izhilzha (izhilzha) wrote,
izhilzha
izhilzha

10 Books to Read in 2013: Embassytown, by China Mieville

I promise I'll be reviewing some of the non-fiction eventually. In fact, the next two will both be non-fiction--I've finished one and am nearly done with another.


I've really enjoyed Mieville's other books, so I looked forward to seeing him tackle a deeply sci-fi concept involving alien language in Embassytown.

It wasn't what I expected.

Because Mieville is so good at world-building, I think I expected this book to be hard sci-fi. I expected the language stuff to be concrete, to bend my brain but to leave it enlarged rather than mystified. I expected something more like Stephenson's Snow Crash than like, say, Joan Sloczewski's Brain Plague.

But although the world-building is every bit as deep as that in Mieville's Perdido Street Station, this really is much more social sci-fi. It's more about how the world-building (aliens speaking with two voices, beings who are unable to lie, human Ambassadors who must be far from normal humanity to have a prayer of mediating radically alien cultures) affects relationships... colleagues, families, spouses, lovers, friends. It's a delightfully tangled web that he weaves, and I do recommend it.

But I will give one caveat, because I think I would have enjoyed the book more had someone told me this ahead of time: the language stuff is difficult. It's so truly alien (how on earth Mieville came up with it, I will never know) that it requires special typesetting, and is as outside the comprehension of the reader as it is outside the speaking ability of the narrator. Don't let that stop you from reading. Just be aware--you will be alien to a good portion of this world while you are in it. It is not a comfortable or friendly place to visit, though it is intriguing and inspiring.

Something that added to my cognitive dissonance at the beginning is the pov: a sort of frontier-gal first person storytelling. I like the character a lot, and it works for the story, but I couldn't help comparing this book with Karen Lord's stellar The Best of All Possible Worlds, which has a similar protagonist with whom I found it easier to immediately sympathize.
Tags: books, china_mieville, language, scifi
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