Karen Lord has crafted a rich world populated with a variety of realistic peoples, landscapes and concepts. It starts off with a brief chapter about...more Karen Lord has crafted a rich world populated with a variety of realistic peoples, landscapes and concepts. It starts off with a brief chapter about our secondary protagonist Dllenahkh meditating at a secluded sanctuary far from his home. He is interrupted by a close friend informing him that their homeworld of Sadira has been destroyed. Smash cut to a year later on Cygnus Beta, one of the already populated worlds that has been chosen for the resettlement of the remaining Sadiri where we meet our main protagonist Grace Delarua. She is a liaison of sorts from the Cygnian government to the Sadiri settlements in her area, almost like a social worker for refugees. She works with Dllenakh to help the Sadiri remain comfortable and become a part of Cygnian society. Due to the patriarchal nature of Sadiran society, most of the people who were off world when the destruction happened were men. The colony of Sadiri on Cygnus Beta are made up entirely of men and Dllenahkh and Grace are tasked with trying to find mates for them among the residents of Cygnus Beta. There are small societies scattered all over the planet who can trace their ancestry back to Sadira and maintain a kind of genetic purity by encouraging people to marry within their group. Grace and Dllenakh, along with a small group of scientists, some of whom are Sadiri set off on a yearlong mission to visit these places and hopefully find a solution to the Sadiri problem. The story takes place from a little before this mission to a few months afterwards and is told in an episodic style, with each stop usually taking up one chapter. There is one overarching plot to this story, however each chapter usually has it’s own story embedded within it. They arrive at their destination, discover conflict and often times achieve some kind of resolution before moving on to the next spot. They are not always successful at resolving the issue and sometimes it costs them a great deal. However I found the smaller stories contained within the chapters of the novel to build nicely on each other. The fiance compared this book to a season of a tv show, and I think that is very appropriate for how it is written. Because of this style choice the pacing feels even throughout the book, almost as though it were measured out. While the pacing and stylistic choice works well to bring the story to a conclusion it can sometimes be a drawback. About a third of the way through the book a character development moment happens, something that should have a big impact on how the reader views that particular character and it just doesn't feel as momentous as it should because of the consistent build up to action-conflict-resolution that takes place almost every chapter. Dllenahkh and Grace are both fascinating characters, completely distinct from each other and anyone else and both are necessary to keeping the plot moving. *mild spoiler alert* Their romance is understated throughout most of the story but as things move along it starts to feel inevitable. You can see it coming almost from the beginning of the book and it felt strange to me that one of them didn't realize it until the last 20 pages or so. Grace in particular is a wonderful narrator, she is funny, has the perfect tone for this story and is so realistic I felt as though I were reading a friend going through these experiences (your mileage may vary on that of course, depending on the kind of person you are and what your friends are like). There were several times I laughed aloud while reading due to hilarious turn of phrase or aside that she makes. The choice that Ms. Lord makes to write her that way will not please everyone, but I felt it contributed quite a bit to how much I enjoyed this book. There was a lot of criticism about the fact that this book is not the typical space opera fare, with action set pieces and lots of drama and conflict. All of those things are accurate, but in my view not a detriment. This book is decidedly not about saving the world, or preventing a cataclysm. It’s about picking up the pieces afterwards, regular people dealing with the fallout. Some of them lost everything and others looking in from the outside of that trauma and trying to help. I found this book to be a great read, well written and the story is different from the standard fare and all the better for being so. (less)
At its heart Embassytown is about language. It pulses with ideas and challenges the reader in their attempts to grasp what the hell is going on. Like...moreAt its heart Embassytown is about language. It pulses with ideas and challenges the reader in their attempts to grasp what the hell is going on. Like most of China Mieville’s books this is a hard read. The first 150 pages are all set up so that when the story finally starts churning the reader isn’t left behind. Our narrator, Avice Benner Cho was born in Embassytown, the lone city of humanoids on an alien planet far from other worlds that is populated with beings (Hosts) who do not/cannot communicate with a standard human being. The city is the only place humans can survive thanks to the aliens willingness to allow them to live there by manufacturing breathable air and potable water and food. Only the Ambassadors, two identical clones who can simulate one brain and speak simultaneously can communicate with Hosts. It was thought that only clones were capable of this feat, but when the new Ambassador from the outworlds comes, all assumptions about what is possible vanish in the tumult they bring with them. This narrative is rich with detail and expansive in the telling of Avice’s life and experiences before the present that is depicted in the books. The first several chapters are split into the before time which focuses on Avice’s childhood and younger adult years and the later time, what happened once she returned to Embassytown from the outworlds. This continues up until the initial conflict starts and during that part of the book things seemed to move at a glacial and confusing pace until it catches up to ‘current’ events. I’m not sure if I liked that style of narration as it made it difficult to really wrap my head around what was happening. Once it settled down to a linear format it was much easier to make headway and better at holding my attention. The conflict in this story starts so slowly that at first you don’t realize that it will become the driving force of the narrative. But it builds, and builds...and keeps on building to a furious boiling point. With 50 pages left to go I was still mystified as to how it was all going to be resolved, but once the plunge to the end of the book starts it is filled with satisfying pay off for those