This is only my second China Mieville book, and I can already tell he’s going to be a favorite. I didn’t love this one as much as I loved The Scar, but I am in awe of his writing and his imagination. There’s so much going on in this book I’m not even sure how to tell you about it, and it’s all complicated and juicy and intriguing and awesome.
There’s a planet way out on the edge of the explored universe, inhabited by beings called Ariekei. Humans landed several generations ago and set up a colony, and tried to establish communication with the locals. They couldn’t. The Ariekei are insect-like creatures with wings and many legs and two mouths. Each mouth speaks part of their language, and single-mouthed humans couldn’t form words the Ariekei could recognize. Embassytown tells the story of how the two races learned to speak to each other, and what happens when that communication goes bad. (More along the “end of the world” lines than “did he just call me a caterpillar’s eardrum?” shenanigans.)
That’s way way WAY oversimplified, but I feel like if I try to put more detail in, I’ll just retype the whole book. It’s a book about capital-L Language, about empathizing with a completely alien consciousness, about deciding whether or not to trust your own people, about seeing your hometown differently after you’ve been away and seen amazing things. Mr. Mieville makes me wish I was smarter. This is not a light and fluffy book, but it’s so good, and it made me Think, which is always a nice thing for a book to do.
I can’t wait to read more, but I think I need to space them out. For the sake of my own puny brain, and so I don’t run out of his books too fast.
P.S. Here’s the blurb from Amazon. Theirs may give you a more sensible idea of what it’s about than my “blurgh yay more read!”
In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties: to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak—but which speaks through her, whether she likes it or not.