Embassytown

Embassytown

by China Mieville

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Overview

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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—but which speaks through her, whether she likes it or not.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345524508
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/31/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 139,433
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

China Miéville is the author of several books, including Perdido Street Station, The City & The City, and Kraken. His works have won the Hugo, the British Science Fiction Award (twice), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times) and the World Fantasy Award. He lives and works in London.

Read an Excerpt

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When we were young in Embassytown, we played a game with coins and coin-sized crescent offcuts from a workshop. We always did so in the same place, by a particular house, beyond the rialto in a steep-sloping backstreet of tenements, where advertisements turned in colours under the ivy. We played in the smothered light of those old screens, by a wall we christened for the tokens we played with. I remember spinning a heavy two-sou piece on its edge and chanting as it went, turnabout, incline, pig-snout, sunshine, until it wobbled and fell. The face that showed and the word I’d reached when the motion stopped would combine to specify some reward or forfeit.

I see myself clearly in wet spring and in summer, with a deuce in my hand, arguing over interpretations with other girls and with boys. We would never have played elsewhere, though that house, about which and about the inhabitant of which there were stories, could make us uneasy.

Like all children we mapped our hometown carefully, urgently and idiosyncratically. In the market we were less interested in the stalls than in a high cubby left by lost bricks in a wall, that we always failed to reach. I disliked the enormous rock that marked the town’s edge, that had been split and set again with mortar (for a purpose I did not yet know), and the library, the crenellations and armature of which felt unsafe to me. We all loved the collegium for the smooth plastone of its courtyard, on which tops and hovering toys travelled for metres.

We were a hectic little tribe and constables would frequently challenge us, but we needed only say, ‘It’s alright sir, madam, we have to just…’ and keep on. We would come fast down the steep and crowded grid of streets, past the houseless automa of Embassytown, with animals running among us or by us on low roofs and, while we might pause to climb trees and vines, we always eventually reached the interstice.

At this edge of town the angles and piazzas of our home alleys were interrupted by at first a few uncanny geometries of Hosts’ buildings; then more and more, until our own were all replaced. Of course we would try to enter the Host city, where the streets changed their looks, and brick, cement or plasm walls surrendered to other more lively materials. I was sincere in these attempts but comforted that I knew I’d fail.

We’d compete, daring each other to go as far as we could, marking our limits. ‘We’re being chased by wolves, and we have to run,’ or ‘Whoever goes furthest's vizier,’ we said. I was the third-best southgoer in my gang. In our usual spot, there was a Hostnest in fine alien colours tethered by creaking ropes of muscle to a stockade, that in some affectation the Hosts had fashioned like one of our wicker fences. I’d creep up on it while my friends whistled from the crossroads.

See images of me as a child and there’s no surprise: my face then was just my face now not-yet-finished, the same suspicious mouth-pinch or smile, the same squint of effort that sometimes got me laughed at later, and then as now I was rangy and restless. I’d hold my breath and go forward on a lungful through where the airs mixed, past what was not quite a hard border but was still remarkably abrupt a gaseous transition, breezes sculpted with nanotech particle-machines and consummate atmosphere artistry, to write Avice on the white wood. Once on a whim of bravado I patted the nest’s flesh anchor where it interwove the slats. It felt as taut as a gourd. I ran back, gasping, to my friends.

‘You touched it.’ They said that with admiration. I stared at my hand. We would head north to where aeoli blew, and compare our achievements.
 
A quiet, well-dressed man lived in the house where we played with coins. He was a source of local disquiet. Sometimes he came out while we were gathered. He would regard us and purse his lips in what might have been greeting or disapproval, before he turned and walked.

We thought we understood what he was. We were wrong, of course, but we’d picked up whatever we had from around the place and considered him broken and his presence inappropriate. ‘Hey,’ I said more than once to my friends, when he emerged, pointing at him behind his back, ‘hey.’ We would follow when we were brave, as he walked alleys of hedgerow toward the river or a market, or in the direction of the archive ruins or the Embassy. Twice I think one of us jeered nervously. Passers-by instantly hushed us.

‘Have some respect,’ an altoysterman told us firmly. He put down his basket of shellfish and aimed a quick cuff at Yohn, who had shouted. The vendor watched the old man’s back. I remember suddenly knowing, though I didn’t have the words to express it, that not all his anger was directed at us, that those tutting in our faces were disapproving, at least in part, of the man.

‘They’re not happy about where he lives,’ said that evening’s shiftfather, Dad Berdan, when I told him about it. I told the story more than once, describing the man we had followed carefully and confusedly, asking the Dad about him. I asked him why the neighbours weren’t happy and he smiled in embarrassment and kissed me goodnight. I stared out of my window and didn’t sleep. I watched the stars and the moons, the glimmering of Wreck.
 
I can date the following events precisely, as they occurred on the day after my birthday. I was melancholic in a way I’m now amused by. It was late afternoon. It was the third sixteenth of September, a Dominday. I was sitting alone, reflecting on my age (absurd little Buddha!), spinning my birthday money by the coin wall. I heard a door open but I didn’t look up, so it may have been seconds that the man from the house stood before me while I played . When I realised I looked up at him in bewildered alarm.
‘Girl,’ he said. He beckoned. ‘Please come with me.’ I don’t remember considering running. What could I do, it seemed, but obey?

His house was astonishing. There was a long room full of dark colours, cluttered with furniture, screens and figurines. Things were moving, automa on their tasks. We had creepers on the walls of our nursery but nothing like these shining black-leaved sinews in ogees and spirals so perfect they looked like prints. Paintings covered the walls, and plasmings, their movements altering as we entered. Information changed on screens in antique frames. Hand-sized ghosts moved among pot-plants on a trid like a mother-of-pearl games board.

‘Your friend.’ The man pointed at his sofa. On it lay Yohn.

I said his name. His booted feet were up on the upholstery, his eyes were closed. He was red and wheezing.

