Embassytown, like previous China Miéville novels before it, is a bold piece of fiction. Bold in the goals it sets for itself, bold in the expansive literary boundaries within which it exists and bold in terms of the type reading experience it delivers, but ultimately because of this it’s a successful novel. Successful because Miéville knows how to achieve his goals, knows how to push, explore and create new boundaries and knows how to deliver some of the most wholly satisfying and entrancing reading experiences. The man’s got talent, you can’t deny it. And when he packs that into one of the most intricate and daring science fiction novels of the decade it becomes work of fiction of transcendent quality.
Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe.
Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts - who cannot lie.
Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts.
Embassytown is Miéville’s first attempt at classical science fiction, though attempt is a misleading term since as I explained above, it seems anything Miéville attempts he achieves. He can’t resist putting his own twist on things though, and so for once we as readers are presented with a truly alien world. So alien, in fact, that communication with the natives, the so called Hosts, is virtually impossible except in the form of two bred-and-trained humans speaking synchronously together, speaking intermittently but coherently to imitate the Hosts which communicate with the two ‘mouths’ they posses simulatneously. And I’m dumbing that down. The world of the planet of Arieka, and Embassytown on it, is much more complex and much more subtle.
Miéville makes use of the differences between Arieka and our world to explore in depth issues of comprehension and interpretation, of free-will and of thought. Indeed, Embassytown is both a captivating tale and a fascinating study of language, its uses, its misuses and the inherent repercussions than stem from its existence. Like in the best of books, Miéville manages to balance the insightfulness and the entertainment. It’s a thin line that exists between literary audacity and self-indulgence, and though at first I feared Embassytown would venture on the wrong side of that line, Miéville’s undeniable talent at spinning an innovative tale kept Embassytown on the right path.
There will, however, definitely be an issue of accessibility for some readers - Miéville treats his readers as intelligent people, and right he should. Some people, though, will inevitably be turned off by the apparent air of literary arrogance that occasionally comes off of Miéville’s writing. If you allow yourself to be taken, if you ‘play the game’ so to speak, I’m quite positive you’ll find yourself loving Embassytown before too long, such is the power of this book. It’s a complex and occasionally borderline convoluted weave of layer upon layer of text and sub-text, sure, and that can make for a difficult reading experience, but à la Miéville, it’s simply wonderful.
This is because, significantly, he doesn’t sacrifice plot for brash literary exoticism - he makes one an integral part of the other. What he wishes to explore in the emotional, human sense and in the more philosophical sense he ties into the characters’ lives and the events that occur in this-crises filled period of Embassytown’s existence. Above and beyond any analytical value this novel might hold, this is just plain good science fiction. I’m convinced that if one doesn’t grab you, the other surely will. Down to the final words, this is a novel which will pull you along and delight you. Leave you flat-out breathless, even.
I must admit to having had my reservations about last year’s Kraken. I knew I was holding something good and praise worthy in my hands - hence the glowing review - but it didn’t touch me or grip me nearly in the same way as Embassytown did. Hell, it gave me shivers. This is the kind of reading experience that comes around rarely, and if I were you I wouldn’t miss it. It’s true what they keep on saying about Miéville, he really is the one writer that has the potential to show the rest of the world that speculative fiction can be just as rich, just as beautiful and just as inventive as any other piece of fiction, without losing the wonder, the geekiness and sometimes the downright weird that make us love it so. Embassytown is available now in both the UK and the US.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
China Miéville's website: http://www.chinamieville.co.uk/