Monday, June 20, 2011

Embassytown by China Miéville; Review - Cara-style

I ordered me a signed copy of Embassytown earlier this spring, from a friend of mine; Shawn Speakman who runs the The Signed Page . I didn't request anything other than mr China's signature, but I was over the top thrilled to discover I was granted a little personal greeting all the same, a quotation by Kaynes: "Words ought to be a little wild". How true. They really ought to, don't they?!?

I first met this word-smith in his book; Perdido Street Station , one of his New Crobuzon novels and it absolutely blew my mind away. Most of his work has blown my mind away and this novel is no exception.

The blurb on the book cover says it quite well:
"China Miéville doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. Relentlessly pushing his own boundaries as a writer—and in the process expanding the boundaries of the entire field—with Embassytown, Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war.

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.  "

I don't think I can adequately describe the journey this novel takes you on. I am not even sure I want to, because it is a journey that should be experienced, not told, or explained. It is a fascinating, exhilarating and fast paced journey. I loved every part and every word of it.

It isn't for everybody, this style, or genre. There are odd new words like; "Immer" - a person who immerse into deep space, dive into "immer", or the "out". There are the odd, what I call, sci-fi words like "datchips", "wespcams" and so on as there ought to be in a proper sci-fi novel. It may take you a few pages to get into the lingua, but in my opinion that is also how it ought to be.

Avice Benner Cho's story isn't just a story about her life, how she was born in a ghetto in a city on the edge of known space, how she grew up, matured and arrived where she is at the end of the book. It is a story about much more.

It's a story about language and culture; about how different cultures meet and how such a meeting changes things and leave both cultures different forever afterwards. It is about moral topics of what is good or bad; right or wrong. It is about maturing and learning as you go. It is about making choices or, perhaps changing your mind and alter your set course, because the well sorted out reasons you based your choices on in the first place, have completely changed. It touches themes such as we face in our world today. Ghettos, religions, culture and race. It faces elite society, poverty, slavery, violence and control. It faces politics, trade, spying, corruption, power games and war. 

We meet Terre, or humans and we meet aliens. Among humans the Ambassadors are among the least human-likes; genetically engineered humans who can speak Language. Among the aliens, the Ariekei, or the Hosts are who we get to know best, although if you asked me how they looked like and to draw you one, I'd fail. Miserably. Not because of any lacking from the author's side, but because I'm no good at that sort of thing. 

Embassytown is a ghetto in a city on Ariekei, owned by the Hosts. The humans are the settlers and are allowed there by the grace of this alien race. They have a sort of understanding between them that has worked for a long time and there is trade mutually beneficiary for both parties. Then something happens and things start to unravel at an alarming pace and we're spectators to a galloping race towards a catastrophic war and an end with no apparent solution at hand.

We are told the story from the protagonist Avice's point of view, but even though we are told about her opinions, dreams and fears, we aren't given more than glimpses of her personal inner self. The tone is set somewhat aloof, which gives us the story in a sort of documentary-ish account of what happened and happens as the journey of her life takes place.

There is love, found and lost, there is joy, sex, sadness and grief. And it all feels real, but at the same time it's not a story about a female character alone, it is a story about a different culture, of an entire world and way of life; recognizable and familiar, still completely different from ours at the same time. And I found it intriguing and fascinating. Almost overwhelmingly so. Like how they speak Language. I can't explain it without giving away spoilers, but I am dead certain it must have been a bitch to work with and actually write. 

It is a story that will linger in my mind and in my thoughts for a long time and Embassytown is a book I will  pick up and read again. I am sure that when I do, I will be surprised by all the 'new' stuff I'll rediscover on my 2nd journey through the pages from cover to cover. I also have a secret dream that we'll be seeing more of Avice, Spanish Dancer and their universe in the future.

All in all Embassytown was a great read. I recommend it highly. It is well worth both your time and your money. If you haven't read anything by this author before, I'd urge you to read his New Crobuzon novels and if you're into fast paced mystery and/or crime dramas, his newer novels The City & The City and Kraken 

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