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Embassytown by China Mieville
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Embassytown (original 2011; edition 2011)

by China Mieville

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,6931274,218 (3.89)222
Member:tcgardner
Title:Embassytown
Authors:China Mieville
Info:Del Rey (2011), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
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Work details

Embassytown by China Miéville (2011)

  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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» See also 222 mentions

English (127)  German (1)  All languages (128)
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
Avice has always wanted to get out of the backwater world Embassytown. But years down the road, she finds herself returning. At first it was just to sate the curiosity of her husband about the Hosts unique to the place, but soon it becomes a matter of truth or lies, of life and death. And as a living simile, Avice finds herself in the middle of all of it. Even languages can evolve before our eyes.

I am always so conflicted about Mieville's style of writing, whether to love it or hate on it.

I loved the world. I love how he just drops you in the middle of this futuristic sci-fi world without a hint or a guide and you just have to piece it all together slowly. And when the world becomes clear, it's as if you know this town now. I love the concept of people as living language. It's such an elegant way to make this world different. The concept is just so fresh and done so well, I love it.

I have a couple problems with the characters though.
Midway through the book, I got disappointed and frustrated with Avice, thinking that argh Mieville always does this with his main character - where they seem to just be pulled and pushed around by the plot points, rather than doing things as the main character. Thankfully at the end, she emerges as a true pivotal character.

Another thing about the way he writes characters is just that I can never trust his relationships. He seems to regard love very loosely. Marriage may not mean a thing. And I never see any build up to true chemistry (romantic or otherwise) in his characters. His dialogue is usually flat in terms of chemistry. Basically, Mieville is all about the plot, not about making you love or hate the characters. His dialogue is to move the plot along, not to make a hero or a heroine.

Speaking of plot... The hard thing about reading this book is that it does feel like multiple books condensed into one. While most books have one goal and one purpose for the characters, Mieville dashes through twenty different plots. I'm never really sure where the book will go. Sometimes that's a good thing because surprise and interest is important for the reader. But sometimes it's a bad thing, because you start to wonder when the book will end. It does drag on a little in middle to be sure.

But oh the ending. It was just so right. Everything built up to that climax and I love how language became something more than just words spoken in air. The ending made this book. It was all worth it for those last scenes.

The concept of this book was just absolutely beautiful. For that, and for beautiful world building, I give this book four stars. I was hesitating between three and a half & four, but for the ending... it deserves four.
Highly recommended for people who love science fiction and new worlds. Expect many twists and turns though. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
Avice has always wanted to get out of the backwater world Embassytown. But years down the road, she finds herself returning. At first it was just to sate the curiosity of her husband about the Hosts unique to the place, but soon it becomes a matter of truth or lies, of life and death. And as a living simile, Avice finds herself in the middle of all of it. Even languages can evolve before our eyes.

I am always so conflicted about Mieville's style of writing, whether to love it or hate on it.

I loved the world. I love how he just drops you in the middle of this futuristic sci-fi world without a hint or a guide and you just have to piece it all together slowly. And when the world becomes clear, it's as if you know this town now. I love the concept of people as living language. It's such an elegant way to make this world different. The concept is just so fresh and done so well, I love it.

I have a couple problems with the characters though.
Midway through the book, I got disappointed and frustrated with Avice, thinking that argh Mieville always does this with his main character - where they seem to just be pulled and pushed around by the plot points, rather than doing things as the main character. Thankfully at the end, she emerges as a true pivotal character.

Another thing about the way he writes characters is just that I can never trust his relationships. He seems to regard love very loosely. Marriage may not mean a thing. And I never see any build up to true chemistry (romantic or otherwise) in his characters. His dialogue is usually flat in terms of chemistry. Basically, Mieville is all about the plot, not about making you love or hate the characters. His dialogue is to move the plot along, not to make a hero or a heroine.

Speaking of plot... The hard thing about reading this book is that it does feel like multiple books condensed into one. While most books have one goal and one purpose for the characters, Mieville dashes through twenty different plots. I'm never really sure where the book will go. Sometimes that's a good thing because surprise and interest is important for the reader. But sometimes it's a bad thing, because you start to wonder when the book will end. It does drag on a little in middle to be sure.

But oh the ending. It was just so right. Everything built up to that climax and I love how language became something more than just words spoken in air. The ending made this book. It was all worth it for those last scenes.

The concept of this book was just absolutely beautiful. For that, and for beautiful world building, I give this book four stars. I was hesitating between three and a half & four, but for the ending... it deserves four.
Highly recommended for people who love science fiction and new worlds. Expect many twists and turns though. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 127 (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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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."
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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.
(mclewe)

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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)

(summary from another edition)

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