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Embassytown
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Embassytown Discussion > "Embassytown" - GENERAL DISCUSSION

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Nataliya | 378 comments Per Cecily's suggestion, here is a place for the general discussion of 'Embassytown'.

I'm assuming this may be, just may be, be a spoiler-laden land, so if you haven't finished the book then visit this at your own peril (*)
* I'm saying this 'like a Host', by the way.



Cecily | 301 comments Thanks, Natalia.

The book explores the question of whether we make language or language makes us. It starts off implying the latter, but ends up more ambiguously.

In the early days, when Language is so very literal and concrete, and none of the Hosts are adept at lying, they contrive similes as a way of expressing the otherwise inexpressible. But how did they know they needed a simile, let alone define it, before they have it in Language?


Nataliya | 378 comments Cecily wrote: "But how did they know they needed a simile, let alone define it, before they have it in Language?"

I was wondering about this as well. The way I see it now is that there has always been a capability for abstract thinking, for wanting to get out of the constraints of the Language - at least in a few Ariekei, those who felt that they wanted to bend the Language to serve them better. It seems that it was greatly catalyzed by the arrival of humans as it's mentioned that prior to the arrival of humans the Ariekei were not making nearly as many similes.

So I can see the visionaries among the Ariekei - like the future 'Liars' like Surl-tesh-echer who has figured out a way to dance around the truth and arrive at something different - feeling that there should a way to express something that was previously unsaid and arrive at the similes; once they have been invented they became a free game to use for anyone since they now referred to something concrete.

It's like the desire to *think* was always there, and only some - savants, you can say - could find the ways to turn their wish into something real.


message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Language is a cage that shapes its occupants. However, the intersection of the Areikei and the Ambassadors presented an opportunity for freedom to be achieved via similes and lies that transformed their language and their cage.

In a sense, this is the political aspect of the novel.


Cecily | 301 comments When I reread this book - which I will - I'll be referring to these discussions, and particularly Ian's review, and viewing it all through a more political lens. It's an aspect that I didn't fully appreciate at the time. Still, it's good to know there is so much more to get from it.


Cecily | 301 comments Thinking of Ehrsul, and the way she is designed and acts to make humans feel at ease with her (“She only ever used one corpus, according to some Terrephile sense of politesse or accommodation… having to relate to someone variably physically incarnate would trouble us [humans]” and her apartment is decorated with pictures on the wall, so that visitors feel relaxed and at home), would you be able to bond with her in the way that Avice does, or would you be more like Scile?


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Personally, knowing how sophisticated computer simulations can actually get, I think I would be put off by the idea that she is merely a simulation.


message 8: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Cecily wrote: "Thinking of Ehrsul, and the way she is designed and acts to make humans feel at ease with her (“She only ever used one corpus, according to some Terrephile sense of politesse or accommodation… having to relate to someone variably physically incarnate would trouble us [humans]” and her apartment is decorated with pictures on the wall, so that visitors feel relaxed and at home), would you be able to bond with her in the way that Avice does, or would you be more like Scile?"

Fascinating question. I wonder whether, temporally at least, we change physical incarnations as we age.


Cecily | 301 comments Ian wrote: "Cecily wrote: "...I wonder whether, temporally at least, we change physical incarnations as we age. "

I suppose we do, but (usually) we remain human. Isn't that the greater difficulty in terms of acceptance?


Nataliya | 378 comments Cecily wrote: "Ian wrote: "Cecily wrote: "...I wonder whether, temporally at least, we change physical incarnations as we age. "

I suppose we do, but (usually) we remain human. Isn't that the greater difficulty ..."


Yes, it is. Not remaining human would change acceptance of us in quite scary ways. Think Kafka's 'Metamorphosis', for instance.


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye I wonder what happens in the "mind" of a butterfly as it transforms from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.


Nataliya | 378 comments Ian wrote: "I wonder what happens in the "mind" of a butterfly as it transforms from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly."

Of course, to wonder that you first must accept the idea of a caterpillar having a mind to begin with.


message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye I bet you say that about men as well.


message 14: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (last edited Mar 31, 2013 06:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments Traveller wrote: "Personally, knowing how sophisticated computer simulations can actually get, I think I would be put off by the idea that she is merely a simulation."

