Review: Embassytown by China Mieville
Embassytown by China Mieville
Publisher: Del Rey Books. May 2011
Genre: Science fiction
First Line: The children of the embassy all saw the boat land.
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Everything about this book makes me jizz my pants. It's about aliens and it is about language. Aliens. Language. This book was made for me, I swear it. So when I first started reading, some of it was hard to grasp because it jumped right into using alien world terminology. I'll do my best to explain the important/cool stuff about this book. Would it be easier to copy and paste the publisher's description? Entirely. But I like a challenge. And confusing people.
The main character is Avice Benner Cho, a traveler who eventually returns to her home planet, Arieka, right before a revolution. On this planet, humans and the indigenous Ariekei, or "Hosts", live more or less together. What's interesting about the Ariekei is just how alien they are physically and linguistically. They communicate through what is called Language. Each Host has two mouths that say different sounds at the same time to construct words. The humans figured this out, but when they took two people trying to reconstruct the language, the Hosts didn't even register that anyone was talking. Then they tried making a computer speak in Language. Still nothing, because what the Hosts need behind Language is sentience. Without a single mind behind the voices, the words are just noise. In order to communicate with the Hosts, the humans have to take twins at birth and raise them as one person, linking their minds together. They become ambassadors, whose sole job is to communicate with the Ariekei.
Another interesting thing about the Language and minds of the Ariekei is that they speak in similes referring to actual events and they cannot lie. That's what links Avice so strongly to these creatures. When she was younger, the Hosts turned her into a simile. She became a part of Language.
Got all that?
I don't want to say much more about the plot. A lot happens, all of it very fascinating and surprising. Maybe it's just me who does this, but I did what I could to prolong my reading of this book. I just did not want to leave the world the Mieville had created. It's so wildly original, and although I'm not used to hard sci-fi and it took me a while to get used to the world's terminology, it was well worth the time spent. Sometimes Mieville does some jumps back and forth in the plot, but I was able to stay interested in the story.
Mieville said, "if you are a writer who happens to be a human, I think it's definitionally beyond your ken to describe something truly inhuman, psychologically, something alien." He has a point, but I think he came incredibly close to creating something completely new, and a new favorite book of mine.
"For Hosts, speech was thought. It was as nonsensical to them that a speaker could say, could claim, something it knew to be untrue as, to me, that I could believe something I knew to be untrue."
"'I don't want to be a simile anymore,' I said. 'I want to be a metaphor.'"
Outlandishness Rating: 10/10
I've never been more impressed by the alien-ness of an alien race. Apart from just the language strangeness, the plot introduced some twists that were odd even for an already bizarre world. Luckily I got all of the weird I wanted without the plot and my suspension of disbelief being sacrificed.
Sci-fi or linguistic fans. Even if you're not really into sci-fi, Embassytown's original ideas make for a refreshing read. If you're into language, I highly recommend this book.