Embassytown by China Mieville
Published by Del Ray, an imprint of Random House
I struggled with Embassytown when reading, and I’ve struggled over the past months thinking about it for a review. In lieu of a formal review, I am simply going to add a few of the thoughts that linger after all this time. For some context, here is the description from Indiebound:
In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.
Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.
When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.
- The linguistics pieces were very interesting, perhaps the most intriguing part of the story. The interplay of language and truth, inability of the Ariekei to lie, or even express abstract concepts unless they had previously been made concrete was consistently interesting.
- The descriptions of the more science fiction elements of the story, such as the complexities of space travel, the interstellar political systems, and the systems that kept humans alive on the Ariekei world fell flat for me. They seemed neither interesting, nor well enough explained. I am not sure if Mieville has other works set in this universe in which these things are better explained, but it didn’t work for me here.
- I found Avice to be a thoroughly uninteresting and unsympathetic character. I didn’t care who she was with or what she did, and the rest of the plot was not compelling enough counteract that.
- My other two experiences with Mieville have both been in audio, narrated by John Lee. I think that audio might be the best way for me to experience Mieville, because talented narrators like John Lee carry me on past these pieces that would otherwise bog me down.
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