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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.

345 pages, Hardcover

First published May 17, 2011

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About the author

China Miéville

153 books13.8k followers
A British "fantastic fiction" writer. He is fond of describing his work as "weird fiction" (after early 20th century pulp and horror writers such as H. P. Lovecraft), and belongs to a loose group of writers sometimes called New Weird who consciously attempt to move fantasy away from commercial, genre clichés of Tolkien epigons. He is also active in left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He has stood for the House of Commons for the Socialist Alliance, and published a book on Marxism and international law.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
April 22, 2023
Sometimes words can shatter worlds. Especially when they are like this:
""I don't want to be a simile anymore," I said. "I want to be a metaphor."

This book lived up to all my expectations. It is by far my favorite Mieville book: I reread it and listened to it more times than I can remember. I loved it so much, and yet when a colleague politely asked what it was about (when I told him I stayed up half the night before taking call to read it) I could not figure out how to describe it in a few words. So I'll remedy it now.

What IS this book about? It's about language, of course, or rather - Language. It's about the inevitable and destructive culture clashes. It's about the painful casualty-filled struggle between the New and the Old. It's about the allures and the dangers of power. It's about inability to escape politics. It's about love and friendship and betrayal. It's about a surreal fantastical world in the best sci-fi traditions. It's about the easiness with which even the formidable things can get destroyed by slightest mistakes - mistakes that can destroy worlds. And all of this is done with the usual Miéville flair and love for weirdness - albeit Miéville slightly toned down as compared to his Bas-Lag works.
"Language, for the Ariekei, was truth: without it, what were they? An unsociety of psychopaths."

How about I try to give you a glimpse of the plot? It's Miéville's forage into the sci-fi territory. Set on a far-away planet (in a galaxy far far away), it's a story narrated by Avice Benner Cho (the ABC of this language-centered book), a native of Embassytown, a human outpost on a planet inhabited by the Ariekei (The Hosts), the alien race whose lives are ruled by the Language - which IS the reality and the thought rather than merely a way of expressing the above. There are no lies, they are not possible, they are inconceivable.
"I differ with myself then agree, like the rock that was broken and cemented together. I change my opinion."
There are no metaphors. There are only similes - as literal as they can be, and very necessary in this literal world. Avice Benner Cho, for instant, is a Simile - "a girl who was hurt in the darkness and ate what was given to her." Only specially raised Ambassadors are able to communicate with the Ariekei. And it is this way - until one day an unexpected new Ambassador arrives. And everything goes to hell.
"A world-destroying mistake. Not a stupid one: only the very worst luck."

China Miéville once again does what he knows how to do best - gives the readers an amazingly vivid and weird bit of worldbuilding, creating the environment that is so alive and real despite - or maybe because of - its inherent strangeness. On this canvas he layers the story of war and destruction, the power struggle with the appeal and danger of politics, and brings in the colonizers vs. the colonized relationship perspective - from the weirdest angle imaginable. And it works, as usual, full of CM's captivating storytelling magic. It's all-immersing and impossible to put down.

And in reaching into the depths of this story, taking in the message that is being spoken to me, I'm LIKE a girl who ate what was given to her. I'm NOT unlike a girl who ate. I AM a girl who ate what was given to her. (Hehe, that was fun! Misused, yes, but fun).
"Before the humans came, we didn't speak so much of certain things. We were grown into Language. After history we made city and machines and gave them names. We didn't speak so much of certain things. Language spoke us. The words that wanted to be city and machines had us speak them so they could be."
The Language, albeit described in such a fascinating way, is only an excuse, a background, a way to make the reader reflect on the power dynamics and the attempts to reconcile the old and the new, the culture that is brought in and the culture that already exists. What is better - the purity of what is already established or the allure of the unknown that leads who knows where? How much stake can we put into championing what we think is right, what we think there should be?

There's not a correct answer to the above question, even in the light of Miéville's uncharacteristically optimistic ending (but in all honesty, once I read it again I realized how much hidden bittwersweetness it holds, and how much potential for badness there is even in this optimism).
"I never, in Embassytown, the immer or the out, had the constitution for the intrigue. Floaking, I'd hoped, was a way around it. But politics finds you."
And a special applause goes to CM's protagonist, Avice Benner Cho. She is a very strong and brave character, and yet is rather calm, low-key, and even somewhat detached. She is self-sufficient and resourceful, level-headed and determined, and I love all of that. She has a very healthy attitude about life, and it's very refreshing to read the story in such a voice. She does what needs to be done, without whining, without needless deliberation, without any extra drama. After all, she is the girl who ate what was given to her. She is like... well, many things. And that is vitally important.


I loved this book immensely. It is the second sci-fi book revolving around language that I've read this year (The first was Delaney's Babel-17), and it spoke to me, referring to so many things that I care about. It was a great read, an amazing book from a favorite author, and yet another proof that China Miéville can succeed at writing about anything (c'mon, he already successfully wrote about space elevators after all!). 5 stars!
"We speak now or I do, and others do. You've never spoken before. You will. You'll be able to say how the city is a pit and a hill and a standard and an animal that hunts and a vessel on the sea and the sea and how we are fish in it, not like the man who swims weekly with fish but the fish with which he swims, the water, the pool. I love you, you light me, warm me, you are suns.
You have never spoken before."

March 2013: Having just reread this book with the Miévillians group here on Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/topic/group_...), I was thrilled that I loved this book even more the second time around. Thank you, my friends, for taking this Miéville linguistic space journey with me! This time, politics behind the events of Embassytown caught my attention much more than they did on the first read when I focused on Language most of the time. This book is definitely one of my favorites now.
March 2021: Buddy read with jade, Phil and Stephen. No matter how many times I reread it, it never loses even the tiniest bit of its magic.

Recommended by: Catie
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 25, 2018
“Now the Ariekei were learning to speak, and to think, and it hurt.”

I’m addicted to language; we all are.

While reading this book, I thought about language. I haven’t really thought about it from the standpoint of it not existing or that it is something to be discovered, like traces of gold in a California riverbed. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have language. The ability to express myself has served me well. Not that I haven’t said the wrong thing or said the right thing at the wrong time, but I usually have the ability to explain further and give what I say deeper meaning. I can change minds and can have my mind changed by exchanging words. Language is the foundation of who we are.

"Few people can speak the language of the Hosts (referred to only as "Language"), as it requires the orator to speak two words at once; those humans (Terre) who can are genetically-engineered twins known as Ambassadors, bred solely for this purpose. The Ambassadors speak with two mouths and one mind and as such can be understood by the Ariekei (who do not recognise any other form of communication)".---Wikipedia gave me some help sorting out the exact nature of how the Ariekei communicated. The humans refer to them as The Hosts, which is exactly what they are. They allow the humans to build a city named Embassytown.

I can remember the first time I went overseas and spent nine days in Italy. I didn’t know the language but always managed to find Italian people who spoke enough English for us to communicate with each other. After having nine days of barely speaking any English, certainly a lot less than what I was used to, my arrival at San Francisco Airport was, for lack of a better term, a system overload. My mind was so starved for the English language that all the filters or barriers that I normally have for sorting language were gone. My brain was attempting to listen to and process every ongoing English conversation that was within my range of hearing.

My cat...the weather was...I bought these new shoes...Do you like this coat?...Will they serve us a meal…What did he mean by that?

I was catching just pieces, most of them jumbled together as my mind was trying to sort each conversation, but without success.

My cat was new shoes like this mean.

It was like touching the edges of insanity.

The Ambassadors who are sent to interact with The Hosts are paired. They have two minds that make one voice. They are identical and kept that way. When one gets a scar that can’t be healed, the other is given an identical scar. They are rarely apart, and when circumstances do part them, they are lost in much the same way I’d feel if my left arm and leg just detached from my body and walked into the next room. Very interesting, I would think to myself, and then I would try to finish typing this review with one hand.

Our heroine is Avice Benner Cho, who is an immerser who has just returned to Embassytown after years of deep space exploration. She cannot speak to the Ariekei, but she has become a part of their language. They call her…”There was a girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given her.” As things become more unstable between The Host and the colonists, Avice wants to evolve in their language. ”’I don’t want to be a simile anymore,’ I said.’I want to be a metaphor.’”

The interesting thing about Avice is that she really isn’t a hero. She is more like a professional traveller who sits in the hip cafes, eats the unusual food, sees the sights, goes to parties, and occasionally has a brief sexual encounter with someone interesting. She has been married several times. Sometimes to women, sometimes to men. In Embassytown, she has sex with ambassadors which... since each one is actually plural... means she is a very busy girl during those encounters. Her experiences while travelling have evolved her thinking about what is strange. One of her best friends is a digital presence that can move from one droid to another. Like us all, she does struggle with seeing things that go beyond just exotic, those things that go beyond a frame of reference of what we know. For us to be comfortable, new things have to have something about them that allows us to have at least a handle of understanding.

”Once I heard a theory. It was an attempt to make sense of the fact that no matter how travelled people are, no matter how cosmopolitan, how biotically miscegenated their homes, they can’t be insouciant at the first sight of an exot (slang for exotic) race. The theory is that we’re hardwired with the Terre Biome, that every glimpse of anything not descended from that original backwater home, our bodies know we should not ever see.”

