassadors, some of the Ariekei have slowly learned how to manipulate their language enough to resemble lying. But by doing so, they've opened Pandora's Box. Soon the first Ariekei murder takes place and chaos quickly follows.

Embassytown is not light reading. If you're looking for a book that you can pick up and read without using your brain, this is not it. But as is usually the case, things that require effort usually provide the greatest reward.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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