Personally, knowing how simulations can get, I don't believe she's a simulation :-) I'd have no problem having a relationship with a machine. One day I'll even get that book written (it has an opening, an ending and a title - Turing Company - but I have a problem getting from A to B).


message 15: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments I've been meaning to mention the, to me, odd political structure of Human society in the milieu of Embassytown.

Bremen is one nation on Dagostin ("Bre­men was a power, so al­ways at war, with other coun­tries on Dagostin, and on other worlds."). Bremen is the colonial power for a large number of colonies reachable in the immer, including - but there are other empires.

[Interesting, to me, side note. Avice's "...first com­mis­sion was with the Wasp of Kolkata. It was quasi-au­tonomous, a city­ship, im­mers­ing under the flag of it­self, sub­con­tracted by Dagostin." I shudder to think CM may have actually contradicted himself here, but it seems unlikely that Dagostin is an entity that could subcontract anything.]

Most outer-space SF tends to theorize that once we are colonizing planets, it will be no more than one nation per planet. Miéville, instead, assumes that nothing will change in human nature. Even after the Pope split the New World between Spain and Portugal, giving the Portuguese the East and the Spaniards the West, Spain and Portugal both tried to occupy South America. America and the Soviet Union both had to lay claim to Antarctica - even though there's nothing there that either wants. So, apparently, when we expand into new systems we'll take our squabbles with us. Depressing, really.

Another slightly related topic is the 'loss' of Terre. It's a common theme in SF, from Foundation to Dune of the Great Diaspora, in which humanity loses track of its original planet either through war or just an incredible rate of expansion, and since the planet is pretty well exhausted of resources, there's no reason to go back to find it. I'm not certain Terre is actually lost, but Avice says "I once met a ju­nior im­merser from some self-hat­ing back­wa­ter who reck­oned in what he called “earth-years,” the ris­i­ble fool. I asked him if he’d been to the place by the cal­en­dar of which he lived. Of course he’d no more idea of where it was than I." This might just mean nobody actually goes there, or cares, rather than that it's lost - but if this is the typical attitude of immersers, it's sure to be lost eventually.


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Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Derek wrote: "Bremen is one nation on Dagostin ("Bre­men was a power, so al­ways at war, with other coun­tries on Dagostin, and on other worlds."). Bremen is the colonial power for a large number of colonies reachable in the immer, including - but there are other empires.

[Interesting, to me, side note. Avice's "...first com­mis­sion was with the Wasp of Kolkata. It was quasi-au­tonomous, a city­ship, im­mers­ing under the flag of it­self, sub­con­tracted by Dagostin." I shudder to think CM may have actually contradicted himself here, but it seems unlikely that Dagostin is an entity that could subcontract anything.]
.."


I might simply be stupefied too much Easter chocolate, but I don't quite follow why Dagostin would be unable to subcontract anything? Let me try to clear my mind from the chocolate haze for a moment... *shakes head*

Yeah, interesting observations, Derek. I was a bit stunned by the sheer amount of habitable worlds, and variety of aliens, which contradicts everything we know about the known universe, but anyway.

I do realize that the immer is obviously "outside" of our known universe, possibly even a different dimension.


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Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Hmm, you mean, in the same way that "Africa" or "Europe" cannot subcontract in their own name, because they are simply continents, and Dagostin is a planet containing various governments?

But, how do we know that Dagostin doesn't have an equivalent of the EU?


message 18: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (last edited Mar 31, 2013 10:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments That's exactly what I meant. It would appear that Dagostin doesn't have an equivalent of the EU, though could well have a UN, because of the "...so al­ways at war, with other coun­tries on Dagostin..." comment. So, I suppose our UN manages to "contract" things without in any way slowing down the warmongering amongst separate nations.


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Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Yeah, you're right, the UN would be a better equivalent. Anyway, good catch!


Nataliya | 378 comments Derek wrote: "That's exactly what I meant. It would appear that Dagostin doesn't have an equivalent of the EU, though could well have a UN, because of the "...so al­ways at war, with other coun­tries on Dagostin..."