The world that China Mieville creates in this book is in some ways vague, certainly unsettling. The world building takes a backseat to exploring the concept of languages and their value. Though he does give us glimpses of what this world looks like. ”When they regrew the city the Ariekei changed it. In this rebooted version the houses segmented into smaller dwellings and were interspersed with pillars like sweating trees. Of course there were still towers, still factories and hangars for the nurturing of young and of biorigging…. But the housescape we overlooked took on a more higgledy-piggledy aspect. The streets seemed steeper than they had been, and more various: the chitin gables, the conquistador-helmet curves newly intricate.”

As the Ariekei learn language from the Ambassadors, things take a sinister turn as segments of The Host population begin to become junkies. ”Ambassadors are orators, and those to whom their oration happens are oratees. Oratees are addicts. Strung out on an Ambassador's Language.”

Where my addiction to language happened over a long arc of time, comparable to beginning with marijuana to evolving to cocaine to finally needing heroin, The Host’s addiction begins with heroin and wants the next better thing than heroin…NOW.

Things get scary

”We knew the Ariekei would breach our defences. They entered the houses that edged our zone, found their ways to rear and side doors, large windows, to holes. Some came out of the front doors into our streets and tore apart what they found. Those with remnants of memory tried to get to the Embassy. They came at night. They were like monsters in the dark, like figures from children’s books.”

A war over a need for language.

I don’t know how else to say this...the book is brilliant, simply brilliant. I’ve been a long time fan of China Mieville and will eventually read everything he has ever written. The concepts he explores in this book had me thinking about my own relationship with language, with learning, with my addiction to hearing and being heard, to writing my thoughts and to reading what others have written.

I once knew a woman in Phoenix whose grandfather walked out to get the morning paper, poured some coffee, and flipped the paper open, like he does every morning, to start reading.

He couldn’t read.

He’d had a small targeted stroke during the night that erased his ability to read. The thought still sends a shiver down my back to think that I could lose the ability to read or the ability to speak or the ability to hear.

I’m a junkie for language.

You will have to have patience with this book. Mieville circles the plane over Embassytown and just drops his readers into the city. Shortly after stowing your parachute, you are going to feel out of kelter, exposed, behind a step, and will begin to feel nervous that you won’t catch up. You will. With every chapter, you will begin to know more pieces of the puzzle until you are eventually able to assemble a shimmering vision of this city, these people, and the situation which has lit the fuse to a powderkeg.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visithttp://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Joel.
554 reviews1,622 followers
May 27, 2011
BLARGH this guy. This guy needs to be stopped. He is using all the ideas. He is taking all the genres.

(I was going to delete that but it got 10 votes, so it can stay. The sentiment still rings true. Stop using up all the ideas, you limey bastard!)


INTERIOR: Parking garage. Almost every space is full. The only opening is a narrow space labeled "Compact Car." To its left sits a SHINY MOTORCYCLE.

[A BLACK LEXUS creeps into view. The driver is irritated, swinging his head back and forth in search of a parking spot. He spies the open space.]

DRIVER: Yes, finally! [sees sign] Fuuuck! [considers] Screw it.

[The driver attempts to pull into the small space. He cuts the corner to closely and bumps the motorcycle, which FALLS OVER]


[Backing quickly out of the space, he attempts to drive away, but accidentally shifts into second, stalls.]

DRIVER: Goddammit!

[Suddenly, a MENACING BALD MAN appears, slamming his fists against the driver's window.]


[Driver continues to try to get his car in gear.]

MBM: Hey arsehole! [Pounds on glass] Open this window before I break it open! Don't you know who I am? I'M CHINA FUCKING MIÉVILLE!

DRIVER: Oooooh shit. [Slowly opens window] Hey, hi, Mr. Miéville. I know what this must look like. Really, I was just backing out so I could open my door without damaging the bike. I was just looking for some paper to write a note. My insurance coverage is really...

CHINA FUCKING MIÉVILLE: The hell you were, I saw you trying to drive away. Hey, wait a tic. You look familiar. I know you! You work for my publisher! You're that audiobook guy!

DRIVER: Yes, yes sir, that's me. So you see, I certainly would never do anything to harm our working relationship. Why, I can give you cash now, how much do you...

CFM: SHUT UP! You horse's arse. You were leaving the scene! You are lucky I don't call the cops! But I'm not going to do that...

DRIVER: [relieved] Oh, thank you sir, thank you! Believe me, I would never...

CFM: I TOLD YOU TO SHUT UP!!! [clenches fists] No, I'm not going to call the cops. This is what I am going to do. [a menacing smile begins to spread across his face as he talks] I'm going to write a book. A... sci-fi book this time. And it is going to be complicated. It is going to be dense as hell, with words that are unusual and hard to pronounce. It is going to take a long time to record. And, just for you, my good friend, it is going to be all about a language that is impossible for a human to speak or understand. Oh, I'll be able to visualize it in print just fine. But I sure pity the asshole who has to record it onto an audiobook.

[CFM does a HEAD FAKE toward the driver, who flinches back]

Good on ya', mate.

[In one swift motion, CFM yanks his bike up by the handles, hops on and guns the engine. As he speeds away, tires screeching, his flips the driver the DOUBLE V SIGN because he is BRITISH]

Profile Image for carol..
1,538 reviews7,881 followers
September 18, 2017
In ninth grade, Mrs. Muench--who had an uncanny resemblance to Miss Marple's friend Dolly Bantry--endeavored to teach us the difference between similes and metaphors.

Similes use "like" and "as" to compare two unlike things.

Metaphors state two unlike things are the same.

But dear, enthusiastic Mrs. Muench could not have anticipated China's sophistry: metaphors are lies.

Embassytown is a deep-thinking book, not one to pick up if you are in a the mood for a fast action read. China's use of a futuristic language, coupled with representation of an alien speaking that tongue (in a form that looks disturbingly like a fraction equation), requires attention to detail, an ability to read for an hour or two at a time. Along with altered language, he throws in the isolation of a human city in the middle of an alien world on the edge of known space; altered biology, in an alien race that somehow biologically fuses/grows their mechanical needs out of organics, including their homes; and an alien race that not only speaks with two mouths simultaneously, but cannot lie. Further complications come from his solution to deep space travel, by way of the immer. The challenge for both races is in communication. In order to communicate with the alien Ariekei, two people have to speak simultaneously, mimicking the double Ariekei mouth. But since the Ariekei also sense the thought/mind behind the word, two different people speaking the same thing makes no sense to the Ariekei, so the solution was to raise human clones to function as Ambassadors to the aliens.

Forget Being John Malkovich. I'd like an hour in China's mind.

Overall, I found it a fascinating, immersive read, reminding me strongly of The Dispossessed--and that is highest praise--although he doesn't always have LeGuin's kindness in contextualizing most oddities. Still, it's well done, and balances the personal and the political well. He taps some eternal truths in the midst of alien outlandishness: "As I've grown older I've become conscious of how unsurprising I am." There's a sly sense of humor occasionally tempering the seriousness: "I knew something would (happen) as certainly as if this were a last chapter." It shows again in the initials of the lead character's name: "A.B.C.," fitting in a book about language.

There is tenderness and compassion, however alien, when one of the self-aware bio-machines downloads herself into a new body, just so she can give Avice a hug.

The crux of the novel lies in the Arikei limitation to speak literally. Avice becomes part of their language when she takes part in an event, thus allowing the Arikei to use her as a simile. It is a fascinating and fun idea (ever wonder about the first cat out of the bag?) that allows China to play with the definitions of truth, lies, language and meaning. However, language evolves, and interaction with the humans is starting to push the Arikei language to it's limits. Avice ends up pushing them even further. "I don't want to be a simile anymore," I said. "I want to be a metaphor." He unfolds the examination of language within both Avice's own life when she brings her linguist husband home to her world, and the politics of her province-city. China's genius shows when he throws in issues of addiction and identity into the mix.

Why not five stars? It is not a comfortable book. It could have been tightened up a little bit; as I work my way through the review, I marvel at all the things China tried to accomplish, and wonder if he should have limited a variable or two in favor of greater coherence. Was the immer necessary, for instance? There's interesting hints at Avice's friendship with an autom/biological robot as the biological systems break down, but I'm not sure what role it really played, and if it just confused the story further. Still, an impressive work, and likely to be a classic.

Interesting quotes:

"Beside him, Ez was like a ventriloquist's doll, existing only when he spoke, or was spoken through."

The army of hopeless and enraged had been driven to murder by their memories of addiction, and the sight of their compatriots made craven to the words of an interloper species. That degradation was the horizon of their despair."

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews14.5k followers
December 21, 2012
I see I'm going to be a dissenting voice here, but I'm afraid I found Embassytown to be weak, poorly-plotted and fundamentally unconvincing.

The book is concerned with a settlement on a planet at the edge of the known universe. The city is inhabited by Ariekei, a strange species whose distinguishing feature is a unique language which has a double articulation and in which it is impossible to lie. A small enclave of humans lives there, and communicates with their ‘Hosts’ via a series of Ambassadors – two people bred to think as one, who, by talking simultaneously, can communicate effectively with the Ariekei natives.

So far so good. Unfortunately, a lot about Miéville's world here just doesn't add up. The narrator, Avice, is special. She's an ‘immerser’, born with special abilities to navigate the ‘immer’, or sub-space underlying the known universe. We hear all about how unusual this is, and the special training she receives to be able to navigate vessels through the vast reaches of space this way.

Then, the whole concept is dropped and never reappears in the novel again. The whole thing turns out to have no bearing on the plot whatsoever (apart from a very tangential callback during the climax). Avice and other characters keep banging on about how she has these special, unique abilities – but they are NEVER called on and have no relevance to anything. Obviously I don't expect everything to tie together at the end, but this was just bizarre in its pointlessness.

