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Embassytown
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Embassytown > The Myth of Prometheus [spoilers - whole book]

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Basil Godevenos (basilgodevenos) | 135 comments Mod
Finally finished reading this! Great pick. Perfect for this group.

So it seems this was an uplift story all along, only it was humans uplifting aliens whose need for uplifting was extremely non-obvious.

I'm kind of seeing how their world, before humans, was sort of edenic. Everything they needed just evolved to suit their needs. It's interesting though, that humans are instrumental in temptation (the revelation that lying - i.e. thinking for yourself - is possible), the curse (addiction), and salvation (Avice teaching Spanish how to think). Humans are the only ones shown to have any agency right up until the very end.


Brendan (mistershine) | 58 comments I like this take on the story, though it is a very human view that these aliens needed or benefited from being uplifted.


Basil Godevenos (basilgodevenos) | 135 comments Mod
Brendan wrote: "I like this take on the story, though it is a very human view that these aliens needed or benefited from being uplifted."

Well slap my hand. You're right, of course. But then, that's the whole debate raised by the story. DID the aliens need/want to be uplifted? Sure their lives will be richer now... But at what cost, etc.


Bryan | 22 comments That's a very interesting reading of the story, Basil, and if I'm being honest, it's one that totally did not occur to me when I read it. I interpreted the story with a more political, colonialism kind of feel to it, sort of like the Opium Wars in space (probably because I find Mieville to be a fairly political writer). I'd like to know which way he intended it.


Basil Godevenos (basilgodevenos) | 135 comments Mod
This is my first encounter with Miéville, so I had no pre-conceived notions going in. I got religion vibes for two reasons. The first admittedly being that I am a person of faith and I tend to view things through a lens that includes that faith, and the second being that religion was mentioned frequently as a factor in daily life (albeit mostly to serve as the medium of exclamation).

On the other hand... Scile's role in the story was to sort of telegraph the "fall of man" reading, I thought.

Perhaps Miéville meant it both ways? I don't know much about the Opium Wars (that was a war between the USA and China in the mid-1800s right?), so I couldn't possibly weigh in on that.


Brendan (mistershine) | 58 comments China's books are always day one buys for me because I know they're going to break my brain. Embassytown was tougher for me than a lot of his other books since linguistics is a field I know nothing about.

Incidentally his new book was announced a couple days ago: This Census Taker, coming out January 2016 is "contemporary fantasy" and "literary fiction". Based on the name maybe it will have quite a poli-sci slant to it but who knows?


Robin (robin_marie_younkin) I interpreted "Embassytown" in a very different way. While I enjoyed the Hosts, the bioengineering, the inventive use of language to discuss language, and the interesting interactions of it all, I found it to be primarily about Avice Benner Cho, and the necessity of fulling embodying your potential. It is a study of the languages of community, and the universal need to belong. And Avice's sense of self lies at the heart of it.

Avice gets her start as a piece of language ("The girl who ate what was given to her"/"There was a girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given her" depending on where one is at in the story), which sets her apart at a young age. This begins a lifetime of passivity and falling into comfortable roles. "Floaking," to use a term from the book. Avice doesn't belong. It's evident in her relationships--her marriage of convenience to Scile, and hollow relationship with Ershul (an Autom, incapable of really feeling or connecting), Avice IS the simile. She accepts what she has, and doesn't strive for anything more.

It isn't until conflict arises in her world that she begins to question her definition of home, and her relationships with those around her. She begins revisiting her childhood; "Being a child is like nothing. It's only being. Later, when we think about it, we make it into youth."(pg. 66)/"'Welcome home,' said someone quietly. I hated that and stopped policing my expressions, made sure they could see that I hated it."(pg. 107)/"The return to anywhere you last visited as a child is difficult, especially when it's a door. Your heart beats harder when you knock." (pg. 166). Avice begins to see herself as something more, someone who, despite her ability to float from one role to another, is capable of standing her ground when it matters. "I was surprised by a brief and strong sense of a loss for floaking, of all things. I tried to tell myself that this, what I was doing, was heir to that tough going-with-the-flow, but I was hardly taken in." (pg. 264). "I, against every inclination I'd had for many years, had no choice but to take control." (pg. 290).

As she finds a sense of community with, and takes a stand beside, Bren (who, perhaps intentionally, has been present with her in most Ariekei-related life-changes), she states, "I held my breath: I was on a side in a secret war." (pg. 268). Her understanding of language, of relationships, of community and belonging urge her in the direction of educating Spanish Dancer and the other Ariekei. In the face of crisis, Avice recognizes Embassytown and its surrounding continent as her home, and its inhabitants as an extension of herself. "'You aren't just out alone anymore,' they said. 'You're on the run.' 'You're in hiding.' They didn't have to say 'One of us.'" (pg. 293).

It is this self-awakening, and acceptance of community, that makes Avice who she is, and allows her to usher in a new age for the world around her. It can be argued that the exchange of Language for language was eventual, and/or a misfortune for the Ariekie, but Avice's role in its inception is essential. "'I don't want to be a simile anymore,' I said. 'I want to be a metaphor.'" (pg. 296). Her embodiment of her potential brought understanding and love through language. "I loved the sound of my voice that day," (pg. 331) she states, as she watches her world become a harmonious place, with the potential for all to interact with each other in the future.

I do agree that this is an uplift story, and I think Avice's evolution is but one of many layered threads. I enjoyed "Embassytown" quite a lot, and look forward to reading more Mieville in the future.