I wonder whether Avice can just be generalizing here - saying Dagostin since Bremen in on the planet Dagostin. It's just like many people would refer to 'America' meaning the United States, but using the name of the entire continent with many countries.

Or, it can be the rest of Dagostin being at war with Bremen and subcontracting space ships as a single non-Bremen entity - but I'm grasping at straws here.

Or, of course, it could be CM's oversight - as much as I don't want to believe it.


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Oh ye faithless!! I refuse to believe that my China would ever commit anything as mundane as an oversight!! *sniff*


message 22: by Cecily (last edited Apr 02, 2013 03:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily | 301 comments Here's an article about the significance of learning to point, and all that it implies about cognitive and language development: http://www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies...

Lots of fascinating and pertinent... points. ;)


message 23: by Ian (last edited Apr 02, 2013 04:02PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Cecily wrote: "Here's an article about the significance of learning to point, and all that it implies about cognitive and language development: http://www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies......"

An infant cannot put too fine a point on it.


message 24: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (last edited Apr 02, 2013 04:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments Yes! I've heard about that. And the Ariekei are just, in the latter part of the book, learning to point. Before they learn to lie (and point) they are a sort of idiot savant - they're absolute geniuses at biological engineering, but they are barely more than babies on so many other levels.

'Carpenter herself went to graduate school because she was interested in language. But then she started looking at prelinguistic gestures. “And everything’s already there! I completely lost interest in language because you can see so much complexity already in infants’ gestures.'

So completely apropos. The Absurd have nothing but pointing, and it's clearly "prelinguistic".


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Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments Ian wrote: "An infant cannot put too fine a point on it. "

My father was a Luddite (a nuclear physicist, nevertheless) who would have nothing to do with computers. But if he was still with us, I could show him a couple of those, and he'd be your GoodReads friend, too!


message 26: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Derek wrote: "My father was a Luddite (a nuclear physicist, nevertheless) who would have nothing to do with computers. But if he was still with us, I could show him a couple of those, and he'd be your GoodReads friend, too!"

So computers weren't his strong point?


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Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments LOL.


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Interesting! Thanks for the link and the convo. Yes, while I was reading, I was wondering why the Areikei couldn't simply be gestured to with body language and sign language.

Later it became apparent that it was part of the plot that this was not how they were hardwired! ..or actually softwired, because they had the inherent capacity when shown.


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Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments They apparently took to the pointing really quickly when you ripped off their "ears", so it's as if they develop speech too quickly (iirc, when they reach their adult instar, Language is already present) and it interferes with what we think of as a natural progression.


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Derek wrote: "They apparently took to the pointing really quickly when you ripped off their "ears", so it's as if they develop speech too quickly (iirc, when they reach their adult instar, Language is already pr..."

You mean a bit like when baby walks before it can crawl? I made that mistake with my son-- put him in a walker too early and then he refused to crawl. The result is that their shoulders and upper body muscles don't develop adequately. In his case it was remedied by Occupational therapy and swimming.


Cecily | 301 comments Traveller wrote: "...while I was reading, I was wondering why the Areikei couldn't simply be gestured to with body language and sign language..."

So did I!


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Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments Traveller wrote: "You mean a bit like when baby walks before it can crawl?"

Yeah, that's exactly what I meant - though I have no actual experience with babies of my own.


Cecily | 301 comments Here is a video of Mieville talking about the book:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDm_5i...


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Hey, cool! Thanks so much for popping in and posting that, Cecily!


Sarah (sarahstokes) | 5 comments Agreed - Thanks, Cecily! Tantalising mention of more tales of the Immerverse...


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Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments And another interesting find from Cecily: somebody woke up her review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time today, and I read the review for the first time, finding this apropos quote (about the autistic narrator):
'He also hates metaphors (even "the word metaphor is a metaphor", meaning "carrying something from one place to another"), but he doesn't mind similes because they are not untrue.'


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Derek wrote: "And another interesting find from Cecily: somebody woke up her review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time today, and I read the review for the first time, finding this apropos quot..."

Thanks for pointing out Cecily's very interesting review, Derek! That quote does remind a lot of Embassytown, doesn't it?


Cecily | 301 comments I'm just embarrassed that I didn't remember my own comment when we were discussing Embassytown here! But I'm grateful to Derek for pointing it out.