I looked at the man, afraid that whatever he’d done to Yohn, as he must have done, he would do to me. He did not meet my eyes, instead, fussing with a bottle. ‘They brought him to me,’ he said. He looked around, as if for inspiration on how to speak to me. ‘I’ve called the constables.’

He sat me on a stool by my barely breathing friend and held out a glass of cordial to me. I stared at it suspiciously until he drank from it himself, swallowed and showed me he had by sighing with his mouth open. He put the vessel in my hand. I looked at his neck, but I could not see a link.

I sipped what he had given me. ‘The constables are coming,’ he said. ‘I heard you playing. I thought it might help him to have a friend with him. You could hold his hand.’ I put the glass down and did so. ‘You could tell him you’re here, tell him he’ll be alright.’

‘Yohn, it’s me, Avice.’ After a silence I patted Yohn on the shoulder. ‘I'm here. You’ll be alright, Yohn.’ My concern was quite real. I looked up for more instructions, and the man shook his head and laughed.

‘Just hold his hand then,’ he said.

‘What happened, sir?’ I said.

‘They found him. He went too far.’

Poor Yohn looked very sick. I knew what he’d done.

Yohn was the second-best southgoer in our group. He couldn’t compete with Simmon, the best of all, but Yohn could write his name on the picket fence several slats further than I. Over some weeks I’d strained to hold my breath longer and longer, and my marks had been creeping closer to his. So he must have been secretly practicing. He’d run too far from the breath of the aeoli. I could imagine him gasping, letting his mouth open and sucking in air with the sour bite of the interzone, trying to go back but stumbling with the toxins, the lack of clean oxygen. He might have been down, unconscious, breathing that nasty stew for minutes.

‘They brought him to me,’ the man said again. I made a tiny noise as I suddenly noticed that, half-hidden by a huge ficus, something was moving. I don’t know how I’d failed to see it.

It was a Host. It stepped to the centre of the carpet. I stood immediately, out of the respect I’d been taught and my child’s fear. The Host came forward with its swaying grace, in complicated articulation. It looked at me, I think: I think the constellation of forked skin that was its lustreless eyes regarded me. It extended and reclenched a limb. I thought it was reaching for me.

‘It’s waiting to see the boy’s taken,’ the man said. ‘If he gets better it'll be because of our Host here. You should say thank you.’

I did so and the man smiled. He squatted beside me, put his hand on my shoulder. Together we looked up at the strangely moving presence. ‘Little egg,’ he said, kindly. ‘You know it can’t hear you? Or, well... that it hears you but only as noise? But you’re a good girl, polite.’ He gave me some inadequately sweet adult confection from a mantlepiece bowl. I crooned over Yohn, and not only because I was told to. I was scared. My poor friend's skin didn’t feel like skin, and his movements were troubling.

The Host bobbed on its legs. At its feet shuffled a dog-sized presence, its companion.

The man looked up into what must be the Host's face. Staring at it, he might have looked regretful, or I might be saying that because of things I later knew.
The Host spoke.

Of course I’d seen its like many times. Some lived in the interstice where we dared ourselves to play. We sometimes found ourselves facing them, as they walked with crablike precision on whatever their tasks were, or even running, with a gait that made them look as if they must fall, though they did not. We saw them tending the flesh walls of their nests, or what we thought of as their pets, those whickering companion animal things. We would quieten abruptly down in their presence and move away from them. We mimicked the careful politeness our shiftparents showed them. Our discomfort, like that of the adults we learned it from, outweighed any curiosity at the strange actions we might see the Hosts performing.

We would hear them speak to each other in their precise tones, so almost like our voices. Later in our lives a few of us might understand some of what they said, but not yet, and never really me.

I’d never been so close to one of the Hosts. My fear for Yohn distracted me from all I’d otherwise feel from this proximity to the thing, but I kept it in my sight, so it could not surprise me, so when it rocked closer to me  I shied away abruptly and broke off whispering to my friend.

They were not the only exoterres I’d seen. There were exot inhabitants of Embassytown – a few Kedis, a handful of Shur’asi and others – but with those others, while there was strangeness of course there was never that abstraction, that sheer remove one felt from Hosts. One Shur’asi shopkeeper would even joke with us, his accent bizarre but his humour clear.

Later I understood that those immigrants were exclusively from species with which we shared conceptual models, according to various measures. The indigens, in whose city we had been graciously allowed to build Embassytown, Hosts were cool, incomprehensible presences. Powers like subaltern gods, that sometimes watched us as if we were interesting, curious dust, that provided our biorigging, and to which the Ambassadors alone spoke. We were reminded often that we owed them courtesy. Pass them in the street and we would show the required respect, then run on giggling. Without my friends though I couldn’t camouflage my fear with silliness.

‘It’s asking if the boy’ll be alright,’ the man said. He rubbed his mouth. ‘Colloquially, something like, will he run later or will he cool? It wants to help. It has helped. It probably thinks me rude.’ He sighed. ‘Or mentally ill. Because I won’t answer it. It can see I’m diminished. If your friend doesn’t die it’ll be because it brought him here.’

    
‘The Hosts found him.’ I could tell the man was trying to speak gently to me. He seemed unpracticed. ‘They can come here but they know we can’t leave. They know more or less what we need.’ He pointed at the Host’s pet. ‘They had their engines breathe oxygen into him. Yohn’ll maybe be fine. The constables’ll come soon. Your name's Avice. Where do you live, Avice?’ I told him. ‘Do you know my name?’

I’d heard it of course. I was unsure of the etiquette of speaking it to him. ‘Bren,’ I said.
‘Bren. That isn’t right. You understand that? You can’t say my name. You might spell it, but you can’t say it. But then I can’t say my name either. Bren is as good as any of us can do. It…’ He looked at the Host, which nodded gravely. ‘Now, it can say my name. But that’s no good: it and I can’t speak any more.’

‘Why did they bring him to you, Sir?’ His house was close to the interstice, to where Yohn had fallen, but hardly adjacent.