The language element of the plot, too, irritated me. I am no expert, but linguistics is an interest of mine and the ideas on display here seem deeply unconvincing. A couple of vague references to langue and parole are not enough to back up some very shaky concepts. The whole idea of a language where you cannot lie is very problematic, if not impossible: certainly it requires far more explanation than we are offered here. Saying that it is a language where ‘words are referents’, far from convincing me, only made me feel that Miéville doesn't know what he's talking about. It really makes no sense to say (as we are told in the book) that the Ariekei employ humans to perform certain specific actions just so they can then speak of them as similes, this being necessary because unless something has literally happened they would never be able to express it in their language. To ask for these actions to be carried out in the first place, they must be able to formulate the idea in advance and express it to someone. This is actually pointed out by a character in the book, but no one, including the author, bothers to answer the question despite the fact that it's clearly a major flaw with the entire set-up.

Then there's the fact that the dénouement depends on large chunks of the Ariekei population suddenly learning to lie practically overnight – not only that, but they invent an entire writing system in a single afternoon. Give me a break. I just didn't believe any of it.

The City and the City had its flaws, but it was a much better-written novel than Embassytown, and I'm at a loss as to why so many people seem to think this is his masterpiece. The plot is all over the place, and the theories underlying it are dodgy in the extreme. It's just not a particularly great book (and that ain't no lie).
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,119 reviews3,975 followers
February 23, 2018
How can a novel about language leave one speechless? In a good way, I hasten to add!

This was the third Mieville I’ve read, and they are all very different in style, content and my liking (or not).

The core idea of this one is language: how minds shape language and how language shapes minds. Wonderful as it was, I can see reasons why some people would hate it, or find it too weird, or just not sci-fi enough. If you don’t delight in polysemy and are not interested in the difference between simile and metaphor, this is unlikely to be the book for you.

Because of the tantalising style of storytelling, drip-feeding the reader snippets about things from the trivial to the fundamental, it’s definitely a book worth rereading, and that is especially true on the subject of language, to which I’ve devoted a whole section of this review (which I will doubtless need to rewrite after a reread!).

The plot is to some extent secondary, but it is the reminiscences (going back to childhood) of a woman from Embassytown who travels, comes back and becomes enmeshed in the extraordinary Language (capital letter) of the alien Hosts.


The first section left me exhilarated but reeling. It was so vague and yet specific, nearly familiar, yet also strangely different, and in such an enticing way. It hints at all sorts of weirdness that I couldn't quite put my finger on (odd units of time and some odd typography in the pages ahead) and others that I couldn’t even get my head around (what are “alien colours”- related to Douglas Adams’ Hooloovoo, a “super intelligent shade of the colour blue”?). Even the names and numbers of the sections were hard to fathom, making the reader as disoriented as an ambassador in an alien land.

This teasing bafflement continues throughout most of the book: Mieville doesn’t pad with early exposition, so the reader is fed occasional snippets about what things mean. Sometimes I wondered if I’d missed something, particularly things that were clearly fundamental to the book (e.g. what was special about the Ambassadors, what the Hosts looked like, and what being/performing a simile means) but as I read on, and gradually learned more, I realised that was just part of the style of the book.

Having just read Mieville’s The City & The City (see my review HERE), I was also struck by parallels: there is lots about borders, separation, boundaries, outsiders, the strange duality of the city ("the Host city, where the streets changed their looks... not quite a hard border but was still remarkably abrupt, a gaseous transition.") and one character is "cleaved", when cleavage is a significant aspect of TC&TC.


Embassytown is a trading outpost used by humans from Bremen and Earth (Terre) in the future. It is on a planet inhabited by the Ariekei, more respectfully known as Hosts. They have a unique Language , and the Ambassadors are the translators. The Hosts are also experts at biorigging, so many aspects of the city and its technology are appealingly bizarre, giving a very strong sense of place, even though some aspects are left to the reader’s imagination.

The immer is more amorphous concept of space or outer space, and Avice’s first experience of it is “impossible to describe”. “There are currents and storm fronts in the immer” as well as borders, but the usual laws of physics, and even direction, don’t apply. For instance, “in the first one [universe]… light was about twice as fast as it is here now” and some places are closer together in the immer than in the everyday. “The immer’s reaches don’t correspond at all to the dimensions of the manchmal, this space where we live. The best we can do is say that the immer underlies or overlies, infuses, is a foundation.” Also, “People get lost in the overlapping sets of knownspace.”


Avice is an immerser (traveller of and in the immer). She isn't a fluffy, girly sort of woman, but I would have little interest in reading about her if she was. Even so, she came across as plausibly female to me, which is not something all male writers can achieve.

She wasn’t especially endearing, and in the middle of the book she was often faffing around, trying to find out what was going on, but not actually achieving much. In particular, there are some key plot points where she relies on hearsay (“I wasn’t there but that’s how I was told it happened”), which is brave decision on Mieville’s part, though I think he just about retains her credibility. Despite those instances, she is central to the story, mainly in her childhood, and then towards the end of the book.


Given that the Host’s Language is thought and literal truth, the most obvious theme is the nature of truth and lies and the question of whether we make language or language makes us. See the section on Language, below.

I don't think we're meant to have a clear idea what the Hosts look like: it's all about language/Language, rather than judging by outward appearance. Mieville drops little clues throughout the book, but it takes a long time to build up a picture, which remains somewhat fuzzy, but utterly alien. When newly arrived crew stare, unashamedly, at the Hosts, Avice recounts a theory that “no matter how travelled people are… they can’t be insouciant at the first sight of any exot race… our bodies know we should not ever see [them]” (Of course, the vagueness is also a teasing tactic, which entices the reader to keep reading, and avoids distracting from the main force of the story.)

Related to that is Ehrsul: an autom who is Avice’s friend, albeit they rely on “all the exaggerated intimacies of our friendship”. Scyle can never quite think of her as human enough to be friends with her, whereas Avice pushes any doubts to the back of her mind. Maybe an autom who is TOO realistic is more unsettling than one that is clearly not human? That's uncanny valley. On the other hand, “She only ever used one corpus, according to some Terrephile sense of politesse or accommodation… having to relate to someone variably physically incarnate would trouble us [humans]” and her apartment is decorated with pictures on the wall, so that visitors feel relaxed and at home. Would Ehrsul pass the Turing Test? The fact she runs on Turingware suggests she would, but perhaps it would depend who tested her, which then questions the whole nature of the test itself.

Other aspects of what it is to be human touch more on Brave New World, and Soylent Green. In the latter case, the Hosts’ natural “last incarnation was as a food store for the young.” Having given that up, they “respectfully shepherd the ambulatory corpses until they fall apart”, despite their “dignified mindlessness”. The former .

Colonialism and all the socio-political and practical issues around it are central, though not my main area of interest. I saw many echoes of a particularly shameful episode in British colonial history. I suppose the main difference is


This is the heart of the book, but so hard to do justice to, but I’ll attempt it.


The Hosts’ language (called Language) is the most important to the story, and it is wonderfully strange: it must be spoken simultaneously in two voices by a single mind: “The sounds aren’t where the meaning lies… it needs a mind behind it”. The Hosts themselves have two means of vocal output (cut and turn), but it’s more of a challenge for humans to utter it in a way that the Hosts even register as speech, let alone understand.

The other distinctive feature of Language is that it is an utterly concrete and literal language: lies and multiple meanings are not possible: “For Hosts, speech was thought” and “Words don’t signify: they are their referents. How can they be sentient and not have symbolic language?”

Side-effects of the strangeness of Language are that the Hosts have no system of gestures nor of writing (Mieville accommodates the duality by writing simultaneous words above each other, like fractions).

However, it’s not quite so straightforward or static as that sounds…


The Hosts use similes to express things that are not literally true – the catch being that the similes themselves must be concrete and must continue to be true. (“The man who swims with fishes every week” has to swim with fishes every week. If only the simile had been in the past tense, his life would be much easier.)

Avice was a simile (“You speak Language. I am it”), but others were examples and topics, and later, Avice declares, “I don’t want to be a simile any more. I want to be a metaphor”.

One puzzle is how the Hosts know they need a simile, let alone define it, before they have it in Language?

Similes are the thin end of the wedge where truth is concerned: “Similes start… transgressions. Because we can refer to anything. Even though in Language, everything’s literal… but I can be like… anything… Similes are a way out. A route from reference to signifying.” It’s a relatively small step from “You are like x” to “You are x”. A metaphor is a step further: a lie that is the truth.


The Hosts can understand lies, and they also have a Festival of Lies, where they entertain each other by trying to lie. I was reminded Lister, in the comedy sci-fi, Red Dwarf, trying to teach the mechanoid, Kryten, to lie –using fruit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB-NnV...).

There are several tactics to lying; they tend to be incremental and often use similes: collaborative, going slow, going fast.

But does lying have a moral cost – does it inevitably lead to evil? And what is “evil” in a non-religious place where some barely have a concept of the word?


The ideas of Sapir-Whorf underlie much of this (that the structure of a language can affect the cognition of those who use it, see Linguistic Relativity).

“Without language for things that didn’t exist, they could hardly think them”, with “hardly” being the crucial get-out. What about Hosts who lose the power of speech? “If they can’t speak, can they think? Language for Ariekei was speech and thought at once.”

Do we make language or does language make us? As the book progresses, some Hosts have a strong desire for the former: “We want to decide what to hear, how to live, what to say, what to speak, how to mean, what to obey. We want Language to put to our use.” Avice realises “Their longtime striving for lies [was] to make Language mean what they wanted”.