Basil Godevenos (basilgodevenos) | 135 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "I interpreted "Embassytown" in a very different way. While I enjoyed the Hosts, the bioengineering, the inventive use of language to discuss language, and the interesting interactions of it all, I ..."

Thanks, Robin, for such a well thought out and cited review. I admit the fact that Avice the simile was always a metaphor for Avice the person, until she grew into herself, completely escaped me until you spelled it out. Well done.

Lots of layers here, to be sure.


Classiccolors | 9 comments I realize I'm behind the group with my reading but I just finished this today. I loved it! There were a couple of times where I felt like the story bogged down a bit, but the end was wonderful and worth the work.

I love to read and enjoy plenty of fast paced or funny books that get forgotten 10 minutes after I'm done. But then I read something like this and feel awed by the imaginative power of his world building. It's so rare to come across a book and think, I have never read anything like this before! I love his use of language, his vocabulary is so rich that on occasion I wasn't sure if the word he was using was an actual Scrabble-legal word or one that he made up and had to resort to a dictionary.

I enjoyed reading everyone's comments here and agree there are many layers: language defining who we are and how we think, colonialism, "the fall". Also as was mentioned maturing and coming into oneself - Avice as a character, and I would also add Embassytown as a place! Of course there are things that are lost in the maturing; Embassytown had been able to remain a protected, relatively benign and unchanging place (I think Basil called it Edenic?) by the nature of the Arieki language and the gatekeeping role the Ambassadors played. I think that fits into the fall narrative: the parents are loving and kind, there is little crime, the government is stable and everyone is relatively prosperous. But Brenin (sp?) decides that things are going to change and there really isn't an option left but for Embassytown to adapt and join the rest of the universe.

I didn't see it as the Arieki needing to be "uplifted" by the humans. I think if the humans (and other races) hadn't arrived then the Arieki would have been fine on their own. They thought differently than the humans, but I didn't feel like Mieville was saying it was a worse way of thinking. It was just maladapted to the wider universe they had become a part of. They obviously had a done great things as a species with their civilization and their technology. It's clear that the humans are afraid of the weapons of the Arieki. They call them their "Hosts" and take care to make sure everyone shows them respect. However, the universe had shown up on their doorstep and it became necessary for them to adapt to survive. Also, the plan of the Absurd to sacrifice a generation to ensure the well-being of the future of their species, would have worked, if they had been an isolated planet. They didn't need Avice's plan to, at least temporarily, save their world and their species. However, it wouldn't have worked in the long run because the rest of the universe was coming, one way or another. Scile's naivite, because he wasn't the traveler that Avice was, reflected that viewpoint. The fact that they were at the edge of the known universe and were thought to be an important place given the "lighthouse" of unknown origin, meant that the universe was going to come to them it was unavoidable, it was only a matter of when. Would the universe (Brenin) come and wipe them out, or could Embassytown find a useful place for itself first.

Also it seemed to me that the Arieke were on their way to adapting without Avice. Toward the end, it became clear that before the humans, they hadn't needed similes. But they had already adapted to include simile in their language/thinking. And they were learning about lying/metaphor on their own, (Pear Tree), despite the humans thwarting those efforts. Plus, the Absurd were very quickly adapting to a different way of thinking under dire and horrific circumstances without any human assistance.

Robin I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Avice, very interesting. I was wondering about her relationship to Ershul, thanks for helping to clear that up. The only part that didn't fit for me was that though she talked about being passive, it seemed to me that she wasn't really. When we meet her as a child she's literally seeing how far she can survive, pushing outside the boundaries of her society. Then she completely takes in stride, even bragging to her friends, participating in the Arieki ceremony, even though it involved being alone with an entirely mysterious other species, in the dark, where she's is physically hurt and has to "eat what is given to her"(which is implied is really gross/awful). Then she is part of very small minority that manages to become an Immurser, even though it's very difficult and physically hard, and leaves Embassytown and travels the universe. I also didn't see her marriage to Scile as one of convenience. It became sexless, but it wasn't at the beginning. He stays out of stasis so that they'll age together even though it makes him violently nauseous, she agrees to return to Embassytown to please him. And even when she's involved with CalVin, she goes out of her way to take care of Scile and arrange for him to attend ceremonies, etc. Toward the end Bren says something like, "You've never in your life been a floaker." It was like she just needed to see that about herself. I loved the image at the end of Avice and Spanish Dancer exploring the unknown Immur.

One additional note: I started reading the book, but then the audiobook became available and so for the second half, I switched off between reading and listening. The audiobook was really wonderful, great actor and production. For insistence, in those places where "Language" is spoken, they had two voices saying the words simultaneously.


Robin (robin_marie_younkin) Classiccolors wrote: "I realize I'm behind the group with my reading but I just finished this today. I loved it! There were a couple of times where I felt like the story bogged down a bit, but the end was wonderful an..."


I think the true beauty in reading something like this is that there is so much to uncover and interpret in different ways. I hadn't ever really thought about what would have happened to the Absurd, had they succeeded in their mission, but I agree with your thoughts on an inevitable invasion (or cohabitation, at the very least).

Your thoughts on Avice certainly challenged mine, as well! I think that you hit the nail on the head...she needed to see herself through someone else's eyes to realize that she was always on the cutting edge. Perhaps I was seeing too much of my own passivity in her character.

This story has stayed with me much more than most books I read, and I've enjoyed the discussions here so much. I'm looking forward to our future reads!


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