‘They know me. They brought your friend to me because though as I say they know me to be lessened in some way they also recognise me. They speak and they must hope I’ll answer them. I’m… I must be… very confusing to them.’ He smiled. ‘It’s all foolishness I know. Believe me I do know that. Do you know what I am, Avice?’

I nodded. Now, of course, I know that I had no idea what he was, and I’m not sure he did either.

The constables at last arrived with a medical team, and Bren’s room became an impromptu surgery. Yohn was intubated, drugged, monitored. Bren pulled me gently out of the experts' way. We stood to one side, I, Bren and the Host, its animal tasting my feet with a tongue like a feather. A constable bowed to the Host, which moved its face in response.

‘Thanks for helping your friend, Avice. Perhaps he'll be fine. And I’ll see you soon, I’m sure. “Turnaround, incline, piggy, sunshine”?’ Bren smiled.

While a constable ushered me out at last, Bren stood with the Host. It had wrapped him in a companionable limb. He did not pull away. They stood in polite silence, both looking at me.
 
At the nursery they fussed over me. Even assured by the officer that I’d done nothing wrong, the staffparents seemed a little suspicious about what I’d got myself into. But they were decent, because they loved us. They could see I was in shock. How could I forget Yohn’s shaking figure? More, how could I forget being quite so close up to the Host, the sounds of its voice? I was haunted by what had been, without question, its precise attention on me.

‘So somebody had drinks with Staff, today, did they?’ my shiftfather teased, as he put me to bed. It was Dad Shemmi, my favourite.

Later in the out I took mild interest in all the varieties of ways to be families. I don’t remember any particular jealousy I, or most other Embassytown children, felt at those of our shiftsiblings whose blood parents at times visited them: it wasn’t in particular our norm there. I never looked into it but I wondered, in later life, whether our shift-and-nursery system continued social practices of Embassytown’s founders (Bremen has for a long time been relaxed about including a variety of mores in its sphere of governance), or if it had been thrown up a little later. Perhaps in vague social-evolutionary sympathy with the institutional raising of our Ambassadors.

No matter. You heard terrible stories from the nurseries from time to time, yes, but then in the out I heard bad stories too, about people raised by those who’d birthed them. On Embassytown we all had our favourites and those we were more scared of, those whose on-duty weeks we relished and those not, those we’d go to for comfort, those for advice, those we’d steal from, and so on: but our shiftparents were good people. Shemmi I loved the most.

‘Why do the people not like Mr Bren living there?’

‘Not Mr Bren, darling, just Bren. They, some of them, don’t think it’s right for him to live like that, in town.’

‘What do you think?’

He paused. ‘I think they’re right. I think it’s… unseemly. There are places for the cleaved.’ I’d heard that word before, from Dad Berdan. ‘Retreats just for them, so… It’s ugly to see, Avvy. He’s a funny one. Grumpy old sod. Poor man. But it isn’t good to see. That kind of wound.’

It’s disgusting, some of my friends later said. They’d learnt this attitude from less liberal shiftparents. Nasty old cripple should go to the sanatorium. Leave him alone, I’d say, he saved Yohn.

Yohn recovered. His experience didn’t stop our game. I went a little further, a little further over weeks, but I never reached Yohn’s marks. The fruits of his dangerous experiment, a last mark, was metres further than any of his others, the initial letter of his name in a terrible hand. ‘I fainted there,’ he would tell us . ‘I nearly died.’ After his accident he was never able to go nearly so far again. He remained the second-best because of his history, but I could beat him now.

‘How do I spell Bren’s name?’ I asked Dad Shemmi, and he showed me.

Bren,’ he said, running his finger along the word.