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Cecily wrote: "I'm just embarrassed that I didn't remember my own comment when we were discussing Embassytown here! But I'm grateful to Derek for pointing it out."

That brings a smile, Cecily. I think you've motivated me to read the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I really hope you're considering doing Iron Council with us. I know it's short notice, but I've given up on actually choosing what I'm going to read next. When you're a member of GR, it seems as if GR takes over and starts doing most of the deciding for one....


Cecily | 301 comments Thanks, but I won't be doing Iron Council. I don't have a copy and have read an uncharacteristic amount of sci-fi and related books in the last year or so. I will come back to Mieville, but I'm not sure which or when (though I do have a copy of PSS).


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Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Cecily wrote: "Thanks, but I won't be doing Iron Council. I don't have a copy and have read an uncharacteristic amount of sci-fi and related books in the last year or so. I will come back to Mieville, but I'm no..."

Oh no, it will be very sad not to see you on the discussion, Cecily. Though I can see you have your hands full with Peake--you guys are reading him back to back, though, of course, you've read all of it already. I must make a plan to pop in on the Peake group more often- just been very busy lately.

Well, you know you can always come back to our discussions even though they've ceased being active- nothing stops you from reviving them, and it will be nice to see you doing so re the PSS discussion.


Cecily | 301 comments Not all the Peake readers have read Gormenghast before, but I think most have. The trouble is, much like Mieville, he has to be savoured and read slowly - plus the books are too big for easy portability!


Puddin Pointy-Toes (jkingweb) | 201 comments Traveller wrote: "I think you've motivated me to read the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

I might join you for that one. I was lent a copy last week, and it does sound terribly interesting. I'd probably be reading it right now if it wasn't for Iron Council coming up so soon, so I'm glad I saw your posting, Traveller!


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Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Cecily wrote: "Not all the Peake readers have read Gormenghast before, but I think most have. The trouble is, much like Mieville, he has to be savoured and read slowly - plus the books are too big for easy portab..."
Yes, I know, which is why I have fallen behind. I'd only read the first book. Plus, I had other reads interfering all the time...

J. wrote: "Traveller wrote: "I think you've motivated me to read the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

I might join you for that one. I was lent a copy last week, and it does sound terribly in..."


Well, then it's in a very timely fashion that the book was mentioned. I think we should sneak it in as a Mievillians discussion pertaining to Embassytown. It would be interesting to hear comments from members who have read both books. Let's schedule it for after Iron Council. ..and after that, probably a Neil Gaiman, and after that, definitely, for me at least, a Catherine Valente!


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Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments I'm in for Valente. I've read a couple (or more) of short stories she's published in Clarkesworld but haven't got around to a full-length novel yet.


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Derek wrote: "I'm in for Valente. I've read a couple (or more) of short stories she's published in Clarkesworld but haven't got around to a full-length novel yet."

In that case, we should perhaps start thinking about which one. I currently own In the Night Garden and Palimpsest. The latter book might qualify for Mièvillians just by it's name alone. 0:-)


Cecily | 301 comments It's only a year since I reread Curious Incident, but I'll follow your discussions with interest, and maybe dip in and chip in occasionally.


Puddin Pointy-Toes (jkingweb) | 201 comments Palimpsest... It must be some sort of cosmic sign... Or perhaps someone is just exerting some sort of arcane puissance on the literary world...


Nataliya | 378 comments Traveller wrote: "Derek wrote: "I'm in for Valente. I've read a couple (or more) of short stories she's published in Clarkesworld but haven't got around to a full-length novel yet."

In that case, we should perhaps ..."


Butting in on the discussion here :)
Palimpsest is a weird book - weird in the ways that would make even Perdido Street Station appear frequently mundane.
How about Valente's Deathless? It's an unbelievable book.


Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Nataliya wrote: "Traveller wrote: "Derek wrote: "I'm in for Valente. I've read a couple (or more) of short stories she's published in Clarkesworld but haven't got around to a full-length novel yet."

In that case, ..."


Okay, so are you recommending Deathless then? I do remember you've read quite a few Valente, Nataliya, and I was hoping you'd butt in sometime somewhere. :)


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