Another way of looking at it is whether “Language is the continuation of coercion by other means”, as one character claims, or whether it’s cooperation, as another claims.

A brilliant sci-fi short story that is also underpinned by Sapir-Whorf is Ted Chaing’s The Story of Your Life, reviewed HERE (filmed as Arrival, November 2016).


Other odd languages are fleetingly mentioned, such as Homash: “They speak by regurgitation. Pellets embedded with enzymes… which their interlocutors eat”. There is also mention of “Tactile languages, bioluminescent words… Dialects comprehensible only as palimpsests [a favourite word of Mieville’s] of references to everything already said, or in which adjectives are rude and verbs unholy.”

The quirks of Language affect the writing of the book. In particular, are Ambassadors singular or plural? The answer is both, even in a single sentence, for example, “Ambassador JasMin was in earshot and I made a point of asking them…”. This makes sense, the more you understand about them.

The vagueness of some things, and the neologisms (see below) only added to the appeal for me: maybe I became a little addicted to Language?

There is a wonderful passage describing the joy of a Helen Keller moment, when one who lacked the power of communication suddenly “got it”.

A trivial surprise was that in a largely non-religious future society Christian-based swearing continues in recognisable form, “Jesus Pharoahtekton Christ”, whereas I’d expect the words to have morphed a little (like “crikey”).

Finally, I’m not enough of a linguist to be sure of the truth of this, but it’s thought-provoking: “Sometimes translation stops you understanding.”


Most of the coinages are thrown at the reader early on, and there is no glossary (this isn’t one either). However, the meanings are usually clear from context and common-sense etymology:

Shiftparents, voidcraft, exoterre, biorigged, immerser (versus landstuck), plastone, bookware, newsware, alt reality, sidereal, monthling, basilisking (I love that one), oratee, augmens, datchip

Less obviously:

Floaking: “the life technique of aggregated skill, luck, laziness and chutzpah”.

Trid: This seemed to cover quite a lot of things, but all involved a video player/display.

Miab: An acronym

Floak is my favourite, and I think Mieville is fully aware of its appeal and the perils of overuse: ‘”Did they tell you I can floak?” I said. “I wish I’d never told them that fucking word… they just want the opportunity to say ‘floak’.”’

I also like the fact that "exot", which refers to exo-terre (of or from Earth) conjures strong implications of "exotic".


• “Like all children we mapped our hometown carefully, urgently and idiosyncratically.”
• “Its surface sheened with the saft that evanesced out from its crystal shielding in threads that degraded to nothing.”
• “It was an insinuation at first, composing itself of angles and shadows. It accreted itself from its surrounds, manifesting in the transient. [Things] spilled toward and into the swimming thing, against physics. They substanced it. Houses were unroofed as their slates slipped sideways into a presence growing every moment more physical, more suited to this realness.”
• Someone flirting was “using augmens to make his face provocative, according to local aesthetics.”
• “the gluttony of the architecture… the frantic eavesdropping of the walls.”
• Because the building are biorigged, and thus alive, when demolition happens “construction site like combined slaughterhouses, puppy farms and quarries”!

I read this in part because of Betsey's review, focusing on the fact it's about language: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

An interesting Q&A with China, here on GR: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/5...

And here is a video of him talking about the book:

For a completely different angle on metaphors, see Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (see my review HERE). The narrator has Asperger's or similar, and hates metaphors because they are untrue (even "the word metaphor is a metaphor", meaning "carrying something from one place to another"), but doesn't mind similes because they are true.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
December 20, 2019
The girl who wanted to be a metaphor.

There is a certain “What the hell??” quality about a China Mieville novel, especially in the first few pages. The City and the City continued on in this quizzical, absurdist mouth breathing until damn near the middle of the book. To put in Forrest Gump terms, the box of chocolates may reveal pieces that are most definitively NOT chocolate, are in point of fact not even food; some bite-sized morsels may be poison. The box may even be a prop from a Justin Timberlake Saturday Night Live inspired skit. The reader just does NOT know what he or she is getting into.

This brings us to Embassytown. This was my fourth Mieville novel, so I was prepared for the WTH? queasiness … or at least I thought I was. As I type these words, I ponder at the socio-economic, psycho-theological tumultuous environment that produced Mieville. Ponderously, I continue.

To say that Mieville produces weird fiction would be an easy label, as Mieville has affixed that to himself, but it would also be grossly understated, and overly simplistic. He produces wildly fantastic, imaginative works that scratch nails on the boundaries of what we expect in fiction. Just as Philip K. Dick developed a studied weirdness in Galactic Pot-Healer, so too does Mieville in Embassytown; he is trying, and succeeding in breaking new ground. But this is not to say that he is being strange for strangeness sake (see Alfred Bester’s Golem 100 for an example of a spectacularly failed experiment). Embassytown is cogent and correct as to its own world building.

What is it about? What is a simile and what is the distinction between one and a metaphor? Science Fiction is best when it is an allegory, and Mieville has figured that out with interest. At once a cool and smart far future alien colony story, it is beneath the surface about political and personal communication. Where else can we read a personified symbolism of speaking out of two sides of your mouth - by an alien with two mouths? Or double talking politicians who – double-talk? Of oration that is not just persuasive, but intoxicating, even addictive?

Standing on the shoulders of giants, Mieville describes bio grown factories and commercial goods that reminds me of John Varley’s Gaia trilogy and an alien culture that cannot imagine a lie is reminiscent of the Fair Witness from Robert A Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Finally, the tone and style could have been lifted from the pages of Frank Herbert’s The Dosadi Experiment. All that said, this is Mieville’s accomplishment and it is a fine work. Not an especially easy read, but fun, well written and representative of Mieville’s unique place in the genre.

Profile Image for Jacob.
129 reviews471 followers
July 5, 2021
June 2011
Dear Steven Moffat:

China Miéville. Doctor Who. Think about it.


Avice Benner Cho is an Immerser. She's a floaker. She's a hoopy frood who knows where her towel is (Dear Jane Belson: China Miéville. Hitchhiker's Guide. Bad idea?). She's also a simile. When she was a child on the strangest planet in the universe, home to the strangest beings in the universe, she became a living part of the strangest language in the universe. And then she left to explore the Out, and then she returned--and then she became witness to the strangest revolution in the universe.

It's hard to explain further, Goodreaders. This one you have to unfold for yourself.

So: China Miéville does sci-fi. And huzzah for that! (Dear George Lucas and/or James Cameron: You cannot have him. Fuck off) I was a bit worried last year, after Kraken didn't work for me, that China's next venture wouldn't fly. But it does. It's a bit jumbled, like most other Miéville stories, because he has his own worlds to set up and his own rules to go with them, and his own language to tell it with (with more language layered throughout, in this one), so it opens slowly and takes its time to get to the story. And he spends some time jumping back and forth, from formerly and latterday, which I think could have worked better divided into separate parts (indeed, the "Formerly" chapters seem to exist as a novella, a somewhat-prequel dealing with the first [failed] revolution of the Hosts), but that's minor quibbling. It's a great story. It's a great exploration of language, familiar and alien. And it's great Miéville too.

2009 brought us The City & the City. 2010 was Kraken. Now we have Embassytown and the short story "Covehithe" for 2011 (which I hadn't fully read before I linked it here, but ohmygodguysyougottafuckingreadthis). If China keeps up with this one-a-year habit (Dear Chuck Palahniuk: Surrender now), I can't wait for 2012.

It's becoming an old joke, I know, but I'm still holding out for chick lit.

Update: It's been a few weeks since I finished Embassytown, and I still keep thinking about it, so I'm going to take that as a sign that four stars isn't enough. Rating adjustment ahoy!

Dear Goodreads:

China Miéville. Embassytown. Really, really good.

Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
January 11, 2016
Aliens so alien they just alienate you with their alieness.

That is what you have to look forward to. Embassytown is a brave move by China Miéville, it is not an easy read, it is full of neologism, and it has a steep learning curve. The author made an effort to create something special and he expects some mental exertion from the reader too. In order for the reader to indulge the author they generally need to have a store of goodwill for that author to want to make the effort. Basically, this should not be your first Miéville book*. However, this is a great book, an amazing feat of imagination, and a real work of art. This is my fifth Miéville book, and in my estimation, it is the best so far.

I normally dislike writing synopses but on this occasion, I'd like to try writing a Ridiculously Simplified Synopsis like they have in the otherwise inferior Shelfari website. Here goes:
On a planet where lying is impossible, one man started lying.

This sounds like a bad trailer for the Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying but this book is nothing quite so lame. It is in some way the gist of the novel but does not really cover all the bases. The impossibility of lying only applies to the alien Language (always spelled with a capital L) which can only be spoken with two voices (sort of in stereo), it requires two very similar humans to speak them. Such pairs of humans are trained and "grown" (not bred) to be Ambassadors for the human colony in the titular Embassytown. One day a pair of very unusual Ambassadors arrive from Bremen (humanity's home planet) and all hell break loose when they start to speak.

The difficulty with this book lies in the neologism, the large numbers of terms that Miéville coins without direct explanation. He leaves it to the reader to figure out their meaning through the contexts in which the words are employed. This is not as hard as it sound and you don't need to understand every one of these words to follow the story. As a reader, I feel somewhat flattered that the author is crediting me with a certain degree of intelligence, and I am glad he did not overestimate my IQ by much. I believe most readers can follow this book but they do need to be patient, especially during the first 60 or so pages. I must confess I did initially search for a bit of help online, and the most helpful assistance came from Miéville himself in this charming video clip.