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Embassytown 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 149 reviews.
RidleyWalker More than 1 year ago
It's a slow-ish start -- Avice's back-story is interesting enough, but you don't really understand its significance until much later -- but without leaving spoilers, I can tell you it really kicks into gear about 90 pages in. I imagine that some waggish reviewers will peg this book as being "about" colonialism (Ariekene, the site of Embassytown, is a colonial backwater populated by orientalised noble-natives), but there's so much more to it than that. It develops into a gripping story of chaos & survival, at the same time that it's a fascinating series of narrative thought-experiments on the nature of language, the relationship between language and thought, the linguistic nature of lies, and the relationships between individuals and both one-another and society.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
I like scifi, and I like a good smart book. But I want them to be interesting, comprehensible, and satisfying. Mieville builds a very detailed and extensive universe in " Embassytown", but it takes great patience, and focus, to figure out his world. Like much good science fiction, Mieville builds a story that could work on any world...even ours. It's a story about connections and communication. Advice, the main character has an Ender Wiggin quality about her, and her universe reminds me a bit of Dune, but without the draconian seriousness. I found this book very hard to read. I like serious topics, but this just didn't grab me.
tottman More than 1 year ago
If reading a book can be compared to eating a meal, then this book is a gourmet dinner. Desserts, treats, fast food and snacks all have their place, but Embassytown is a complete meal. Rich, complex, and satisfying; food for the mind. This is the story of a city on a far-off planet, Embassytown, where an uneasy alliance exists between humans and "Hosts". These beings are among the most "alien" I've ever seen depicted, in physical appearance as well as in thought. The story is told through the eyes of Avice Benner Cho, who grows up in Embassytown, "escapes" into the universe, and comes back. She is important both to the humans and to the aliens. Despite a supposed aspiration to just drift along, she finds herself drawn to the center of events. When an unprecedented crisis occurs, she may hold the key to the survival of both races. Embassytown is in the best tradition of science fiction. It takes you to a place that is completely and unmistakably alien, with themes and concepts and moral dilemmas that are truly universal. China Mieville does a remarkable job of creating fully realized and sympathetic characters while still conveying a sense of "alienness" to them. The importance of language and communication is a central theme. It is a theme wrapped up in an extraordinary and extraordinarily well-told story. Even though this was my first time reading China Mieville, I was very much looking forward to this novel and had high expectations going in. They were surpassed. The story is absorbing and thought-provoking. It moves along briskly and each page is rich with meaning. There is nothing more exciting than being taken somewhere you've never been before, and that is exactly where Mieville takes you. Science fiction is supposed to be about ideas, and that's what you'll find here. It is an exciting and rare treat to have your mind engaged to the degree this book does while also being thoroughly entertained. I was extremely fortunate to receive this book through an early reader program. It was already on my wishlist and I couldn't recommend it more highly. I have a feeling that this book will be read, discussed and reread for years to come. I also have to add that the cover design is absolutely brilliant and becomes even more meaningful once you've finished reading.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Human Avice Benner Cho grew up in a colony on backwater Embassytown. She left the planet to travel in space, but now accompanies her linguist husband Scile back to her home where he plans to study the language of the sentient native population the Ariekei AKA Hosts; she never learned their language though her smile helped her get by. She is not alone as the outsiders cannot comprehend the language of the morally driven Hosts so linguist ambassadors were created to communicate with the species. However, two events shake the value system of Host society. First an Ariekei learns to lie; an unheard of shattering event. Second two new Ambassadors arrive whose respective sounds produce an odd yet deep physical impact on the Hosts. Their pure society, which survived the colony, is undergoing radical change as Avice tries to help. This is a great science fiction thriller that takes a profound look at communication through the Host who are wired differently from the humans; sort of mindful of the Autistic Spectrum while the first lie will remind readers of the movie The Invention of Lying in an Avatar realm. The cast is solid especially the fascinating Host who find their world being radically changed when their Language is assimilated by the space travelers. China Mieville provides a thought provoking look at the relationship between a society's values and its language as each shapes the other. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, one of the few scifi books i recommend to my non scifi reading friends. Great world building without being sidelined into endless explanations, this is a book that you will have to put a bit of work into (or read it twice) to appreciate the details, but its so worth it. The first half of the book bounces back and forth from the 'present' to past events in the narrator's life. It can seem a bit overwhelming at first but once everything starts coming together its impressive how it all ties up. Great story and some thought provoking ideas on what language and the ability to communicate mean. Most scifi/fantasy readers wont have trouble interpreting the slang, and although i did have to bust out the dictionary a couple times i don't really see a downside to that, unless you really hate learning new words. Overall not the easiest read out there, but the reward > effort imo.
dharmakirti More than 1 year ago
It took about 50 pages to get a good feel for the setting and Mieville does a great job of playing up the alien-ness factor, but once I got comfortable and the author started writing about the nature of Language, I was hooked. Outstanding!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The meeting of aliens where the word alien makes sense. Where one main character is a living simile in the stereophonic language used in Embassytown. Never before have i thought just how shocking being in the company of alternate lifeforms would be. An excellent piece of work
patubb More than 1 year ago
This book was very uneven. Nuggets of good ideas well presented in between large useless sections that will have you skipping pages in frustration.
misericordia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I usually like China Miéville's books. Hell I Love his books. But this just must be the exception that proves the rule. I guess I had two problems with it. The first is I total believe this book. The second is I total dis-believe this book. I guess that one of the thing I totally believe, in the book is that language is a intelligence. That being able to abstract things and idea is part of what kinds us intelligence. But if you can't abstract you can still do a lot of things and will be able to appear very intelligent. The second thing is for the most part I felt like this is book occurred in a white room. That is to say I could never get into the world. There is a rich world of things that Miéville describes, but something about it I just could get into. It just felt like ever setting is the book was is a plain white room with the thoughts of the protagonist spooling out.Sigh I really wanted to like this book. It just didn't work for me.
slothman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago

China Miéville turns his pen toward science fiction, in a far-future setting where Earth is a distant memory and the mapping between his version of hyperspace (the ¿immer¿, a term derived from ¿immerse¿, a realm as perilous as Earth¿s oceans in the days of sail) and our realm may have your neighbor for trade purposes being in an entirely different galaxy. Our heroine, Avice Benner Cho, is from a backwater world at the edge of navigable hyperspace, where the native Ariekei have a language that requires two separate mouths, working simultaneously to pronounce it. As the story unfolds, we find out that the language has some unusual properties: the Ariekei can¿t comprehend the language when synthesized by a machine, and can¿t even imagine that a being who doesn¿t speak their language is anything more than a pet. And they can¿t lie in that language... though humans can. The place where the rest of the universe talks to the Ariekei is Embassytown.

Avice has the talent to become an immerser, crew on a faster-than-light starship, and leaves to seek her fortune. When she returns home, her broader perspective puts her in a position of being able to get involved in events that stem from the surprising things that happen when a species that never knew what lies were begins to learn from a species that is quite good at it. The festivals where humans tell obvious, blatant lies for the amusement of the Ariekei, and the Ariekei attempt to tell their own lies, are just the beginning of a much, much bigger mess.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Miéville never figured out how Ariekei speech works; early on, for example, he establishes that the Ariekei can¿t comprehend machine-generated speech, and later on, recordings of speech in their language is significant to the plot. That, and other ¿wait, what are the rules now?¿ moments detracted from an otherwise interesting plot.

