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Embassytown (2011)

by China Miéville

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,6771903,680 (3.88)315
Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist on a distant planet populated by the Ariekei, sentient beings famed for their unique language, returns to Embassytown after many years of deep space exploration to find she has become a living simile in the Ariekei language even though she cannot speak it, and she is torn by competing loyalties when hostilities erupt between humans and aliens.… (more)
  1. 72
    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (BeckyJG)
  2. 41
    Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (electronicmemory)
  3. 30
    Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh (PhoenixFalls, electronicmemory)
    PhoenixFalls: Cherryh excels in writing really alien aliens and always focuses on the nuances of languages.
  4. 30
    Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany (kevinashley)
    kevinashley: Both these books take the relationship between language and thought as central themes. They explore it in different ways but with a similar thoroughness; both really explore just how 'other' alien can be.
  5. 30
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (bertilak, g33kgrrl)
    bertilak: Miéville has written a philosophical science fiction novel that rocks and is not bloated: Stephenson please take note.
  6. 31
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (ansate)
  7. 31
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (santhony)
    santhony: Science fiction as seen through the prism of anthropology and sociology.
  8. 64
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (BeckyJG)
  9. 20
    Blindsight by Peter Watts (electronicmemory)
  10. 10
    The Dosadi Experiment by Frank Herbert (santhony)
    santhony: Philosophical Science Fiction
  11. 10
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (KatyBee)
  12. 11
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (sparemethecensor)
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» See also 315 mentions

English (187)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (189)
Showing 1-5 of 187 (next | show all)
This book very well could be the start of a new epoch. Or at least, I think it should be.

Why? Because it's not just Miéville's grand far-future SF at play here, full of some of the most subtle and freakishly amazing and STRANGE aliens who are very much defined by their language, but because this novel works on several levels perfectly at the same time.

Am I impressed? Hell yes, I'm impressed.

"Before the humans came, we didn't speak so much of certain things. We were grown into Language. After history we made city and machines and gave them names. We didn't speak so much of certain things. Language spoke us. The words that wanted to be city and machines had us speak them so they could be."

Take this literally. These aliens couldn't even conceive of us because their language is the Truth of them. This is the inability to see the ships on the horizon, taken all the way. Lies are impossible, too. Metaphors, doubly so. So when a horrible mistake happens with the new dual/one embassador that manages to actually use the Language to tell a lie, the lie becomes the ultimate drug to the aliens.

Enter the collapse of an entire ultra-advanced alien species, with us as the ultimate satanic villains.

If you think this is cool as shit, just read the book. It becomes a lot more. And worse happens.

The novel works on all levels. Just imagine Cherryh ramped up to Miéville craziness, wickedly subtle and strange peoples and aliens, and let the good times roll in heartbreak, horror, and the terror of having to live with all of your damn stupid mistakes.

Yeah, I'm talking about you, Humanity. Jerk. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Harsh rating, I know. The main problem I had with Embassytown is that the first half was very slow, and I never really got sucked in like I did with Perdido Street Station which had a similar problem.

The world-building wasn't as intricate, even though it was pretty damn intricate compared to a lot of other fantasy/science fiction writers' works. The Ariekei in particular, despite being the centre of the book, are so underdeveloped. The reader ends up knowing nothing about their culture or social structures. This might have been because the narrator of the book is a part of the settler-colonial society, which (having parallels to the British Empire) doesn't care so much about the cultures of the colonised. But I still thought this aspect was pretty weak, a cop-out.

But I couldn't get very invested in the human characters, either. The only one who really tugged my heartstrings at any time was Vin, and only because he was so devastated that Avice hadn't been able to distinguish him, who loved her, from his doppel Cal, who had never even touched her in bed (as she afterwards realised). Avice was kind of cool in theory but didn't seem that way in practice. I spent most of the book desperately wishing it was about her travels through space instead of about her being stuck on this boring, conniving backwater. Those travels sounded more interesting. And her husband Scile was a dickhead too.

I guess this book is very interesting if you don't care to get emotionally invested in any characters and you just want to read about high-brow concepts (a "language" that has never developed the symbolic nature of the sign??? how) in an applied, fictional form. It wasn't for me, though. In this light, I'm not sure what Miéville I'll aim to read next; maybe Kraken. Once I've put a dent in what's already on my "to read" list, though! ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
I had to give this book 2/5 stars because, in my mind, it's a work that runs contrary to the very purpose of literature.
It doesn't use language to communicate, it uses language to obfuscate.
As if being obscure and difficult to understand automatically make it good art (hint: it doesn't).