While reading the first few chapters, I was initially annoyed with his presumption of my intellect but later I became amused with the new words' opaqueness. China Miéville's trademarks of lyrical prose, sense of humor, skillful characterization and weirdness are all here. By the end of the book, I felt like my mind has been expanded and I am once again a happy punter, and proud to call myself a Miéville fan (Miévillian?).

* Your first China Miéville should be Perdido Street Station or The Scar.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,977 followers
June 10, 2019
This book very well could be the start of a new epoch. Or at least, I think it should be.

Why? Because it's not just Miéville's grand far-future SF at play here, full of some of the most subtle and freakishly amazing and STRANGE aliens who are very much defined by their language, but because this novel works on several levels perfectly at the same time.

Am I impressed? Hell yes, I'm impressed.

"Before the humans came, we didn't speak so much of certain things. We were grown into Language. After history we made city and machines and gave them names. We didn't speak so much of certain things. Language spoke us. The words that wanted to be city and machines had us speak them so they could be."

Take this literally. These aliens couldn't even conceive of us because their language is the Truth of them. This is the inability to see the ships on the horizon, taken all the way. Lies are impossible, too. Metaphors, doubly so. So when a horrible mistake happens with the new dual/one embassador that manages to actually use the Language to tell a lie, the lie becomes the ultimate drug to the aliens.

Enter the collapse of an entire ultra-advanced alien species, with us as the ultimate satanic villains.

If you think this is cool as shit, just read the book. It becomes a lot more. And worse happens.

The novel works on all levels. Just imagine Cherryh ramped up to Miéville craziness, wickedly subtle and strange peoples and aliens, and let the good times roll in heartbreak, horror, and the terror of having to live with all of your damn stupid mistakes.

Yeah, I'm talking about you, Humanity. Jerk.
Profile Image for Ms. Smartarse.
590 reviews249 followers
December 11, 2020
In an unspecified future humanity has left Earth, settling several other planets in space. One of the more remote ones is on Arieka, a planet where the Terrans have established Embassytown, after coming to a mutually beneficial arrangement with the indigenous population (i.e. the Hosts).

Despite the difference in physical appearance and language, the Terrans of Embassytown have managed to develop a rather ingenious method of communicating with the Hosts, ensuring a peaceful and prosperous life for humanity. Unfortunately, once the higher-ups in Bremmen decide to get more involved in local politics, the careful symbiotic relationship between Hosts and Terrans changes in ways no one had foreseen.

Still high on the excitement of the world building of The City & the City and Un Lun Dun, I could barely wait to start a new novel of Mieville. That said, remembering the effort it took me to get used to the author's unusual turn of phrase, I was also feeling vindictive enough to inflict this torture on my fellow book club members. So I waited for the perfect opportunity.

Turns out Karma had similar ideas, and I still had to struggle a lot with the writing style here as well. By now I've lost count of the times I've had to stop to reread several oddly constructed phrases, circle around the many made-up words, and just stare incomprehensibly at all the alien (hah!) concepts. By the end, I think I may as well have gone through a third of the book at least twice over. That said, the unusual world building kept luring me back for more, even if I only managed to advance a dozen or so pages at a time.

The main attraction of the story was, of course, the Ariekene language (a.k.a. Language) which could be understood by regular humans, but not actually spoken. Or at least, not in a way that the Hosts would understand. Cue the specially trained Ambassadors, whose entire raison d'être was to communicate with the Hosts, and even then:

"we could only talk to [the Hosts] because of a mutual misunderstanding".

space travel

For all the enjoyment I got from exploring the many ways that the Hosts used Language to communicate, I still wish I could've found out more about travelling through the immer, instead of it being a just another detail that made up the futuristic world where the story is set.

Score: 3.55/5 stars

There's no denying that the world depicted in this novel was brilliant. The whole idea of a language whose basic functioning principle relied on more than just correct diction, and would instead need two voices and a single cognitive mind, was just brilliant. I'll definitely have a go at all the author's other sci-fi/steampunk novels.
Just... not in the very near future, as getting used to his writing style is quite an exhausting endeavor for me.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,259 followers
July 2, 2012
Some books are just made for readers. Embassytown, with its focus on the way language shapes our perceptions and our thoughts, is one such book. As readers we are conoisseurs of language, we inhale it and revel in it and cultivate it and all of its diversity. Language informs us, sways us, entertains us, engages us … it is everything to us.

Science fiction seems, to me, like a perfect vehicle for exploring our dependence upon language. After all, there has been a great deal of speculation about how we would communicate, if at all, with other intelligent forms of life. Assuming we could recognize that they are intelligent, how do we establish a common frame of reference? It’s not like learning a new human language, where we have common memes and ideas, not to mention a shared neurology and physiology that makes our languages quite similar.

(I’m trying to come up with other examples of fascinating twists on language but drawing a blank on this hot summer day. There’s the episode of TNG featuring a language based entirely on metaphors. Feel free to add more examples in the comments!)

OK, I dug out the fan and am ready to continue.

Basically, Embassytown is about the quixotic relationship between humans and the Arieke, or Hosts. Unlike any other species thus far discovered, the Arieke vocalize out of two holes instead of one. Their simultaneous vocalization forms singular words and phrases—and for the Arieke, Language is literal in the sense that words don’t actually signify anything other than themselves. As a consequence, Arieke cannot lie, because they can only speak of what is. They don’t have the words to do otherwise. To use figurative, comparative language, they need living examples—similes. These are people who do or have done something that can serve as a comparison for the state the Arieke wants to refer to, but that person has to be present when the Arieke wants to make such a statement.

Avice Benner Cho grows up somewhat feral on the streets of Embassytown. When she reaches adulthood, she becomes an immerser—some kind of spaceship pilot or navigator—and leaves the planet behind, returning only at the behest of a man she meets and marries, because he is obsessed with the Hosts and Language. Through Avice we see the complicated relationships between the people of Embassytown, the Staff at the embassy, and the clone Ambassadors who replicate Language as best as humans can. Avice is a simile; she is an outsider; and she is also a native.

I struggled a lot with Embassytown. Newcomers to Miéville might chalk that up to his writing and to the difficulty of understanding what he means as he discusses Language and the ways the Hosts differ from us. I know better, though—it’s not Miéville’s ideas at all that are the problem; they are grand and wonderful and truly thought-provoking at times. No, it’s his characters. At least for me, the problem has and always will be his characters. I don’t know if it existed in Perdido Street Station and I’ve only gradually clued into it, but I noticed it with Bellis in The Scar , and it was far too obvious in Iron Council .

Avice just spends most of the book not doing anything.

She has an interesting, albeit confusing incident at the beginning of the book as a child. Then she skips planet for a few years, growing older, meeting people, returning to Embassytown with Scile in tow. But she’s always on the edge of the story, watching things happen, passive. It annoys me, these sorts of protagonists. I want to run up to them on the street, grab them by their shoulders, and say, “You’re letting the story pass you by! Go do something!”

Eventually, towards the end of the book, Avice takes my advice. She finally clears her head, realizes there is a crisis going on, and develops a plan. It’s a damn fine plan, if I say so myself, and what’s even better is that it works … mostly. Watching Avice step up, take charge, and take the lead was the best part of this book, and it really recharged my flagging interest. I just wish it had happened a lot sooner.

The crisis, by the way, is also quite clever. Somewhat reminiscient of Snow Crash , it involves rendering the Language into a kind of drug that infects the Arieke (not to mention their genetically-engineered technology). This dramatically changes the status quo on the planet in a way not even the instigators of the plot had predicted, destabilizing diplomatic relations and leading to the brink of war—as well as civil war. Avice’s solution involves radical alterations to the way Arieke use Language. It’s revolutionary but necessary.

In this respect it’s obvious that the Arieke are in for a big change as a result of Avice’s interference. Yet I never got a clear sense of what they are leaving behind. Miéville describes the Arieke language and the barriers to communication it creates, but he spends precious little time devoted to descriptions of Arieke culture and society. How are they stratified? What is their history like? Do they have spaceflight of their own? The only cultural event we ever see is the Festival of Lies, and that is an artifact of human–Arieke contact, not something indigenous to them. Without delving deeper into the nature of Arieke society, Miéville’s portrayal of them is little more than the background necessary for flogging his linguistic speculations.

Embassytown has all the makings of a good book, but I just didn’t enjoy it as a story. Miéville is a great storyteller—he knows how to break people down and build them up again; and he can make bad things happen like no one’s business. But in this case, there was nothing here into which I really sank my teeth. Avice was not, for the most part of the book, compelling as a protagonist. None of the minor characters held my attention. So I wandered, bereft of an anchor, through a sea of explanation and exposition about the Arieke and Language. It was like reading an interesting but fictional textbook on an alien culture.

Judging from other reviews, there’s definitely love to be had here if you can rustle up more sympathy for the characters or more interest in what’s happening. I just kind of let it pass me by. I suppose this lack of enthusiasm is what everyone who regularly does not enjoy China Miéville books feels. There were good moments, exciting moments, but for the most part Embassytown read somewhat like the Language it’s about: words without a lot of meaning.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
861 reviews2,190 followers
March 17, 2013
Proem: In Which an Ambassador Iangrayetiates Himself With His Host With Impunity

Is a simile
Like a metaphor?
I cannot espouse
This figure of speech.
This not unlike that?
One word a signpost?