gailo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Embassytown is China Mieville's first work of science fiction. It is set on a distant planet, where there is a small community of humans and other aliens living in a conclave amid the Ariekei. Due to the Ariekei's unusual language, only a select few modified humans can communicate with them. It is narrated by Avice, who left Embassytown to work as crew on a series of space ships. She returns mostly to please her latest husband, who is a linguist and wants to see what the place is like. Avice settles awkwardly into an odd position in Embassytown, as one of the few who has seen the universe beyond it. She moves in higher social circles because she is somewhat unusual, but she isn't really one of the people with power or responsibility, however much she keeps trying to insert herself into everything. The first half of the book is spent building the setting in a very indirect fashion through flashbacks to her childhood and events that took place after her return to Embassytown. Mieville never really tells us anything, he just hints at it and we're supposed to piece it together ourselves. I found it all a tedious slog as I kept waiting for the story to actually begin.Eventually we switch into the current timeline as a new Ambassador to the Ariekei has arrived from Bremen, of which Embassytown is a colony. EzRa is very different from all the other Ambassadors, and it leads to a massive diplomatic incident that endangers everyone on the planet. The story picked up after this, but it was still hampered by the narrator. Avice's voice is oddly distant for a first-person narrator. I had very little sense of what she was like. I didn't understand her, and didn't trust her judgement, and did not enjoy spending time in her company. I really didn't like or care about any of the other characters, either, except Bren, a weird old guy who makes everyone else uncomfortable. This work is supposed to be about people facing likely doom, and yet I just didn't care if they lived or died. No, actually, I take that back. I would have been quite content if they'd all died, if only it hadn't dragged on so long. This was just tedious and uninvolving.
saltmanz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
China Miéville is an author who's been on my "need to read" list for a while now. I'd heard so many good things about his Bas-Lag books, and his last book, Kraken, sounded really intriguing. So when LibraryThing offered up a review copy of his latest book—and first sci-fi offering—Embassytown, I jumped at the chance, and was elated when I won it. I confess I probably had my hopes set a little high; I was really looking forward to be completely blown away.I was.Embassytown is exactly what it sounds like: a human (or "Terre") embassy town on the planet Arieka, where humans live in the midst of the native Ariekes, or "Hosts" as the Embassytowners call them. Embassytown, located in a particularly turbulent area of a kind of hyperspace called "immer", is actually a colony of the country of Bremen (on the far-off planet Dagostin) but remains fairly autonomous, despite the presence of Bremen officials there.The story is told from the first-person perspective of Avice Benner Cho, a native of Embassytown and experienced traveller of the immer, and begins with a recounting of her watching the arrival of the impossible Ambassador, EzRa. You see, due to the peculiarities of the Hosts' language, the only way to communicate with them is through specially-bred Ambassadors (the nature of which I'll leave a mystery; part of what makes this book so awesome is the slow reveal of all the details.) Up until this point, all of the Ambassadors have been produced by Embassytown itself, but EzRa comes from Bremen, and is quite unlike anything anyone has been expecting. EzRa's arrival will set off a chain of events that will change Arieka and Embassytown forever.Avice initially tells her story in two interwoven threads, usually alternating with each chapter. The first thread (titled "Formerly") starts with her as a child in Embassytown, where she is made a part of the Hosts' Language (you'll understand when you read it...eventually.) She grows up, leaves Arieka for the immer, finds love, and returns home. Then events pick up pace, leading up to and culminating in a shocking twist. The second thread ("Latterday") starts with the arrival of EzRa after the events of Formerly, and goes on from there. Formerly only lasts half the book or so, with Latterday taking over completely after that point. It's an interesting structure, but it works incredibly well. I found both threads to be quite gripping, and having the chapters alternate back and forth made me want to keep reading on to find out what happens next in each one. A lot of the backstory of the Hosts and their Language is given in the Formerly chapters, but because of the way these are spread out, you get that information in a slow drip instead of one big infodump, and by the time the true plot kicks in (when the Formerly thread wraps up) you're mostly caught up on what you need to know. It's a very effective way to retain some mystery while making sure the reader knows what he needs to know when he needs to know it.There are a lot of ideas in this book, but many of them (like the immer) are just there for flavor; mostly the book concerns itself with the subject of language and communication and the essence of thought itself. Very highbrow, very literary concepts, but Miéville engages the reader at every turn, making it a very personal story as well, and keeps up a level of tension and suspense through most of the book, despite only a handful of "action" scenes.Embassytown is an amazing book that manages to simultaneously be very thoughtful, engrossing, and absolutely riveting. I can't believe I went this long without reading Miéville; he's an amazing author, and this is an amazing book. [4.5 out of 5 stars]
dukedom_enough on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
China Mieville, who has written fantasy novels thus far, switches to science fiction for this superb novel. I think of it as a notional twin to 2009¿s The City and The City. Where the earlier book centered on perception, and how we use and are used by it, Embassytown is about language. As always with Mieville, the theme is developed subtly, but with the intellectual fireworks we¿re now used to expecting from him.Again, Mieville starts with a city. In Embassytown, the eponymous city is a colonial enclave, an outpost of a human interstellar empire that is, in turn, but a tiny part of a huge, old, complex galaxy, of which the reader learns just enough to glimpse how much more is untold. Most of the book is set on Arieka, a planet far from the rest of the known galaxy, where the Embassytowners have coexisted with the strange, nonhuman, native Ariekei for a couple of centuries, facilitating trade in technologies and studying the unique language. The humans¿ colonial relations with the Ariekei are a bit more enlightened than most in Earth¿s history, and they rely on Ariekei resources for survival - even for the very air they breathe.Avice Benner Cho grows up here, having the usual childhood experiences, plus one quite unusual encounter with the Ariekei. She crews a starship during her young adulthood, then returns to Embassytown with a husband, not long before a new development in communication with the Ariekei changes the status quo.