Embassytown (Review)

Embassytown (Review)

ou gotta really want it. That’s all I can say about this book.

I love China Mieville – he always provides amazingly new ideas to his works. But this one you’re going to have to work at. I’m not sure if I even get all the points he was making (which sucks since I’m reviewing it, right?). His books are out there, but he invites you (with language and setting and beautiful writing) to join him.

Okay, so, Embassytown is a strange place, a little town of ambassadors living on an alien world way out on the edge of known space. The aliens here, the Arieka, take a while to get used to. See, they have two mouths and when they speak they form a sorta telepathic link with the person addressed. But a single human can’t pull off this trick, needing two mouths and thought-backed efforts. Machines don’t have thoughts, so they are out. So it comes down to the creation of ambassadors, twinned pairs of people who can manage the newonces of this strange and alien tongue(s).

Yeah, so, hoo boy. Hold on for this ride.

Once I got my brain around what was going on, that the ambassadors were two people, not one (trust me, it’s not obvious at the begriming) that I finally could settle in. And that leads us to Mieville’s efforts to show us how (I think) language shapes our thinking and our view of the world. Along with all this, you’ve got a conspiracy (maybe a couple) in the works, a world in uproar, betrayal, murder, and so you’ve got a very busy book on your hands.

One thing I found interesting – when I used to read scifi in the 70s, every time we dicked an alien world over and they pushed back, it was like Vietnam with the indigs dug into forests and the over-weaponized humans unable to make headway against them (Avatar was like this, too, but then again, that was just old-scifi reheated with CGI). No, in this book, the feeling is Iraq, with the Green Zone and the rising of the rural districts and the city under siege. Perhaps this is going to be the new face of aliens-in-rebellion scifi? Or is art merely following life?

Anyway, good book. Not, perhaps, his best – I wish he’d get back to the world of The Scar but there you go. For you hardcore readers, you might want to give it a try.