Can this be that, or
Would subject object?
How could I be you?
Worse still, you be me?
Well, I know my place,
I'm not one to boast.

I am, like, content
To be just a guest,
Sometimes arriving
First and leaving last.
Not competitive,
Neither least nor most.

A figure of speech,
An Ambassador,
If you please, beyond
Compare and contrast,
Bearing messages
For you dear, mein Host.

A Story about Language

In a way, every work of fiction is about language, at least to the extent that it applies language to the telling of a story.

However, China Mieville’s "Embassytown" is about the very nature of language and how it both separates and bonds people.

At its heart is a deep knowledge of linguistics (far greater than my superficial understanding).

However, Mieville’s special talent is to weave this knowledge into an exciting adventure story based on linguistic concerns.

It’s a fascinating novel in the way some of us might have been fascinated by Umberto Eco’s "The Name of the Rose" or Don DeLillo’s "The Names" (note the word "name" in both titles) or would have been fascinated if a decent writer had got their hands on the religious and historical themes behind "The Da Vinci Code" (not "name", but "code" this time).

If Tom Hanks can star in a film of an unfilmable novel like "Cloud Atlas", then surely he could help bankroll a film of this novel?

Now that I think of it, if that novel was an Atlas, then this one is a Thesaurus.

It’s about what we can learn about humanity from the differentiation, synonymity and antonymity underlying language.

The Language of Diplomacy

Embassytown is a diplomatic enclave in a City on another planet ruled by the Ariekei or Hosts.

There are human and other Ambassadors and Diplomatic Staff here and, as is the custom, they have to find ways to communicate with each other, despite language differences.

In the ordinary course of events, there could be disputes, and resolutions have to be developed, negotiated and agreed. It is the nuts and bolts of diplomacy that we mere mortals can only dream of.

"Ambassadors speak with empathic unity. That’s our job."

[I once dreamed of being a diplomat and took a university course designed to qualify me for entry, but they started taking diplomats hostage around this time and I lost some of my enthusiasm. Still, I socialized within a diplomatic community for several years.]

Language As She is a Spoke in the Wheel

To the extent that a common language (such as English) is not used, diplomacy must operate at the intersection of two or more languages. We have to observe and respect nuances and exercise caution so as not to offend our hosts with inadvertent connotations or discourtesy.

We are always on tenterhooks or tender hooks.

You can imagine that when two languages first encountered each other, a lot of work had to be done to identify commonalities.

Was the grammar similar? What words meant the same thing? What are your words for "dog" or "girl"? What are our words?

It Semed Like a Good Idea at the Time

This is where a knowledge of semiotics might help an understanding of the novel.

Let's use the word "dog" as an example.

The word is a "sign" or a "signifier", and it "signifies" what society knows to be a dog. The social understanding of the concept relies on convention.

But a "dog" could mean a whole lot of different types of dog, which are all within the convention. These "dogs" are all within the scope of the "signified".

The words are therefore signs or vessels that carry meaning that is influenced by society and convention.

If I say "dog", however, I might be thinking of my dog Charlie, who is small and white, while you might think of your dog, Wilbur, who is big and black.

Our language is flexible enough to accommodate this personalisation of the signified.

 photo CharlieinBed_zpsc6eb83db.jpg

Ariekei Thought and Speech

Contrast this with how the Language of the Ariekei Hosts operates.

The word for them is a funnel or a "referent" to the original thought.

This thought occurs within the mind of a Host.

Host-on-Host communication is therefore, presumably, much closer to unadorned or unmediated thoughts communicating through funnels.

If a Host "said" dog, its thought might actually be small, white Charlie dog, and the funnel or referent would ensure that another Host saw and understood small, white Charlie dog, consistently with the thought.

The meaning or signification of the word wouldn't be [as] social or conventional. It would be more specific to the "speaker" or "thinker".

Indeed, it’s arguable that there is only "referral" and no "signification" at all.

We leapfrog the social and conventional, and go straight from thought to thought.

Hence, the Hosts' "speech is thought".

What Lies Beneath a Language

This linguistic process lies beneath the Ariekei fascination with similes and, ultimately, with lies.

The transparency of their thought dictates total sincerity, therefore an inability to lie.

"This" must mean "this" and "this" only (not "that" or "more than this").

A simile requires one thing to mean or imply another.

A simile therefore requires social convention to imply meaning into the words of a speaker that a listener can infer.

The Ariekei just do not get and cannot replicate this process

Similarly, the Hosts can't think of a concept without Language.

As a result, they can't conceive of falsity.

To be confronted with a lie is an impossibility that is capable of giving them a brain explosion analogous to an addictive psychedelic "god-drug" experience.

Abstraction, Action and Interaction Behind the Language

The process also raises the issue of what they can imagine:

"What imaginaries any of them could conjure at all must be misty and trapped in their heads."

How can they think without words?

Are they just taking "snapshots" of the Real?

Can they entertain abstract thought?

Are they limited in what they can think and speak?

Is their world primarily one of action in the real world, not so much abstraction within the world of the mind?

Does the primacy of individual action limit collective or social interaction?

Can there only be dispute and coercion without cooperation?

Language Channels Into Sects and Cults

This is pretty much the back story of the novel.

The front story is intimately concerned with these ideas, and to say more would risk thematic, if not plot, spoilers.

Suffice it to say that a lot happens at the intersection of the two languages.

And it involves interaction, misunderstanding, dispute, negotiation and more.

At a macropolitical level, there is a sense in which language is shown to be an agent or vehicle of control.

How we think limits our potential and our aspirations.

The restraint on thought breeds obsession, which is channeled through religious and political sects and cults.

It is difficult to achieve informed unity and community:

"Those rebels must be a fractured community, without speech, if they were a community at all. Language, for the Ariekei, was truth: without it, what were they? An unsociety of psychopaths."

Freedom and vibrancy require change, and the novel is a dynamic exploration of the change that can occur at the interface.

Woman as Simile

Just as linguistics and political philosophy inform "Embassytown", consistent with China Mieville’s earlier novels, there is an explicit promotion of and support for the active role of women in social and political life.

The narrator is a woman, Avice, who describes herself as a "floaker", a more dynamic version of a modern-day "slacker" who embodies "the life-technique of aggregated skill, luck, laziness and chutzpah that we call floaking."

In the eyes of the Ariekei, she is their principal simile:

"The girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given to her."

Yet, despite the technical linguistic interests of her sometime husband Scile, Avice is the true social and emotional vehicle for the communication and rapport-building between the disparate groups and the progress of the narrative.

She is effectively both communicator and problem-solver, not to mention a pretty adept flirt.

Notwithstanding her lack of overt ambition, she would make a pretty good diplomat, if not one necessarily obedient to the powers that be.

Ultimately, what appeals to me so much about China Mieville is his ability to juggle sophisticated intellectual themes, genre demands, convincing worlds, interesting characters and well-paced adventure action.

While the themes of the novel are within my core literary and cultural interests, I admired his skill at bringing the project together with such aplomb.

I was always conscious that there was a puppeteer making this entertainment happen, but he has an uncanny knack of doing it in such a way that you don’t notice him or the strings.

I’d like to call Mieville a "floaker" of some sort, but as Avice’s lover, Bren, says of her at the end of the novel:

"You’ve never floaked in your life."

Genesis (A Very Old Woman's Tale)
(Thanks to Spanish Dancer and Weaver)

In the beginning was god. There was just it, and it was alone. Well, it had to be because it was everything.

God was a genius, but there is no point in being a god-like genius, unless there is company who appreciates it.

So god made woman, to reduce its workload. It intended woman to be the origin of everything else in the universe, which had formerly been god.

Woman would take what had been god and turn it into something else.

The presence of woman was required to make a difference.

So woman differentiated between things.

Having made things, she decided to invent language and words, so that she could give everything a name and put everything in its place.

Woman rejoiced once this was all done, but it was not enough. She needed a challenge. She thought about it for a few days and nights, at which point she decided to make man.

She was feeling reckless. Her intention was to make something almost her equal, but not quite, with whom she could flirt, after which she could birth and care for a child.

Upon the arrival of man, woman looked at him and could not determine whether her project had been a success.

Woman decided not to make it too easy for man, so she played hard to get.

Eventually, man worked out that the way to get woman’s attention was to call her a goddess and worship the very ground she walked on, at which point both woman and man lost interest in god, and it retired hurt.

While woman was birthing, man also lost interest in woman, and never really worshipped her the way that he had beforehand.

Having espied his face in a pond, man liked what he had seen, and decided to revive and re-make god in his own image.

He then made a church with other men and excluded woman from any secret god business.

By this time, woman had realised that when man said she was like a goddess, it was only a simile and he did not mean that she was the real thing, even though a simile is a kind of metaphor.

Many years later, woman made a man called China Mieville for her own entertainment.

China is cute, sensitive, strong, intelligent, talented and has tattoos. He knows what a simile is, but he also knows how to treat a woman as a goddess.

Man is still trying to work out why woman is reading so much genre fiction.

China Mieville continues to write, while man ponders his predicament.



Roxy Music - "More Than This"


Lyrics (Bryan Ferry):

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they´re blowing
As free as the wind
Hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing
It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like a dream in the night
Who can say where we´re going
No care in the world
Maybe I´m learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing.
Profile Image for Blaine.
749 reviews613 followers
July 25, 2021
For Hosts, speech was thought. It was as nonsensical to them that a speaker could say, could claim, something it knew to be untrue as, to me, that I could believe something I knew to be untrue. Without Language for things that didn’t exist, they could hardly think them; they were far vaguer by far than dreams.