(Spoiler warning for the remainder of this review.)Could there be a language without lies, whose speakers only ever say true things? But what is true? How might this language work? Might its speakers be interested in learning how to lie? How fragile a worldview might those speakers have? What of language may vary, and what is intrinsic? Mieville takes William S. Burroughs¿ famous ¿language is a virus from outer space¿ and presents a case where it is we who are the virus, with deadly consequences for both humans and Arekei.Again Mieville¿s fabulous imagination is on display. In his Bas-Lag novels, he mechanizes the biological, many characters being Remade into part-mechanical beings. Here, he biologizes the mechanical: Arekei technology uses designed creatures as technology - everything in their built environment is alive.Mieville expertly uses SF tropes - infodumps where necessary, incluing in most places - to create the impression of a different world. From the beginning of the book, after a shuttle has landed from an orbiting starship: ...a window metres high and wide, which overlooked the city and Lilypad Hill. Behind that slope was the boat, loaded with cargo. Beyond kilometres of roofs, past rotating church-beacons, were the power stations. They had been made uneasy by the landing, and were still skittish, days later. I could see them stamping.Here we have the comforting familiarity of a window that people look through, roofs, and a landmark with an earthlike name - but also the unfamiliar: churches have beacons that rotate? Power stations can be skittish, and they stamp? The first-person narration lets Avice gloss over things familiar to her, utterly strange to us. The centuries of makeshifts by which the humans communicate with the Ariekei are strange, yet finally almost convincing - not hard SF, but quite satisfying.In 2010¿s Kraken, Mieville¿s amazingly fecund imagination was so much on display that it cramped all the other elements of the fiction. Here, he reins it in, concentrating more on his main ideas. This is not to say that it is absent. Avice meets her husband at a convention of linguists: ¿I¿m working in Homash. Do you know it?¿ said one young woman to me, apropos of nothing. She was very happy when I told her no. ¿They speak by regurgitation. Pellets embedded with enzymes in different combinations are sentences, which their interlocutors eat.¿A typical Mieville throwaway, striking, grotesque, not reused in the book and probably not in anything
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a future so distant that Earth itself is barely remembered, the universe has been colonized by humans, or Terre. They have encountered multiple strange alien species, and made peace with most of them. Perhaps no species they have found, however, have been as strange as the Ariekei. The Ariekei, called the ¿Hosts¿ by those humans who live on their world in an enclave called Embassytown, have two mouths. Their language, called Language with the capital L, is contingent upon the use of both mouths, and therefore both portions of their minds, at once. They are literally unable to comprehend any language spoken by only one mouth, and therefore one mind. The Ambassadors of Embassytown are specially-bred identical clones, called doppels, who are trained from birth to be so empathically linked that they are able to speak Language with the Hosts and be understood as two minds speaking one thought together.Avice Benner Cho, a young woman raised in Embassytown who became an immerser, or space traveler, never thought she¿d return to her childhood home. But when her husband, a linguist, becomes obsessed with the Ariekei and Language, she finds herself back in Embassytown, traveling in the Ambassadors¿ social circles. But trouble is brewing. One faction of the Ariekei have become obsessed with learning to lie¿Language is incapable of encompassing anything other than strict, literal truth. Even abstracts like similes must be performed by actors so that the Ariekei can refer to them. But learning to lie would change the Ariekei and their culture, and not everyone is happy with that idea. In addition, Bremen, the home nation of the colony Embassytown, has its own plan for wresting political influence away from the doppel Ambassadors. When the plans of the liar Ariekei and Bremen¿s agents collide, only Avice and a small contingent of rebellious Ambassadors and Ariekei can save the colony¿and the Ariekei species¿from total destruction.A very slow-starting book! I found it very difficult to immerse myself (pardon the pun) into this world at first. Avice, the narrator, seems to have very little personality of her own and her voice did not grab me. The whole first half of the book was a real chore to get through, even though certain things that happened ended up being more important later. It all felt like a very extended prologue. But once the book got to the real meat of the plot, I suddenly found myself much more engaged and interested. This book would definitely benefit from less build-up and more action!
Philotera on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Embassytown struck me as a book of big ideas encapsultated in a science fiction novel. Like many such, it doesn't always succeed, but where it fails, the failures are those of daring and for that I was willing to forgive it where it fell down.The beginning of the book is tough. Mieville plays with language. Embassytown requires an attentive reader to puzzle out the meanings of his use-words. Some, like "immer" works so beautifully as a pun with Immerse and Emerge and comes from the German meaning "always," is lovely. Some like "miab" I searched the web to try and get a clue (Methodology In A Box was as good as it got for me). That kind of work is demanding but it does pay off with a richer understanding of the text.If culture is defined by our language, what would it mean if a species' very sense of self was defined by speech? It's an interesting question to grapple with, and Embassytown struggles hard with the idea. There are some problems in wrestiling with something that is unimagineable. Much like HP Lovecraft trying to describe the indescribable colors of the Old Ones, Mieville trys to describe something that can't be imagined. We can't quite imagine what we are not. All the wonderful portmanteau words in the universe can't get us there. But it's definitely worth the trip. Embassytown sheds brilliant ideas that a lesser writer would sell their soul for. Any one of which would be enough to found an entire series -- Mieville casts aside these gems like pennies.Becauase the book is so bound up with its ideas, I never quite got a fix on Avice Benner Cho. I never understood why she cared about the things she did or understood her motiviations. I didn't feel her pain or her joy. That's not such a problem in an idea-driven book, but I missed it.The ending felt rushed as if Mieville realized he had to close this thing up, somehow. I found it remarkably convenient and not very convincing. But ultimately forgiveable becuase it had to end and if you can't pull the, "But they're Aliens!" card in a work of science fiction, then where can you?Besides, I loved the whole gorgeous Big Ideaness of it. He took a chance, which is something I wish more writers would do. I hope he does more in this intriguing universe.
craso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read by China Mieville. When I first started to read it I was worried. The beginning of the novel is totally incomprehensible. The narrator is Avice Benner Cho a woman who was born in Embassytown, left to travel in space, and came back. The novel begins with Avice reminiscing about her childhood and her work as an immerser, part of a crew that flies space ships through immer. She speaks in terms and relates incidents the reader will not be able to understand until later in the book. There are no explanations for the vocabulary she uses. I even looked for a dictionary of terms in the front or back of the book to try and decipher what is was saying. The first fifty pages of this novel are very disappointing. The only reason I continued reading it was because I read reviews that promised that the book gets better ... and it does.This is actually a very fascinating story about communication. It's also a story about how one culture can affect or infect another. Embassytown is a Terre colony on the planet Arieka on the far edge of immer. The Ariekei are beings that speak Language. Language is an important part of their lives. It is a living Language that