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Embassytown by China Mieville

Embassytown (original 2011; edition 2011)

by China Mieville

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,9711513,441 (3.89)274
Authors:China Mieville
Info:Del Rey (2011), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library

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Embassytown by China Miéville (2011)

Recently added bymdagtek, MaureenCean, Tarar, thebookmagpie, hoegbottom, KathyGilbert, private library, jeneria
  1. 40
    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.
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    Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany (kevinashley)
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    santhony: Philosophical Science Fiction

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» See also 274 mentions

English (152)  German (1)  All languages (153)
Showing 1-5 of 152 (next | show all)
too complicated and drawn out ( )
  KathyGilbert | Jan 29, 2016 |
Having read The City and the City, and now Embassytown, I have no doubt that Mieville is writing some of the most philosophically-rich science fiction ever written. Like William Gibson, I can't say that Mieville's plots or characters pull me in, but the underlying ideas and the mood produced by the books are captivating. This one takes on language itself and...well, I can't even put it into words, appropriately enough, except to say the words are worth reading. ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
(re-posted from http://theturnedbrain.blogspot.com/)

My Bachelor of the Arts might not have done much in the way of landing me a job, but if nothing else it enabled me to get a real kick out of this book. Not that you need to possess a mostly useless English degree to enjoy Embassytown. It’s just that the four years I spent at university left me with a deep and abiding affection for language. And debt. But mostly that affection for language thing.

And while all of Mieville’s books display a way with the English language that is truly breathtaking (even flawed Kraken. Hell, maybe especially Kraken), Embassytown is the first one that is truly about language.

The book is set on a frontier planet where the smallish human settlement lives in relative harmony with the planet’s original occupants, the Ariekei. I loved the way Mieville handled the Ariekei. These dudes are seriously alien. It took many years for the first humans to figure out a way to even communicate with them, and decades later they are still barely understood. Where so many books use things like “translator chips” and the like to bridge the gap between humans and aliens, Mieville offers a more realistic and satisfying approach.

One of the best things about this book is the slow way Mieville expands upon the humans and the Ariekei. As much as I want to discuss it further, I’m really wary of giving too much away and spoiling that fun for others. Or maybe I don’t want to make it too easy for them. There is no hand holding here, every bit of understanding is hard earned by the reader. But there’s a real sense of satisfaction that comes with that. I just want to say that the way the humans and the Ariekei communicate with each other is really ingenious, and I can’t recall encountering anything like it elsewhere.

It is this relationship between the humans and the Ariekei, the lengths they have to go to just to be understood by each other, that form the heart of the plot. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything! Let’s just say that things have always been done a certain way, and when someone tries to do them a different way… To say all hell breaks lose would be an understatement. Classifying a Mieville book is a difficult task at the best of times, but if I had to stick a label on this one it would be ‘apocalyptic.’ I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else call the book that, but I really don’t see Embassytown being out of place on a shelf of books exploring the end of the world as we know it. (No one ever said the world in question had to be ours, after all…)

As for the characters… Well, except for the truly amazing ‘The Scar,’ I don’t think characters are Mieville’s strong point. They’re not badly done or anything, it’s just that his settings tend to be so fantastically weird and his plots so bizarre that the characters tend to get a little lost in it all. Having said that, the cast of ‘Embassytown’ is still pretty great. Avice, the main character, is just the right mix of flawed and heroic, and I really liked jaded Bran. And his villains are not really villains so much as they are men and woman in trapped in a untenable situation, doing what they can to survive. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that after a mustache twirling, puppy kicking bad guy any day.

The last thing I really liked about this book was its treatment of marriage and relationships. This aspect of the book was very much in the background, and Mieville never even comes close to getting all preachy about it, and I think that’s why it worked so well. Often in books set in the future either everything is different, or everything has stayed the same. Its not often you get a more realistic mix of some things have changed, and some haven’t. Actually, this applies to all aspects of Embassytown, not just the romantic ones.