I couldn't even get into .3, and that's the biggest problem--when I want to put a book down, not because of poor spelling or grammar, or a bad story, but simply because the author seems determined to make it as difficult as possible to understand anything that's happening in the work. That's an incredibly serious flaw.

"Telling" has its place in literature, it's OK to explain things to the audience, especially when you're creating your own terminology and pulling up the kind of abstract concepts and events that this book does.
Either that, or Mieville just isn't very good at describing things. I have no grasp of the environment or the characters 2/3 through what seems to be a very long prologue. ( )
  Kalal | May 27, 2020 |
**Embassytown** by *China Miéville* starts out as okay-if-weird scifi, with decent characters, plausibly weird worldbuilding, and appropriately weird aliens, so everything you'd expect from Miéville. It starts by following a good if generic feeling story arc, and continues like that for quite a while. Miéville continues to be gread at writing about cities (Perdido Street Station!), so I felt pretty comfortable, once I had spent the first ~20% of the book figuring out how the world worked. Then, towards the end, both the action and the writing just take off in quality. Man, I wouldn't have thought that an author could get me emotional on the question of if and how the use of metaphors constitutes lies (which is kind of the focal point of the story, in the end). Brilliant, surprising, weird scifi! ( )
  _rixx_ | May 24, 2020 |
I would give this book six stars if I could. It is so good it makes me angry at myself and all other science fiction writers for failing to live up to this standard of genius.

First off, if you can, please experience this story as an audiobook. I can't imagine reading this any other way. The alien linguistics, utterly fascinating in themselves, were brought to life spectacularly by Ms. Duerden and the production team. If I had read this with my eyes I would have driven myself round the bend trying to imagine the aliens' voices in my head, and with this audiobook I didn't have to.

Second, I consider myself a connoisseur of quality worldbuilding. Worldbuliding is the reason I love speculative fiction above all other genres: I get to imagine the world as other than what it is. So for me, a huge part of my enjoyment of spec fic is how well its world is imagined. I keep careful lists of all my favorite species and worlds from fantasy and sci fi and use it to inspire my own ideas. Embassytown now tops all of these lists. The worldbuilding is spectacular, so utterly imaginative that I feel cheated by all the other aliens I've read about and seen on TV that just don't hold a candle to the Ariekei. They are so different from humans, fundamentally so, and yet I am compelled by them across that chasm of understanding. The atmosphere of Embassytown itself, with its biopunk technology, is also so real and fascinating.

Third, I feel must explain the "made me cry" tag I put on this book, because it's different from other books that have made me cry. Usually I cry in books when something terrible happens to a character I love. In this case, I cried because the ending was so profound that it moved me to tears. The only other book that's done that to me is [b:Crime and Punishment|7144|Crime and Punishment |Fyodor Dostoyevsky|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347560919s/7144.jpg|3393917].

Fourth, the protagonist is an incidentally bisexual, sympathetic and interesting woman. Woohoo!

This book is pure intellectual brain candy. If you want a book that will make you think really really hard about things you've never thought about before, read this now. ( )
  dreamweaversunited | Apr 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 187 (next | show all)
Readers who want to delve no further than turning the pages will come away satisfied with "Embassytown," because Mieville's fertile imagination has created a fascinating alien species to go along with plenty of familiar human drama.
 
It is a miracle of a novel, one where Big Ideas cohabitate with Monsters, and neither is lessened by what academic propriety insists must be capital letters.
 
Miéville has a muscular intellect, successfully building a science fictional world around semiotics. For some readers, that will be enough.
 
I don’t hold this will to abstraction against him. Genre writers, and for that matter writers of the well-wrought middlebrow novel, mostly tell the usual stories in the usual way: narrative and character are advanced through conventional action. Miéville is up to something else.
 
In this sense, Embassytown plays out as a novel of metropolitan-colonial conflict, holding out the hope that language might not serve only as a tool of oppression, but be reclaimed as the instrument that makes resistance possible.
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miéville, Chinaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Drechsler, ArndtCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoven, ArnoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uchida, MasayukiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"The word must communicate something (other than itself)."
Walter Benjamin, "On Language as such and on the Language of Man"
Dedication
To Jesse
First words
The children of the embassy all saw the boat land.
Quotations
"I don't want to be a simile anymore," I said. "I want to be a metaphor."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Book description
On a distant planet in the far future, humans and an alien race coexist in a nonviolent but nonetheless uncomfortable arrangement. In general, they don't hurt one another, but they're not necessarily happy to share the city together. It is a marriage of convenience, arranged for economic reasons. But when a new group of humans arrives on the planet, one current citizen—a young woman—begins to realize that things are about to change for the worse.
Haiku summary
The Hosts - who are they?
Avise the simile, all
Ends in social change.
(mclewe)

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