must be spoken with two mouths with a mind behind each mouth for the Ariekei to understand the entity is speaking or even to perceive the entity exists. The colonists are able to communicate with the Ariekei, or "Hosts" as the Embassytowners call them, through Ambassadors, two clones linked together. Embassytown depends on the Hosts for their day-to-day survival, because relief ships are few and far between.The Hosts seem to many Terre to be innocents, yet they are afraid of them because they can not understand how they think or act. The Hosts become fascinated with lying and the freedom that it brings. The idea that you can say something that is not reality is mind boggling to them. They start lying through creating living simile. When Avice is a child she is told to do a specific task. The Hosts then speak of her as "the girl hurt in the dark that ate what was given her." Scile, Avice's husband, is a linguist who comes to believe that the Hosts are angelic and need to be protected from the evil humans. Right when the Ariekei start learning to lie a cataclysm occurs that changes the lives of Hosts and Embassytowners.After the cataclysm the story really takes off. It becomes a compelling read that touches on many ideas including; social structures, morality, rebellion, and addiction. Please wade through the first fifty pages, you will find that it is worth it.
leahsimone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One thing about Mieville is his stories always sound so fascinating. I was just as intrigued to read his latest as I was when I read the premise of The City & The City. However, I only got as far as page 52. I just could not connect with the main character, Avice, or any others for that matter. Frankly, I was bored. Mieville's writing is impressive but dry. I felt something was missing in The City & The City and the same is true for Embassytown. The man has unique ideas but his execution doesn't resonate with me. I am not sure if I will try him again.
tracy93 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a big Mieville fan, I was very disappointed with Embassytown. It felt sketched out, and the few intriguing concepts dissipated in unfinished, vague sentences. After Kraken, City/City, and Perdido St Station, which were all intensely rich with details of alternate realities, maybe it's fine for CM to lighten up a little. But I struggled to finish this and have come to expect way more.
stellarexplorer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was my first Mieville, and my expectations were high. I found Embassytown an inventive gritty portrait of an alien species and their planet. Mieville¿s consideration of language here exceeds expectations. In that way, this is a novel of ideas, which elevates what it offers considerably. Unfortunately, for me satisfaction was limited by the lack of a character with whose story I could become engaged. The book also evolved slowly and for me tediously. Another might enjoy the slow revealing of an alien culture. I felt it did not draw me in sufficiently on its own, and the motivating drive to read was to grasp the world created, and not to follow characters whose story captivated me.
jmgold on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm starting to become convinced that China Mieville's brain doesn't function in the same way as the rest of humanity. At this point in his career he has cemented his place as one of the greatest idea generators in the history of S.F. and he just continues to build on that rep here in Embassytown.This book strikes me as a spiritual successor of sorts to the City and the City. But where that novel was focused on an extreme example of how social mores can divide two cultures this one does the same with language. Embassytown is a first contact story at its heart, with the twist being that the aliens very conception of language is conflicts with what we know.The book is inventive, often brilliant, and entirely original. About the only fault is that the plot suffers a bit at times from being thoroughly driven by central conceit but it's so easy to get lost in how simply cool that idea is that I can hardly blame Mieville for getting carried away by it.
TheAlternativeOne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Embassytown China Mieville Trade Paperback (Advance Uncorrected Proof w/ generic cover) Genre: Science Fiction 368 pages Publisher: Del Rey Scheduled Release: May 17, 2011 ISBN: 978-0345524492I was beyond delighted to obtain an early copy of China Mieville¿s new novel Embassytown. I can tell you with the utmost confidence that this book is an exceptional read in every respect. It is, in fact, China Mieville¿s most important work to date. Not only should it be instantly promoted to Science Fiction classic status but it will forevermore be compared to the great works from the past. Embassytown is an extraordinary feat of fiction and a brilliant work of artistic expression. Its concepts evoke the SF New Wave period but with its own New Weird twist and a Hard Science Fiction edge. The aliens are truly outside of our understanding; their Language doubly so, making them so different from us as to be totally, absolutely unknowable. We may scratch the surface of the Ariekei, or the Hosts as they¿re known in Embassytown, but they are so xeno-singular that we could never truly comprehend their race. Mieville¿s in-story language is stunning, visual, and conceptual but more than that the entire storyline is language-centric. That it¿s not our form of verbal communication and is almost impossible to understand (it¿s spoken from two mouths simultaneously) only makes this narrative more intriguing. The story takes place on the planet of Arieka, in the city of Embassytown. Avice Benner Cho, an Immerser (an extraordinary human able to endure the severe physical and mental effects of travelling through the sub-reality arcs of the universe), has returned home to Embassytown, a melting pot of Hosts, humans, and exotics that share the Ariekie¿s home planet. Only genetically manipulated humans, known as Ambassadors, are able to understand and communicate with the Ariekie. But then a new, unexpected Ambassador arrives and the delicate cultural and diplomatic balance of the entire planet is tipped. China Mieville¿s world-building prose makes the reader work harder than most writers. I repeat, everything he writes challenges the reader. His choice of language requires you to think, to understand, to grasp, before proceeding. But the pay-off for your hard work as a reader is worth every minute spent in concentration. This story reminds me very much of other demanding works by past masters. It¿s suggestive of Gordon R. Dickson¿s Dorsai project, Frank Herbert¿s Dune and Whipping Star, Mervin Peake¿s Titus Groan, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, and Samuel R. Delaney¿s Dhalgren which in my estimation are also challenging but valuable reads. Don¿t get me wrong, I¿m not calling Embassytown difficult. It simply demands more of the reader¿s attention than most Science Fiction. It may be hard at first to decipher some of the terminology but once you get the hang of it, it grows on you. Mieville¿s Embassytown slang is inventive and some readers may feel disappointed that the novel did not come pre-packaged with ¿The Mieville Lexicon.¿ Speaking of inventive, as in some of his earlier works Mieville creates a bizarre alternate-world full of machines, buildings, weapons, vehicles, furniture, ships, and robots. But those found in Embassytown differ from objects in his other works because unlike them we know exactly where these are made. They are grown by the Hosts using advance methods of bio-technology. There¿s furniture with skeletons and internal organs and vehicles that breathe and contain body fluids. Houses made of skin with antibodies scurrying about the house on the prowl for intruders. Even the Hosts themselves are described as insect-like and equine, with sharp hooves and antler-like eyes. From those of us who¿ve read China Mieville before we¿ve come to expect these strange creatures/constructs at least once in each of his stories but Embassytown is full of them adding to the artistry of the world he has built. While Embassytown is, on the surface, a S