All in all I found Embassytown to be a highly challenging but extremely satisfying read, and after the slight disappointment of Kraken I couldn’t be more pleased about that. ( )
  MeganDawn | Jan 18, 2016 |
Aliens so alien they just alienate you with their alieness.

That is what you have to look forward to. Embassytown is a brave move by China Miéville, it is not an easy read, it is full of neologism, and it has a steep learning curve. The author made an effort to create something special and he expects some mental exertion from the reader too. In order for the reader to indulge the author they generally need to have a store of goodwill for that author to want to make the effort. Basically, this should not be your first Miéville book*. However, this is a great book, an amazing feat of imagination, and a real work of art. This is my fifth Miéville book, and in my estimation it is the best so far.

I normally dislike writing synopses but on this occasion I'd like to try writing a Ridiculously Simplified Synopsis like they have in the otherwise inferior Shelfari website. Here goes:
On a planet where lying is impossible, one man started lying.
This sounds like a bad trailer for the Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying but this book is nothing quite so lame. It is in some way the gist of the novel but does not really cover all the bases. The impossibility of lying only applies to the alien Language (always spelled with a capital L) which can only be spoken with two voices (sort of in stereo), it requires two very similar humans to speak them. Such pairs of humans are trained and "grown" (not bred) to be Ambassadors for the human colony in the titular Embassytown. One day a pair of very unusual Ambassadors arrive from Bremen (humanity's home planet) and all hell break loose when they start to speak.

The difficulty with this book lies in the neologism, the large numbers of terms that Miéville coins without direct explanation. He leaves it to the reader to figure out their meaning through the contexts in which the words are employed. This is not as hard as it sound and you don't need to understand every one of these words to follow the story. As a reader I feel somewhat flattered that the author is crediting me with a certain degree of intelligence, and I am glad he did not overestimate my IQ by much. I believe most readers can follow this book but they do need to be patient, especially during the first 60 or so pages. I must confess I did initially search for a bit of help online, and the most helpful assistance came from Miéville himself in this charming video clip.

While reading the first few chapters I was initially annoyed with his presumption of my intellect but later I became amused with the new words' opaqueness. China Miéville's trademarks of lyrical prose, sense of humor, skillful characterization and weirdness are all here. By the end of the book I felt like my mind has been expanded and I am once again a happy punter, and proud to call myself a Miéville fan (Miévillian?).

* Your first China Miéville should be [b:Perdido Street Station|68494|Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon, #1)|China Miéville|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327891688s/68494.jpg|3221410] or [b:The Scar|68497|The Scar (New Crobuzon, #2)|China Miéville|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320435192s/68497.jpg|731674]. ( )
1 vote apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
More reviews on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It...


As a linguist, I must say that one of the basic premises of the book – that a race of aliens can’t use metaphors/signifiers (or even think about the concept of the content of the metaphor) unless they refer to things that happened in reality first – is totally unbelievable from a linguistic point of view.

There are a number of reasons for this, one being that the aliens are able to communicate about concepts in need of a new signifier, so that they stage events in reality to use a figure of speech later. If they are able to communicate about them, the new signifier isn’t really needed in the first place, and they are able to think about them too. Logically, this short-circuits.

Also, figures of speech in human language that are based on metaphors start out as referring to reality too, and only in a later stadium get their additional meaning as figure of speech. There is nothing complicated or deep about this, nor does it alter the way we think.

Sadly, since to book is a bit pretentious about its concepts, and if you know a thing or two about the principles of language, it makes the story fall flat. It’s not only back cover posturing, but also the heavy-handedness of the theme itself in the book, the kinda silly wordplay with TwoNames, etc.

On the other hand, a big enough part of the rest of the story, its world building, the depiction of the aliens (as well as their double voiced language) is often interesting, with some original ideas. Characterization isn’t great though, and some parts of the book are pretty boring.

Conclusion: Embassytown is an okay book, but it is not to be taken too seriously as a philosophical/linguistic sci-fi treatise on the Saphir-Worph hypothesis. ( )
1 vote bormgans | Dec 15, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 152 (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
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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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)

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