One of the main problems with having this almost irrational obsession with China Miéville is that I now go into reading his novels with very high hopes, expecting to be grabbed straight away and by the end, blown away. I was very excited to receive a copy of his latest novel, Embassytown, before it was released. This was the first time I received a book free for review. So I am a little embarrassed it took me so long to finish and therefore review, especially due to my high regard for the author.
With Embassytown, Miéville enters the ‘hard sci-fi’ genre and does amazing things, exploring complex concepts of language and translation within a world that is deeply filled in, though I felt like it took long to get into the actual main story to be told.
The novel is set on a planet at the edge of the ‘immer’ – kind of the known area in which space travel can happen via a kind of space-punkish method of travel called immersing which is similar to colonial era travel by sea. On this planet, humans co-exist with very alien aliens, the Ariekei, and Miéville did very well to make them far removed from human beings, with complex language using two mouths and the fact that thought and truth is linked inseparably from speaking.
The differences between our language and there’s, the problems with communication are explained a lot throughout the work, but I never quite got it until the end. It’s a bit hard to explain in a review which is why it’s worth actually reading the book. Anyway, communication is done through Ambassodors, two people, like twins in body and thought, so similar that the Ariekei consider them one being. It is when a new kind of Ambassador comes and communication breaks down that we get our story. But I felt like this all came rather late.
There is a lot of back story at the start, and even though some of this back story is about the narrator, Avice Benner Cho, I never felt like I got to know her, other than on the surface. The real depth is in the world and the politics of the society, which was fascinating for a time, but to my shame, I put this novel down for a bit when it wasn’t going anywhere fast enough for me to keep reading. It wasn’t until I picked it up again and I got into the second half, and especially much later that it really got moving quickly in the end.
I really wanted to love this book, and I think the story it tells in the end is fascinating, the world Miéville creates so detailed, but there was something about the writing that didn’t grab me. Often it felt like a report, rather than a novel in places. There was lots of ‘telling’ and I kind of felt detached from the events. But perhaps this has something to do with the genre in which its written, something that is very clearly meant to be hard science-fiction, something I haven’t read a lot of. For that reason, I’ve been curious to try and get friends and loved ones that are much more into sci-fi to read it and tell me what they think.
This is worth reading, despite its short-comings, but I think I might go back and finally read the trilogy in search of his better work.