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Embassytown by China Mieville

Embassytown (original 2011; edition 2011)

by China Mieville

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,6821254,248 (3.89)221
Authors:China Mieville
Info:Del Rey (2011), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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Embassytown by China Miéville (2011)

Recently added byesther_a, Grind_Ov_Time, MaiseyFantaisey, Torikton, private library, astark, dilandau
  1. 30
    Foreigner by C. J. Cherryh (PhoenixFalls)
    PhoenixFalls: Cherryh excels in writing really alien aliens and always focuses on the nuances of languages.
  2. 30
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (bertilak)
    bertilak: Miéville has written a philosophical science fiction novel that rocks and is not bloated: Stephenson please take note.
  3. 52
    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (BeckyJG)
  4. 64
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (BeckyJG)
  5. 20
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (ansate)
  6. 10
    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.

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English (125)  German (1)  All languages (126)
Showing 1-5 of 125 (next | show all)
I really liked this book by the end but I only want to give 3 and a half stars because the first half of this book simply frustrated the hell out of me. ( )
  pcollins | Jul 27, 2014 |
The eponymous Embassytown is a settlement of humans located on an alien planet whose inhabitants are notable for their unique language. It takes two mouths to speak it, and it's impossible to lie in it... and those are not the weirdest things about it.

The exact nature of that alien language, which is at the heart of the novel and drives everything that happens in it, requires a heck of a suspension of disbelief, or at least it did for me. When you get down to it, the basic idea behind it is more mystical than logical. It reminds me, more than anything, of fantasy stories in which magic works on the principle that everything in the world has a True Name, a name that is not just a label that human beings have given it but is somehow inherent in the very nature of reality. Which, while it's a strangely powerful concept, doesn't actually make any scientific sense. At all. Still, what Miéville does with it is interesting, and certainly does invite some deep thought about language and meaning.

The world-building, in general, is also very good, as one might expect from China Miéville. It feels more restrained to me than the surreal, unpredictable landscapes of the Bas-Lag novels, but that's not a bad thing. If anything, I'd say this world feels just the right amount of alien for the story he's telling with it. I also like the way he just drops the reader into this world, as seen from the point of view of someone who grew up there and feels no need to explain what she expects everyone to know, and trusts us to pick things up as we go along. I find that both more believable and more entertaining than being spoon-fed loads of exposition, and it wasn't too long before I got the hang of everything and started to feel quite at home.

The plot, I must admit, varied a bit in how well it held my attention over the course of the novel, but despite that, and the way it made me sort of shake my head and go, "Yes, but language not only doesn't work that way, it surely can't work that way!", I still found it very much a worthwhile read. ( )
  bragan | Jul 6, 2014 |
I’ll always remember this story for it’s amazingly creative speculation on the nature of alien language and the difficulty of true translation. Equally fascinating was the frequent casual appearance of horrifying and freaktastic alien bio-tech that is simply the passing background and not even given a second glance by the narrative.

Most SF takes one of two equally unsatisfying paths in dealing with interspecies translation- either the simplistic, perfectly capable black-box of a translation device that equalizes all parties with bidirectional gnosis- call it the “tongues of fire” approach- or else the complete abandonment at any attempt of translating at all due to the unapproachably ancient and unfathomable nature of one party to the other. This story sidestepped that axis by introducing a species whose very thought process is so tied to the literal that language itself is merely the medium across which thought passes between speakers. Producing the words alone is meaningless, heard as mere noise, unless the same thought process resonates behind the speaker. Both the conflict and the resolution of the plot stem from the struggle to effectively bridge the two languages, and the problem is finally given the rightful literary respect it has long deserved.

Setting-wise, Miéville’s alien world, Arieka, is teeming with dizzying living technology that hybridizes industrial functions onto organs, tissues, sphincters, etc; completely foregoing the mineral in favor of the animal and vegetable. Most authors would pause and take the reader through a careful examination of one system or another to explain, but here it is completely ignored as part of the background of life. I found myself suffering from frequent readers whiplash as the characters continued to dialog and progress, ignoring some fantastically outrageousness in the landscape because it’s “just” a herd of factories metabolizing finished consumer products. The fabulous richness of it is made completely believable because no attempt is made to question or explain it in any way. In fiction, if your going to lie to us, lie big I guess.

