What I’ve Been Reading: Embassytown

Spoilers abound, as always.

China Mieville’s Embassytown might just become one of the finest science fiction novels I’ve read.

Embassytown feels more and more relevant to events today and this year. I finished reading it two weeks ago and since then we’ve seen the death of Amy Winehouse and rioting across the country; both events that put this novel into a very real context.

Fundamentally, Embassytown is about communication. A hardcore science-fiction Tower of Babel about our inability to communicate with one another and the confusion that can arise from this. Telling the story of Avice who lives in the titular community of human beings occupying a city on the edge of an alien planet, the hosts of which cannot lie. The Language they speak, and it is always capitalised, is composed of two mouths speaking at once, delivering images they know to be true. They use human occupants of Embassytown as similies, when someone eats some horrible food they are able to say “It is like the girl who ate what was given to her”. The human’s have learned the concept of Language, but in order to communicate it, they must use Ambassdors – pairs of people connected by bio-technology who can speak this dual language and enforce it with meaning.

However, when a new Ambassador shows up and speaks, he drives the aliens into trace-like state and leaves them obsessing for more. This Ambassadors voice is a drug to them, an out-of-sync dual voice that the aliens just want more and more of.

Mieville takes his concept and twists it to an allegory about how people use language and how it can fundamentally affect people. EzRa (the ambassador) causes riots and panic in the streets, all through the use of Language.

Embassytown is a phenomenal novel, and I can’t recommend it enough.

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