China Mieville writes awesome books. Embassytown is his latest, and I think it’s his best. I’ve been going on about it on Twitter for the last several days. My girlfriend is sick of hearing about it (till she gets the chance to read it).
It takes place (mostly) on a planet where there is a small settlement of humans who live in an enclave of the alien city. The aliens, known as Hosts, have a very strange language. If humans want to be understood by Hosts they need two humans with great empathic understanding of each other speaking Language at the same time. The Hosts don’t understand the noises humans make. They don’t even recognize recorded Language. They need someone to speak to them.
In Embassytown the people who can speak Language are the Ambassadors. They are human pairs bred and brought up to think and speak as one mind in two bodies. CalVin is two bodies (doppels) but one person. Asking which body is Cal and which Vin is unconscionably rude. They are one being. They undertake ablutions every morning to eliminate any minor differences that might have crept in over the previous day.
The aliens are way weirder.
Avice is the protagonist of the tale, and she’s not an ambassador (or even half of one). She was trained to go travelling through the Immer, which is the stuff that lets worlds connect, regardless of their universal location (something similar is used in the RPG Diaspora). She left and came back and this is her story. She’s also a simile in Language.
What makes Mieville so fucking good is how he makes you twist your brain into understanding these concepts, setting up this world and making it understandable, and then smashes the whole thing to pieces. Thinking back on it, this might be why Kraken was good but not Holy Shit good. He’s at his best when he’s not a conservative creator. His characters aren’t about protecting the status quo. Not just characters change in his stories, the world has to change.
This book is about colonialism and the capacity to change the way you think through language. I don’t think it’s as much of a mindfuck as The City & The City in terms of how the reader has to think to understand the world, but I think he’s telling a story that’s more compelling. It feels more universal as it buzzes your brain.
Five stars. Great book. Should win awards.