Mark's Reviews > Embassytown

Embassytown by China Miéville
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's review
Apr 10, 12

Read in April, 2012 — I own a copy

Embassytown is a layered, exotic novel about language and revelation and the power of lies to free us from false truths. If that sounds grandiose, it's only because encapsulating what Mieville has attempted---and largely succeeded in doing---cannot be done modestly.

The aliens, the Ariekei, "grow into" their language. They speak in order to think and apparently think only through their Language, which makes it impossible for other life forms, namely ours, to communicate with them unless we can simulate the presence of Mind in the actual speech itself. Symbolic language doesn't convey to them because it is removed---and removable---from the intellect that uses it. Language is therefore primary and primal, inseparable from Being.

However, when an artificially constructed Ambassador arrives with a technological ability to speak Language, it unleashes a disease among the Ariekei---addiction to the very speech of this new creature. It proliferates through the Ariekei community and sets the stage for a savage civil war in an attempt to eradicate the addicting influence, threatening the human colony with extinction.

Mieville is playing a very high-level game in this novel, laying out an idea of Language that goes directly to the sees of ideology, of zealotry, of belief itself, and showing that the corruption of such a language, tied as it is to essential Being, can be a terrible thing---but that a different kind of corruption---namely the separation of speech from intellection by making it a tool rather than a cognitive element---is a way to free the mind from the power of ideological slavery.

I suspect Mieville is addressing the many layers of how we process knowledge and information and how the free flow of ideas is perhaps necessary to the kind of liberation that frees us from a tyranny of ideology but at the same time sacrifices the purity of simpler conceptions. This is by no means a novel intended to be read only once.

If it sounds like I enjoyed this work, that's not the half of it. Highly recommended.
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