who carefully read the somewhat rambling set up. To be fair, the concepts that are being presented are by no means simple or easy to express and require the set up in order for the overall intent behind the story to be clear to the reader. Without the explanations it would seem muddled, with the finale seeming tacked on and trite. There are a couple of central themes to this story. One is the effect that impending catastrophic doom can have on both large groups and interpersonal relationships and how people react under that kind of pressure. Who has the internal strength to survive and claw their way out from under a hopeless situation? It examines those who try to forget themselves in wanton indulgence of all things pleasurable, those who shrivel up and withdraw from everyone, those who give up and end themselves before the doom comes, and the precious few who bear up under the crushing despair that such a situation must engender in us all and persevere no matter what. The other theme is language and communication, specifically exploring the way that it shapes who we are and how we perceive and conceptualize the world around us. This was by far the more difficult theme to grasp and yet this was what made the story so captivating for me. It felt like an undercurrent running through the story expressed mainly in the writing style. It is written with a lot of the visuals left to the readers imagination. As few words as possible are used to describe the people, environments and especially the Hosts which was intensely frustrating at first. It seemed to be some kind of minimalism for its own sake that forced me to have to constantly revise what my internal pictures of the characters and their surroundings were like. But as the story continued I found it to easier to understand while having to keep my mind open to the idea that my perceptions could be wrong. Mieville is as challenging and successful as ever with this novel and it definitely deserves its spot on the big awards nomination lists this year. I enjoyed it very much and although it was a bit slow going and abstract at some points, the experience was well worth it. If you enjoy mind bending, philisophical sci fi or have read his stuff before and enjoyed it you will probably like this.(less)
I really wanted to enjoy this book but sadly I couldn't. I made it a hundred or so pages in and it was too depressing to go on w...moreAn un-finished review;
I really wanted to enjoy this book but sadly I couldn't. I made it a hundred or so pages in and it was too depressing to go on with. It was very well written with fascinating ideas and interesting characters, but also very dark. As interesting as they were none of the characters came across as likable. Pitiable, intriguing, bizarre? Yes, but I wasn't able to really connect or sympathize with anyone that had been presented so far. The underlying story is chilling, in the very near future calorie companies have genetically modified almost all foods, viruses and bugs to force people to buy only their products lest they become infected with any of the engineered diseases. Fossil fuels are have been depleted and a global economy is no longer a possibility. Within this bleak world we are introduced to a calorie company man, one who hunts down the rogue gene hackers who create new foods outside of the companies purview. And a wind up girl, a creche grown mechanized creature that is enslaved to a cruel mob group. There is graphic sex, harsh violence and upsetting ideology on display, and while none of those things will necessarily set me off a book I do have to be in the mood to read that sort of thing. I will give this one another try in a few months and hope that I will enjoy it more.(less)
This was fabulous. All but one of these stories were well worth the read. Each was completely different but I could see why they were up to win the Hu...moreThis was fabulous. All but one of these stories were well worth the read. Each was completely different but I could see why they were up to win the Hugo in their category.
The only story I didn't love was 'Pride and Prometheus' by John Kessel. It's a mashup of Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein and I did not feel it was successful at what it was trying to do. Those 2 books are so completely disparate that I don't feel it's possible to combine their stories and make it work. It uses one of the younger Bennet sisters, Mary and seems to put her in the Frankenstein story during part of Dr Frankenstein's journey through England to create a mate for the monster. The monster makes an appearance, and everything of course goes terribly wrong. Time for a small rant, I thoroughly enjoyed both Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein. Each is a a fabulous example of the type of style it is written in. Frankenstein is a Gothic horror novel, Pride and Prejudice is a satirical send up of the romantic fiction of the time. Those do not combine well together. It felt as if Mary was thrown in there as a way to attract readers who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, but there is none of that type of story in there. In trying to have a bit of both it succeeds at neither.
My favorites were 'Truth' by Robert Reed, 'Evil Robot Monkey' by Mary Robinette Kowal and 'The Tear' by Ian Mcdonald.
Robert Reed is wonderful at short stories, each is unique and always surprising. I can never see where he's going to take the story until BAM there you are at the end. Truth is nominally a time travel story that incorporates terrorism, paranoia and the horrors of what humanity can do to itself. For fear of spoilers that's all I can really say about that.
Evil Robot Monkey is only a couple pages long and it's a delicious little vignette. A stellar example of how a story can be contained in just one scene and be complete.
The Tear is the final story in the book and in the introduction that the editor gives before hand they suggest a breather before diving into it. I would second that. The story is complex and requires close reading and undivided attention to wrap your head around what the hell is going on. It starts out with the question of whether or not 2 different kinds of aliens can ever truly understand each other. One race is comprised of people with 8 different personalities, the other is of people with one personality who's bodies are made of nanites that can rearrange themselves to any appearance. From there it's a crazy journey of one being traveling through the universe existing in both forms and yet neither.
I discovered several authors through this book that I plan on investigating further, which is a great side benefit of short story anthologies.
I would say if you like sci-fi and speculative fiction, you will find at least a couple stories in here that you will like.(less)