Monday, 2 May 2011

China Miéville – Embassytown


From the oppressive weird of the Bas Lag novels to the playful deconstruction of Un Lun Dun, from the slick crime procedural of The City and the City to the sprawling, strange comedy of Kraken. China Miéville travels a landscape fecund with ideas and vocabulary, unrestrained by borders of genre. His latest sojourn brings him to Science Fiction in Embassytown, due out May 6.

Embassytown is a concept driven story that doesn't get bogged down with its own world building or fetishize the tech that crops up on the world of Arieka. The various spaceships, body augmentation, robots and distant colonies provide set dressing only – this is a science fiction novel where language, not technology holds centre stage.

The characters who inhabit the novel are, at first, as alien to the reader as The Hosts of Arieka. This is a human culture far removed both geographically and structurally. Embassytown itself is wildly peculiar – a corner of a city where humans aren't set apart by just locale, but by language, conceptual thought and the very air itself. Avice Benner Cho is a tough, smart and widely travelled protagonist, with a distant calm that sometimes put her at odds with the escalating danger of the novel. If Embassytown has a flaw it is that Avice is so self-assured that her personal safety seems remote and removed somehow.
The first half of the novel slowly reveals the strangeness of the human diaspora as it has spread through space, and in particular how humans live and operate on Arieka. Miévielle ably sets up both the status quo of the colonists and the personal journey of Avice before the coming cataclysm in series of flashbacks.

Note: Embassytown is not a wham-bam-bang-for-your buck Sci Fi novel waiting to be repurposed for the multiplex. It is a deeply considered and meticulously crafted story on the words we use and how they drive our thinking. This much is evident in the way Miéville eschews rigourous description, instead favouring evocative yet ambiguous language, never directly telling the reader, but letting them conjure their own version of Arieka and the Hosts.

There will, undoubtedly, be a small core of readers who resent the breadth of vocabulary used in this book, thinking Mieville performs wordsmith acrobatics for extra points, but as the man himself says, "I like words."

This review originally appeared at TotalSciFi.Com

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