Similarly, the Ariekei aliens are made vivid in the reader’s imagination by the author’s seemingly deliberate avoidance to ever formally describe them. Instead, if the narrative calls for an alien appendage to actuate, it is introduced there and then. Multiple incongruent comparisons to Earthly species are made, resulting in an impossible nightmare. The protagonist, native Arieka-born colonist Avice Benner Cho, can understandably gloss over these descriptions as she’s writing to an audience as familiar with the astounding setting as herself. The effect is a wonderful sandbox for the mind’s eye, and grants a surprising degree of trust to the reader. ( )
  SciFi-Kindle | Jun 13, 2014 |
Everything about this book makes me jizz my pants. It's about aliens and it is about language. Amazing. When I first started reading, though, some of it was hard to grasp because it jumped right into using alien world terminology. I'll do my best to explain the important/cool stuff about this book. Would it be easier to copy and paste the publisher's description? Entirely. But I like a challenge. And confusing people.

The main character is Avice Benner Cho, a traveler who eventually returns to her home planet, Arieka, right before a revolution. On this planet, humans and the indigenous Ariekei, or "Hosts", live more or less together. What's interesting about the Ariekei is just how alien they are physically and linguistically. They communicate through what is called Language. Each Host has two mouths that say different sounds at the same time to construct words. The humans figured this out, but when they took two people trying to reconstruct the language, the Hosts didn't even register that anyone was talking. Then they tried making a computer speak in Language. Still nothing, because what the Hosts need behind Language is sentience. Without a single mind behind the voices, the words are just noise. In order to communicate with the Hosts, the humans have to take twins at birth and raise them as one person, linking their minds together. They become ambassadors, whose sole job is to communicate with the Ariekei.

Another interesting thing about the Language and minds of the Ariekei is that they speak in similes referring to actual events and they cannot lie. That's what links Avice so strongly to these creatures. When she was younger, the Hosts turned her into a simile. She became a part of Language.

Got all that?

I don't want to say much more about the plot. A lot happens, all of it very fascinating and surprising. Maybe it's just me who does this, but I did what I could to prolong my reading of this book. I just did not want to leave the world the Mieville had created. It's so wildly original, and although I'm not used to hard sci-fi and it took me a while to get used to the world's terminology, it was well worth the time spent. Sometimes Mieville does some jumps back and forth in the plot, but I was able to stay interested in the story.

Mieville said, "if you are a writer who happens to be a human, I think it's definitionally beyond your ken to describe something truly inhuman, psychologically, something alien." He has a point, but I think he came incredibly close to creating something completely new, and a new favorite book of mine. ( )
  outlandishlit | Jun 9, 2014 |
I tried reading this book while I was still working on my dissertation a year ago or so and could not get past the first 20 pages or so. It was too cerebral and dull. I was reading too much criticism and theory and did not want see any more. The world-building was too opaque. I hadn't realized I was so intellectually exhausted at that time until I picked this book up again recently. It was entertaining and compelling, a little overdone near the end, but really a compelling intertwining of linguistic and literary theory with science-fiction and excellent characterization.

The only loose-end that frustrated me was Ehrsul. She remains a cipher to the end and if that had been the intention, I would have found it interesting in the context of the questions the book raises about sentience etc. But there are too many stray details--does she have a collection of human "best friends"? why won't she go into the city? why does she insist until the end she cannot understand the Hosts?--that the mystery feels untidy rather than intentional. Mieville took the time to neatly wrap up everything else (even Scile at the end when he didn't have to) and so not resovling these questions about Ehrsul is more irritating rather than provocative. ( )
  endlesserror | Jun 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 125 (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

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miéville, Chinaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Uchida, MasayukiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The word must communicate something (other than itself)."
Walter Benjamin, "On Language as such and on the Language of Man"
To Jesse
First words
The children of the embassy all saw the boat land.
"I don't want to be a simile anymore," I said. "I want to be a metaphor."
Last words
Disambiguation notice
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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.

No descriptions found.

(see all 2 descriptions)

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)

(summary from another edition)

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