Embassytown, by China Miéville

Even as the basic premise of Miéville’s Embassytown is unbelievable I am glad that I decided to read the book, because one of the things that can make science fiction a rewarding genre to read is how exploration of a totally off concept can result in something fascinating.

In Embassytown Miéville takes the common sciencefictional idea of a humanity evolved so far out in space and time that the planet Earth is but an idea, so far way to be lost, spatially. He then takes a shard of this humanity and places it on a distant border, holed up in a precious balancing act with a species that doesn’t communicate in any way that makes sense to this humanity.

Can a species evolve and become advanced while at the same time lack the ability to talk about and imagine future? Isn’t the idea of “future” predicated on an ability to understand there’s a “past”? Can a species that can’t imagine or talk about what doesn’t exist even develop in any meaningful way? Isn’t that one of the things that has made humanity kings of this planet (excepting weather and other natural forces, but please don’t get picky here, OK)?

And what happens when such a people encounter a species who do talk about and imagine the unbelievable?

Highly imaginative, evoking thought, Embassytown is a book I would recommend to anyone who enjoy intellectual acrobatics, challenging set ideas. Even if it took about a month to et to the point where this review could actually get written ;-)


3 thoughts on “Embassytown, by China Miéville

  1. I’ve tried reading Mieville’s work but the prose was just too convoluted, lacking the kind of precision I like in literature. Mieville, I suspect, is part of that so-called “New Weird” aesthetic: lots of atmosphere, baroque writing, fantastical elements…but it disguises a lack of clarity, a paucity of discipline (getting carried away, over-writing passages, using ten words when something can be said in three or four).

    Mieville has his fans but a good number of detractors too. Folks who just wish he’d GET ON WITH IT and compose a well-told tale with elegance and focus, avoiding the temptation to tell too much, while showing off the size of his thesaurus…

    Good post, a pleasure to come across someone discussing interesting books.

  2. Thank you.
    After having read The City & The City I would had agreed wholeheartedly with you, and I had promised myself not to read another of his books for a loong time. Then talk about Embassytown got me curious and I have to say it was a pleasant surprise – more in the vein of Hard SF but focussing on language, communication, culture and society instead of technology.

  3. Understand, I’m not giving up on Mieville, nor do I completely discount his growing literary reputation (at least, among a certain stratum of fantasy fans). Maybe at some point he’ll start appealing to me or his style will change and he’ll be less prone to flowery phrasing and over-blown passages.

    I’ll have a peek at EMBASSYTOWN somewhere down the road–right now I’m a bit swamped with projects, including a new novella I should be editing at this very moment. So I’ll push off.

    Keep readin’, chum…

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