August 27, 2012


EMBASSYTOWN by China Miéville is a fascinating work of science fiction with a lot going on. At times I felt like Miéville had perhaps thrown too many of his neat ideas into the mix, but overall the story works well and the concepts are thought-provoking.

Embassytown is where the story takes place. It's a small human enclave on a remote planet inhabited by aliens who speak in a language with characteristics unlike any other in the universe. The narrator of the story is a human woman from Embassytown named Avice. She's traveled all over the universe and encountered all sorts of aliens, but she's well aware that her hometown and its native population are unique in several ways.

I realize that description is all extremely vague. I'm reluctant to say more because I enjoyed how the circumstances of the story were revealed gradually, with details alluded to that aren't fully explained until later. This is something Miéville does well, and I don't want to spoil the wonderful reading experience for others.

I will say that the story revolves around language, so it will particularly appeal to anyone interested in that subject. Avice's time in Embassytown is long after its founding, but the story of first contact with the planet's inhabitants is included, and much of the plot concerns the evolving interspecies relationship and the problems of communication. It all leads to grave and engrossing conflicts.

Though I liked this book a lot, I didn't love it as much as one of Miéville's earlier novels, THE CITY AND THE CITY, which I read last year. That book blew my mind. I also think that one's more accessible, because while it does have one big not-of-our-world concept to wrap your brain around, the story is otherwise a standard police procedural. So, while I definitely recommend EMBASSYTOWN to interested readers, if it sounds too intimidating, check out THE CITY AND THE CITY instead.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ A.J. Jacobs on writing blurbs for too many books: "I have blurbed memoirs, novels, comic books, children's books and a half-dozen book proposals. I accidentally used the exact same blurb on two different books." (Thanks, Bookrageous!)

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