Chris Lewis's Reviews > Embassytown

Embassytown by China Miéville
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's review
Mar 26, 2012

liked it
Read from March 18 to 26, 2012

I am huge China Miéville fanboy and have read all of his novels, and most of the short stories. I really wanted to love this book, being both a science fiction geek and fascinated by clever use of language.

While Embassytown was engrossing in the way that all China's worlds are, I found myself unconvinced by the central conceit of the alien Language. I just couldn't bring myself to believe that such a culture could actually come to exist; nor that after hundreds of years of interactions with humans, our heroine would suddenly be able to introduce such a radical change simply by being really urgent and repeating herself a lot.

Now I'm a details guy and tend to take things literally, and it's certainly possible that the entire book is an elaborate metaphor for the ways we are unable to imagine concepts that we lack words to describe. Indeed this seems to be the way China operates.

The science-fictiony parts of the story were well enough done. Not a lot of technical detail, just general descriptions of deep space travel and biotechnology. China is not a hard sci-fi author so I can live without the extra geeky details; they would have been great if there, but that's not why I read his books.

As for characterization, there isn't much. The narrator Avice is about as dry and emotionless as one can be. I'm okay with shallow characterization, but I would have liked more. One is never sure throughout the story what anyone's motivations are. Several seemingly important characters disappear for half the book only to be mentioned briefly at the end and left unresolved. Sci-fi is known for its two-dimensional characters but we know China can do better from his previous work.

Someday I'm going to read Embassytown again with the greater concepts of metaphor and language, and I expect I'll get a little more out of it next time.
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