tottman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If reading a book can be compared to eating a meal, then this book is a gourmet dinner. Desserts, treats, fast food and snacks all have their place, but Embassytown is a complete meal. Rich, complex, and satisfying; food for the mind. This is the story of a city on a far-off planet, Embassytown, where an uneasy alliance exists between humans and ¿Hosts¿. These beings are among the most ¿alien¿ I¿ve ever seen depicted, in physical appearance as well as in thought. The story is told through the eyes of Avice Benner Cho, who grows up in Embassytown, ¿escapes¿ into the universe, and comes back. She is important both to the humans and to the aliens. Despite a supposed aspiration to just drift along, she finds herself drawn to the center of events. When an unprecedented crisis occurs, she may hold the key to the survival of both races.Embassytown is in the best tradition of science fiction. It takes you to a place that is completely and unmistakably alien, with themes and concepts and moral dilemmas that are truly universal. China Mieville does a remarkable job of creating fully realized and sympathetic characters while still conveying a sense of ¿alienness¿ to them. The importance of language and communication is a central theme. It is a theme wrapped up in an extraordinary and extraordinarily well-told story. Even though this was my first time reading China Mieville, I was very much looking forward to this novel and had high expectations going in. They were surpassed. The story is absorbing and thought-provoking. It moves along briskly and each page is rich with meaning. There is nothing more exciting than being taken somewhere you¿ve never been before, and that is exactly where Mieville takes you. Science fiction is supposed to be about ideas, and that¿s what you¿ll find here. It is an exciting and rare treat to have your mind engaged to the degree this book does while also being thoroughly entertained.I was extremely fortunate to receive this book through an early reader program. It was already on my wishlist and I couldn¿t recommend it more highly. I have a feeling that this book will be read, discussed and reread for years to come. I also have to add that the cover design is absolutely brilliant and becomes even more meaningful once you¿ve finished reading.
majkia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In [Embassytown] China Mieville creates a race so vastly different from humanity that even Language is more a barrier than a help to mutual understanding.How do we communicate when another species is incapable of even hearing us? Doesn't recognize our noise as Language? We arrive in Embassytwon after humans through serendipity find a way to communicate. By sheer accident they discover a way, a way that limits interaction between the Hosts and Humanity to a significant few. But what if what they believe is Language isn't? What happens when something unexpected happens and what they believed to be actual meaningful communication turns into something else entirely?That's the premise of [Embassytown]. What happens then? And can chaos and disaster be averted?I only wish I was more educated on linguistics, so I could appreciate a bit better the subtler aspects of the novel.
hairball on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Language is a virus.--Laurie AndersonThe only reason this book isn't getting the full five-star treatment is that the space-opera lingo bits tended to get in my way, as they do in any book of the type. Of course, this is a book about language, so I'm not sure it's fair to even judge any sort of word use.This is, as I said, a book about language, and the power of language, but on a very tangible level, not on any sort of linguist-writes-a-commentary-for-the-New York Times level. So it's a very intense book about language wrapped up in a story about a space colony/space colonization, but for me that part of the book really took a backseat. I find writing about Embassytown coherently rather difficult. I think the book is quite incredible, impressive--fans of The City and the City will like it perhaps more than fans of some of his other work. (I don't know if his fans have factions, but I find the range of his writing different enough that I suspect such factions might exist. I have room for the entire range, myself.)
Aerrin99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Embassytown is an uneven book that nevertheless managed to captivate me thoroughly in the second half and keep me turning the pages. Mieville's world-building here is particularly disappointing, in part because his previous work leads the reader to expect him to paint new places with a vivid brush that makes us not only see, but hear and smell and feel and taste them. Here, though, Mieville seems to eschew such things as 'description' in favor of 'vague references that leave the reader confused about what they are actually looking at'. I think he was trying to keep the frame of reference narrow in order to let us better delve into his protagonist's - Avice's - head. The problem is that Avice is an Embassytown native, and so she sweeps past important details of the Hosts (aliens who speak a Language that requires two mouths but one mind) and the Ambassadors (cloned doppels who are technologically 'linked' in an attempt to create one-mind-two-mouths as nearly as humans can) that are absolutely required to understand the story. So there, I've maybe spoiled you a bit, but knowing those two facts won't ruin your enjoyment of the story and might save you a lot of agony in the reading. The first half of the novel meanders all over the place. I can sort of see what Mieville is trying to do. Through Avice - one of the few natives to make it off the island, so to speak - we gain a sense of the claustrophobic nature of Embassytown, of the larger world outside, of the narrowness of vision, of the things that are strange. Unfortunately, Avice has very little real personality to speak of and her wanderings aren't that interesting. By the time she returns to Embassytown with a linguist husband and the /actual plot/ kicks in, the book is half over and I was frustrated. It's fortunate, then, that the second half of the book is engaging and interesting and thoughtful. I've recently read Suzette Elgin's Native Tongue, which makes this even more engaging, because Embassytown's real story is about communication and language and thought and the relationship between them. You see, not only do the Hosts require two mouths and one mind - but they can't lie. They are unable to form the thoughts that allow them to speak a lie, and they're fascinated by humans' ability to do so. They hold festivals celebrating those among them who can come closest to mimicking a lie, via verbal tics or sleights of tongue or other tricks. They create elaborate similes (which must be acted out in order to be spoken - in order to be /thought) to describe things that might happen or could happen.But for some, lying is more than just a fad or a game. It's something more. Because as the similes suggest, the Hosts' ability to conceive the world around them is limited by their Language. Abstract is nearly impossible. Contradicting truths are inconceivable. They can't signify. They have no concept of 'this' or 'that', only 'the glass with the flaw in the bottom next to the apple.' Specifics. I won't get into the details, save to say that something happens that threatens the easy camaraderie in which the two species exist, and it revolves around the differences in how they speak - and thus in how they think. The second half of the novel explores interesting questions about how we perceive the world, and how we represent it. It's worth the first half.