Thursday, July 14, 2011


"Embassytown" by China Mieville is another of his fantastic explorations of reality. In this case involving language and how it relates to our ability to think. Or should I say Language, as it is Language with the capital "L" that is the core of the novel.

The Language in question is spoken by the Hosts an extremely alien race that lives in a "backwater" area of the known universe. The Language has many odd features, it can only be spoken by living beings and not written down. One cannot lie when speaking the Language. Even things like a simile have to be created in reality to have meaning in Language.

Humans have a difficult time dealing with the Hosts. Just the physical requirements of speaking the Language requires years of training and surgery. The Ambassadors after all that are almost as alien as the Hosts. Embassytown rose to cradle the Ambassadors, the Hosts, and humans as best as one can. It's certainly a hot house environment. Humans cannot even leave it without life support, and most don't want to. The Host's city is disturbingly biological to humanity.

Avice, our narrator, grew up in Embassytown and managed to get away. She came back but now doesn't really fit into any clique. Both an insider and an outsider she is a perfect witness to the events that nearly destroy everything. It all involves a diplomatic mistake, the Host trying to learn how to lie, and how these seemingly trivial things snow ball into a linguistical Armageddon.

This is not an easy novel to read.  But it has some pretty heady ideas, and is a fascinating setting.  It's well worth a read if you are ready to invest some time into it.

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