Welcome to Embassytown, the frontier. I know how fast the stories’ll come. I’m an immerser: I’ve heard them. Just beyond our planet’s shores will be, people will say, El Dorado immer lands; deserted ships long lost; Earth; God. Alright then.
Avice Benner Cho grew up as a human colonist in Embassytown on the planet Arieka. When she was young, the planet’s Hosts—the enigmatic Ariekei, who are incapable of lying—turned Avice into a living simile in their Language, “the girl who ate what was given her,” intended to invoke irony and surprise, a kind of resentful fatalism. She then left her home for years, traveling and working across the galaxy. Avice had planned to return home only briefly with her husband to show him Embassytown, but while she’s home a new Ambassador arrives and upsets the delicate balance between the Ariekei and the colonists.

The above paragraph is an accurate plot description, but doesn’t really do justice to the strangeness of Embassytown. There are conventional storylines here, involving colonialism, power struggles, culture clashes, marital problems, things like that. But those stories are presented in a completely fresh way because they are secondary to the primary plot about the connections between language and thought, and the extraordinary power in the simple ability to tell an untruth. The world building here is wildly imaginative and fascinating, matching the uniqueness of the story. The writing is impressively precise, as required by a story so focused on language. And there are enough plot twists—not in a gotcha sense, just changes of direction—for this book to have been a series if written a bit differently.

Embassytown is not an easy read, but it’s an original novel filled with ideas, and well worth reading by those up for the challenge. Recommended.
Profile Image for Scott.
291 reviews303 followers
August 1, 2017
Have you ever been on a first date and suddenly had the sweet realisation that not only are you going to have a great night, but that you're at the beginning of something special, something that could be lasting?

That's how I felt a couple of chapters into Embassytown.

I had no idea what to expect when I began this book, and it blew me away. An embassy district in a vast city on a faraway world. An alien race whose unique language limits their ability to think and entirely prevents them from lying. A compelling wannabe slacker main character whose day job is guiding starships through a parallel dimension called The Immer. Mieville sews all this into a story that is a riot of color and inventiveness. This is high concept stuff, bristling with ideas, many of which would be worthy of their own novellas, and I ate it up, killing a full winters day in a Japanese hotel room with this book and loving every minute.

It's been a while since I've felt the frission of discovery that comes from finding a great new author to read, an author whose back catalogue offers tens of hours of pure reading pleasure (The last author to send a similar shiver up my sci-fi loving spine was Paolo Bacigalupi back in 2014). It's a genuinely exciting sensation, heady with premonitions of lazy, book-filled afternoons and Embassytown has set me off on an urgent quest to read all of Mievilles work. Judging from Embassytown, I'm going to have a shitload of fun doing it.

(Oh- and big love to Mieville from me for breaking a three star book drought that was five titles long and starting to kill my reading vibe. This book is exactly what I needed!)
910 reviews256 followers
March 2, 2019
Embassytown is that rare thing in recent literature: unique. I'm sure there must be other books, other stories that deal with similar ideas, but I have yet to come across anything that comes close to the beautiful strangeness of this book.

There are cons: Embassytown is far from perfect. Like all of Mieville's work that I've read so far, it is hard work (especially at the start) but it does get easier as the story begins to grip you. This is not a comfortable, lazy read. Sometimes I found that that languaging was so alien - or conversely, so familiar - that I was jolted right out of this strange world and found myself contemplating the language choice rather than the story. This is not necessarily a negative; it could, in fact, be part of the author's intended reaction. "Language" is such a deep part of the plot that there is no reason to discount the possibility that the very writing itself was used in such a way to make the reader think about our own human forms of language.

Be that as it may, it was distracting. Coupled with this was the tendency to write as though the reader was already knowledgeable of the world and universe in which Embassytown is set. A second re-reading of the book may be in order, because there are so many parts from the beginning that I didn't comprehend and I think that detracted from the latter parts of the story. That being said, I did in fact enjoy the fundamental story so much that I will happily undertake a re-read in the near future.

Because oh, the story! The ideas! A dissection, an exploration, a near poetic discovery of what constitutes language and sentient interaction - this is at the heart of Embassytown. There are many other threads woven throughout (addiction, politics, oppression, morality, the essence of humanity) but Language is the core. I will never again be able to look at similies and metaphors in the same light. As with Railsea, the ending hit me so hard it was almost physical. In fact, the ending - if I may go so far as to say - was perfect.

I will be very surprised if this never finds its way to motion image - whether in film or television (or even pure art) form. Like the world in which it is set, Embassytown is ruggedly, alienly beautiful; flawed and (mostly) imperfect; unique, and essential.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,090 reviews2,954 followers
March 25, 2023
3.5 Stars
This is an intelligent and unique science fiction novel involving themes surrounding language. The alien language was fascinating however I will admit that I struggled to fully connect to the larger story. This author seems to go out of his way to write in an overly complicated manner which made for a difficult reading experience.
Profile Image for Simon.
Author 5 books140 followers
June 20, 2011

There is no subject, not love, religion, sex, music, that generates more quasi-mystical but ultimately senseless gushing than.... language. I liked this book quite a lot, and wanted to like it more; but I was so unable to credit its central conceit, the Hosts' "Language", that I have to judge the book something of a failure. Here are some of my problems with it.

Language (capital L) both is and is not a language. (Fans of the language mysticism in this book might prefer that I wrote the first conjunct of that sentence on top of the second instead of after it.) The Hosts finally make a change, as the narrator Avice puts it, from Language to language. So Language cannot already be itself a language. Yet, Language is spoken, between Hosts and between Hosts and Ambassadors, it enables communication, exchange of technology, so it must be a language.

You cannot lie in Language; and its native speakers can only understand it spoken by other natives, or by specially reared Ambassador pairs speaking in tandem. But no means of communication itself makes lying impossible. And how can the Hosts' inability to understand Language spoken by non-Ambassador humans be a feature of Language, rather than their own psychological strangeness?

The Hosts make people into similes. I just don't understand what that means. They "say people". I don't understand that either. It's not that somehow the Hosts are incapable of abstraction, and need something concrete, a real person or event, because of inability to abstract. They do abstract and use concepts just fine, apparently. The very similes themselves involve abstractions "the girl who ate..." involved being a girl, and eating, both purely general. In fact, if anything, their limits, Avice intuits, lie in the direction of concretion. They cannot say "that". But their inability is no more a simple inability to refer to particular things than it is an inability to use concepts. They clearly have what philosophers call singular or de re thought. They think and speak about particular things, the girl who ate what was given to her, for example. So they evidently have no problem individuating individuals of various kinds. So what exactly does the ability to demonstrate things, with "that", add? Certainly nothing world-changing; a mere convenience at most."Concepts without intuitions [i.e. singling out of particular things] are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind" said Kant (or was it the other way round?). But the Hosts have both concepts and intuitions. So what exactly is their problem?

A lot is made of a distinction between reference and signification. Both terms have been given a plethora of meanings in different philosophical schemes; it was unclear to me what the distinction between them was meant to be here.

Well, I could go on; but of course, this wasn't meant to be a text-book in the philosophy of language.

The most interesting aspect of the novel, given the failure of its main goal in my opinion, was its treatment of colonialism. The Embassytowners are a colony of Bremen; but they themselves have an initially symbiotic relation with the Hosts that soon turns to one of pure colonial domination when they accidentally make addicts of all the Hosts. I loved the way the Hosts fractured in their responses to this overlordship; some collaborate; some look to free themselves constructively (by going beyond Language); the most frightening turn to self-mutilation to make themselves immune to the power of the overlords. Even here, though, I wasn't quite satisfied; it is the "white man" (actually, woman with Korean surname) who helps them help themselves. Without Avice's efforts, and those of her companions, the Absurd, the army of the self-mutilated, are set to rampage and kill, as restless natives are always ready to. (The woman who teaches them all about language has the initials A.B.C.! One thinks of native children laboring over language primers.)

Still, as I said at the beginning, I liked the book quite a lot and will almost certainly read more of the author's work.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,691 followers
December 4, 2012
What is Embassytown about?

Embassytown is about reality.
Embassytown is about how we make reality.
Embassytown is about how we speak reality.
Embassytown is reality.
Embassytown is unreal.
Embassytown is about religion.
Embassytown is about the spirit.
Embassytown is about being incorruptible.
Embassytown is about corruption.
Embassytown is corruption.
Embassytown is about the opiated masses.
Embassytown is about what opiates the masses.
Embassytown is about any opiates for any masses.
Embassytown is opiates.
Embassytown is the masses.
Embassytown is a mass.
Embassytown is about Language.
Embassytown is about language.
Embassytown is Language/language.
Embassytown is about simile.
Embassytown is like a simile.
Embassytown is metaphor.
Metaphor is Embassytown.
Metaphor is a lie.
Metaphors lie.
Embassytown is a lie.
Embassytown is metaphor.
Metaphor uncovers truth.
Truth is a lie.
Lying is truth.
Embassytown is about us.
We are Embassytown.
We are metaphor.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,135 followers
November 29, 2019
China Mieville is not the first writer to tackle the idea of language in a sci-fi setting (I’m thinking of Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which drove me insane, and Ted Chiang’s story “Stories of Your Life” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which was amazing – but I’m sure there are others); but if you know me, you know Mr. Mieville makes me weak in the knees… I read this book when it first came out and recently had an itching to re-read it: my husband is currently working on learning French, which is my first language, and explaining some aspects of the language to him, as well as taking some idioms and expressions apart to make him understand the meaning of some sentences more fully, has really given me a concrete experience of how some words don’t translate – but neither do the ideas they are expressing. Language, after all, is a code for communication, and there is a symbiotic relationship between the way we think and the way we express ourselves, and vice versa. This is an important part of the ideas behind “Embassytown”.

