Ramsey Hootman's Reviews > Embassytown

Embassytown by China Miéville
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's review
May 26, 2011

really liked it

Another excellent read from China Mieville. I love how he continues to push the envelope on his own style, trying out new stuff. Not everything in this book works, which is why it's not getting 5 stars, but it's still head and shoulders above most SF out there today.

What didn't work:

- The technical aspects of Language (capital L intentional) don't make any sense. This wouldn't have bugged me if Embassytown were fantasy, but Mieville is clearly branching out into science fiction with this book. For example, Language only works when there is a MIND behind it, so it cannot be spoken by machines. But somehow Language can be recorded, and by the end of the book it's being passed around on datachips. Whaaa? The more you try to figure it out, the more the details break down. Granted, this book wasn't "about" such details, but my feeling is that in science fiction the technical stuff at least needs to feel believable.

- The plot was predictable. I'll try to avoid spoilers here. Essentially, there were two major "reveals;" one at the midpoint and one at the end. I saw both coming from miles away. Knowing what was going to happen wasn't so much the problem as that the narrative was constructed in a way that attempted to create a sense of suspense about the revelations. To clarify - I don't mind knowing Grandma is going to get eaten by the Big Bad Wolf. What I mind is when the entire story up until Grandma is eaten by the Big Bad Wolf consists of "What's going to happen to Grandma? I bet you don't know what's going to happen to Grandma! Something's coming! What is it?" As I was reading I kept thinking, "Well, China Mieville is very creative, so maybe I'm wrong and it's some total surprise that he's going to spring." Buuuut, nope, it was exactly what I thought it was going to be. Twice.

What did work:

- Everything else. This is a really excellent read.

- Channeling Gene Wolfe. Don't try to deny it, Mieville. The first half of this book is patently Gene Wolfian. I actually don't really like Gene Wolfe because he's so freaking inscrutable, but China Mieville doing Gene Wolfe is great.

One of the things that I love about China Mieville is how his books are great stories with cool awesome neato stuff in them, but they are also always ABOUT something much deeper. Okay, well, sometimes it's not so deep. Like ink in Kraken or scars in The Scar. Anyway, my favorite part of Mieville's books is figuring out what that central link is, when it's not obvious. If you care about figuring this out yourself, consider the next portion of this review spoiler territory. If you don't care, read on; there's no plot elements here.


I love it when I find one sentence in a book that encapsulates the entire thing. Embassytown had one. I'm reciting from memory here so I might not have the exact wording correct, but it was something to the effect of: "As if it would work, every time you tried to make two people into one."

This book is not about language. Language is the tool Mieville uses to discuss the theme. (Or, perhaps I should say, the lie he uses to tell the truth.) Embassytown is about marriage. Between two people, between two cultures, between ideas. It's also about the power - no, the NECESSITY of fiction - not just to communicate, to unite people, but to think effectively.

All in all, very interesting. I very much look forward to whatever Mieville comes up with next.
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Reading Progress

May 26, 2011 – Shelved
June 17, 2011 – Started Reading
June 17, 2011 –
10.0% "Someone's channeling Gene Wolfe."
June 18, 2011 –
30.0% "Ohhhh, alien-culture-discovery is my favorite genre!"
June 19, 2011 –
40.0% "Still awesomesauce, although I have some issues with the Language thing."
June 19, 2011 –
50.0% "Hmmm, a little disappointed that the big reveal was exactly what I thought it would be."
June 19, 2011 –
June 19, 2011 –
70.0% "Okay, back to awesome."
June 21, 2011 – Finished Reading

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