starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
[personal profile] starlady
Miéville, China. Embassytown. New York: Del Rey, 2011.

This is, unequivocally, Miéville's best book yet.

I've loved most of Miéville's other novels, mind you, which is part of why this book was even more of a revelation to me. For the first time, all of Miéville's bowstrings are twanging in concert, and seeing all of his impulses and talents working in tandem to an end throws into relief how, in almost all of his earlier works--Kraken, I think, being an important near- or partial exception--he was clearly, fundamentally at war with himself. But peace has broken out now, and this book, much as Miéville's language in others was revelatory for other reasons, is, even on the level of prose, beautiful.

The word on this book, prior to its publication, was "Miéville does space opera," which on the most obvious level is true enough and, for a good chunk of the novel, actually had me hoodwinked as to what the book is really about. Being Miéville, multiple clichés of the genre are taken out back and put to rest for their own good en passant in this section, which I found amusing as someone who sympathizes with Miéville's complaints about the genre. Which is another way of saying that no one does worldbuidling better than Miéville, even when worldbuilding isn't what he cares about.

So, the narrative. Our protagonist--and first-person, at that, is Avice Benner Cho, one of the few natives of Embassytown who has an interest in, and succeeds at, getting out of her backwater world to the larger universe, as an immerser, one who can navigate the substrate medium that underlies all the universes past and present and binds the universe together. Before she leaves, Avice grows up in Embassytown, and as part of growing up she is asked to become a part of Language. Specifically, a simile.

Language is what the native sentient species of Embassytown, the Ariekei--called Hosts by the settlers--speak. It's the only language in the known universe in which words don't signify; words simply are, and it takes an enormous amount of work to maintain the structure of Ambassadors through which the Embassytowners can communicate with the Hosts. Without Avice and the other figures of speech like her, the Hosts could not use Language to express the concepts which Avice and others literally embody. Of course, the Hosts can't lie, and have no writing either.

As you might expect, in her kilohours in the out Avice has a host of fascinating experiences; and of course, it's her return to her homeworld with her nonex husband, a linguist, in tow, that sets up what happens in the meat of the novel. 

This is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book. As [personal profile] rushthatspeaks rightly notes, the sheer brilliance of the language Miéville uses may be the single most dazzling aspect of this book, but the plot is brilliant too, and consistently goes places you don't expect. Miéville zigs when you think he will zag, and this ingenuity extends to the characters--they are consistently three-dimensional, far more than the clichéd stock type you would expect from space opera. As usual, Miéville tosses off more brilliant, innovative ideas on one page than most authors have in a whole novel. The Hosts, too, alien though they indubitably are, eventually come into focus as agents in their own destinies, as does--not against her will and her learned habit of "floaking"--Avice too.

So, in short: go read it.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-11 20:32 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] louderandlouder
Damn! I've only read The City and the City, which I loved and thought was inspired, but still wasn't the novel I wanted from him. I have a feeling this is going to be.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-10-12 03:02 (UTC)
kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
From: [personal profile] kindkit
The Scar remains my favorite, because it's got gorgeously detailed, baroque worldbuilding; the dense prose that Miéville can write like no one else; and a big cast of vivid characters with depth and complexity. (I love, well, people in my stories, and characterization is either not Miéville's strength or not something he's all that interested in, I'm not sure which.)

Having said all that, Embassytown is probably my second favorite of Miéville's novels. It beats out Perdido Street Station, which shares a lot of characteristics I love about The Scar, because the second half of PSS is hampered by its "now everyone will run around a lot" plot.

Hmm, it's interesting that the two Miéville books I like best are the ones with female protagonists. This isn't usually the case for me. I think Miéville may do a better job of writing complex and lifelike women than men.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-05 20:12 (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I'm nearly finished with this (part of a late attempt to actually be capable of nominating for the Hugo in earnest) and wow is it spectacular.

Pretty sure my best novel noms are going to be

Embassytown- Mieville
That is All- Hodgman
Mind Storm - Ruiz
Zone 1 - Whitehead

(no subject)

Date: 2012-03-08 20:22 (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Hmm... I found the ending a little addiction cure narrativey, but otherwise pretty amazing. I thought the retrospective reframing of the story as the narrative of a colony declaring independence was extremely clever, not to mention redolent of Heinlein.

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