Short Review: Embassytown, by China Miéville

EmbassytownEmbassytown by China Miéville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

China Miéville departs from the style that won him acclaim in his past body of work, eschewing the borderline fantasy settings of New Crobuzon for what I would say is his first true science fiction novel. EMBASSYTOWN is about language, love, dependency and communication. The narrative voice and sympathetic lead, Avice Benner Cho, is a member of the community that lives on Embassytown, a small colony city on the edge of the Dark. The Embassytown colony is remote from human spaceways yet accessible by something like faster than light travel. Embassytown was established to communicate with the imponderable local aliens called the Ariete. The Ariete have a unique language which is a major driver for the rest of the narrative. The Ariete speak with two voice simultaneously, which makes perception and transmission very difficult for humans, unless they are ambassadors– specially cloned twins with linked minds. Avice grows up in Embassytown and becomes a symbolic element of the Ariete language (a simile) in a special ceremony. Life in Embassytown is tranquil enough for Avice until a new ambassador shows up, one that isn’t a cloned pair. The new ambassador’s mission is hidden for much of the book but the impact of his presence on the Ariete is immediate and sinister. The remaining third of the narrative is a crisis and a siege. Throughout the novel the author maintains the theme of language and communication– every page includes some reference to communicating and the meanings of language. I rather enjoyed the plot resolution and the book as a whole. Miéville was a media darling for a while and helped established the short lived “New Weird Fiction” movement. I enjoy his work but can find him a little pretentious and preachy in places, and overly wordy in other places. I didn’t get that vibe from Embassytown. It was an enjoyable book about alien culture, and moved along snappily enough to hold my attention throughout. I can’t say that about ALL of China Miéville’s books, sadly. In sum, a good effort, with interesting alien cultures and a plot with an emphasis on thinking rather than shooting. Worth a read.

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