This novel is complex, extremely nerdy and intellectual: if you don’t like having your brain going at full speed, put it down immediately. Mieville likes to challenge readers, and this is probably the book where he makes them work the hardest – but I found that process extremely rewarding. I also noticed that despite the complexity of the subject matter, “Embassytown” reads rather quickly! I felt a great love for the Golden Age science-fiction writers in this book (I’m especially thinking of Ursula Le Guin and Frank Hebert here), because while it is set on a distant planet in the far future, it is a very subtle story that uses its (literally) alien setting to put some of our quirks as humans under a microscope.

Avice Benner Cho is an immerser, a human trained to help navigate space ship across extraordinarily vast distance, in a far future when the people of Terre have begun exploring and living in other worlds. She was born at the furthest point humans have reached: the outpost of Embassytown, on the planet of the mysterious Ariekei – an alien race that communicates in a complex form of Language which humans cannot emulate. Their only method for communicating with the race they respectfully call the Hosts are Ambassadors, sort-of Siamese twins/clones especially bred for the singular purpose. But the fragile equilibrium of peace between the human colonist and the Ariekei is compromised by the arrival of a new kind of Ambassador, and Avice is the unlikely key to solving this diplomatic and humanitarian crisis.

But the plot, while interesting, truly serves as a frame for a conversation about the relationship between the way our minds work and the way language affects it – and vice-versa. The Ariekei are a species that communicates in a polyphonic spoken language and have no concept of lies until the colonists show up on their planet. When that concept is introduced, it begins to affect their perceptions of the world, and changes their behaviour.

Mieville’s female protagonists are fascinating to me: never girly, not always likable, but they are very believable and easy to get invested in – even when they do dumb things. Avice is remarkably level-headed and driven. She can be really selfish and dumb at times, just like Bellis in “The Scar” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), but the flaws make her so much more relatable and easy to believe in.

The world building in “Embassytown” is as complex and captivating as only Mieville does: the alien races and their peculiarities, the space travel technology and methods, the social customs, the perception of time elapsed… He created a world that is truly alien, and that will make the reader feel completely disoriented at first, in the most wonderful way. Once you get your bearings, everything comes together, and while that might take a little bit of time, it is an infinitely rewarding immersion into a universe that brought to mind epic works like “Dune” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). There is sometimes a vagueness to the descriptions: the immer is a weird concept to wrap one’s head around, and the Ariekei’s appearance is never truly described, leaving such things to the reader’s imagination, and while this can be frustrating at times, it also adds a complexity, an ungraspability to the world that reinforces the sentiment of otherness.

This is a wonderfully strange and mesmerizing book; it will make you twist your brain a bit at times, but trust me, you will enjoy the results of this mental contortion. Superb science fiction!
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
March 2, 2020
Fascinating look at the way language underlies thought, action, being, done in a way that only science-fiction really can. The world of the Hosts & Embassytown is fascinating, full of bio-rigged homes and shrubs with legs -- world-building is such a strength of Miéville's. An entire lexicon, sentient species, and universe to explore in one book. I think what stopped this from being a 5-star read for me was that the most compelling character (Spanish Dancer) out of a cast of relatively flat people doesn't even get a speaking role until the last third of the book.
Profile Image for nastya .
419 reviews257 followers
March 22, 2021
I'm still a novice in sci-fi/speculative fiction genre. And I'm constantly discovering my tastes.
What I know I already like:
* if there are aliens, they should be very alien.
* and the story should try for new and exciting ideas.
Embassytown has both.
The book is not an easy read for the first few chapters, it's like trial by fire. But if you pass that point(somewhere around 10% for me), story becomes much easier. Also I loved how he gradually revealed this world and these characters without going into pages and pages of info-dumping. Much appreciated. You should respect you reader and not lead by the hand. Although sometimes it feels like China was sitting with thesaurus to overcomplicate some sentences. :)
But this book is smart, it has imagination and ideas, a lot of great themes like blindly using something you are not understanding and all the risks that come with it (because if something you don't understand changes, what you'll do), purity of ideas and religious fanaticism that will always emerge when something is mysterious.
And of course the main one - how using some sort of descriptive language for basic communication evolves into abstract thinking in language. The chain of using similes and that step towards abstract and to metaphors was genius. Now I want to find a non-fiction book about that evolution in human brain.
So this book joins Ancillary justice (but only the first book) and Left hand of darkness in the list of my favorite sci-fi.
4.5 stars
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,151 reviews1,119 followers
May 29, 2018
Ever seen a Baroque painting? China Miéville is the Caravaggio of literature. He has his own language, his own aesthetic power that might look too grandiose for some, but also refreshingly profound to others. Embassytown is weird. As weird as his other novels, to be frank. We have a living city, with a bunch of aliens who look like insect-horse-coral-fan things, and with two mouths which simultaneously speak 'Language', a sign-system in which the truth of the world and speech itself are indistinguishable. Now, I am not claiming I understand everything linguistic here, but the notion that a language, and its complexities, are closely related with power, really fascinates me. Speaking about power, if one enjoys revolutions, political intrigue and subterfuge, then this novel could expand your view.
Profile Image for Xabi1990.
1,972 reviews850 followers
February 22, 2017
Pag 160 (40%) y hasta aquí hemos llegado. Abandonado.

El Sr. Mieville se crea un pseudo-constructo filosófico-lingüista y a partir de ahí se divierte explorando las opciones de esa entelequia.

Lo cual estaría muy bien (la CF está llena de desarrollos de hipótesis plausibles) si para mí revistiese algo de interés, cosa que no ha sido el caso.

Ni la lingüística ni los símiles ni las motivaciones me han atrapado. Los personajes ni de lejos. Y la lentitud de mostrarnos el meollo de la trama tampoco ha ayudado.

Tras haber leído suyo La estación de la calle perdido (le puse un mísero 6/10)y el 40% de este que comento declaro el fin de nuestra relación novelista-lector. Nunca hubo amor, pero me queda el respeto a su imaginación.
Profile Image for Markus.
473 reviews1,526 followers
March 23, 2020
A masterful conceptual journey through the borderlands between the familiar and the unknown, most prominently including the ties between linguistics, cultural identity and the minds of living beings. And a thoroughly pathetic attempt at telling a halfway decent story. Ladies and gentlemen, it's China Miéville.

Full review, perhaps explaining why I'd love nothing more than to be able to read bi-weekly philosophical newspaper columns by the guy while avoiding anything he puts into novel form, to come.

Profile Image for Hazal Çamur.
172 reviews202 followers
October 23, 2016
Bir ulusu yok etmenin ya da asilime etmenin üç yolu vardır: Din, eğitim ve dil. China Miéville "dil" seçeneğini alarak bize bilimkurgu soslu bir hiciv oluşmuştur. Kendisinden ilk kez bilimkurgu türünde bir roman okuyorum ve altından başarıyla kalktığını söyleyebilirim.

Miéville'e has o çılgın tasarımlar, akıllara zarar kurmaca unsurları bu kitapta da bizlerle ve tamamen bu dünyaya has biçimde yaratılmış durumdalar. Elbette bir Perdido Sokağı İstasyonu kadar çeşit yok, ama olanlar da yeterince güzel. Az ama öz.

Elçilik Kenti, Miéville'in sosyalist yanının en açık biçimde ortaya konduğu eseri. Diğer eserlerinde satır aralarına gizlenir ve zor görülürken (Un Lun Dun hariç), bu eserde bangır bangır mesajlarını veriyor.

Politika kirli bir oyun. Onu oynayanlar da oyunun kendisi kadar kirleniyor. Hiç yalan söylemeyen, söyleyemeyen, kendi halinde Ariekalılar ile onlarla takasa dayalı bir sistemle onların gezegeninde yaşayıp giden insanların dengesini politik oyunlar bozduğunda ortaya çıkacak durumlar hepinize çok tanıdık gelecek. Dil, kullanılış biçimine göre insanları körü körüne bağlanmış sürüler de yapabilir, öfkeden deliren nefret yüklü kitleler de. Ama aynı dil, iletişime dönüşürse bu defa bambaşka bir şey çıkar ortaya.

Hard science fiction ile sosyal bilimkurgunun bir araya geldiği güzel bir eser bu. Mesajları benim için biraz fazla açık biçimde ortada. Ayrıca, ilk kez bir Miéville kitabında "daha kısa olabilirdi" dedim.

Güzeldi. İşimizin gücümüzün, her günümüzün siyaset olduğu şu günler için de manidar bir eser.
Profile Image for Penny.
172 reviews345 followers
October 24, 2013
This may be one of the best books I've read this year.

I wasn't sure if I'd end up in the love-him or hate-him camp since this was my first China Miéville, but it seems I love him! He had been very hyped up by friends and reviews and general opinion and I was nervous that I wouldn't like his work as a result.

The commentary on language and communication was just mind blowing. I could attempt to summarize some of the more interesting points but honestly I think I'd need to read the book a few times before I could really do that justice. If you have any interest in the topic I'd highly recommend bumping this up your to-read list.

I thought this story was beautifully told and has some remarkable ideas and themes contained within it. I can see how it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but I know which friends I could recommend it to and which I shouldn't. I thought the plot was very engaging and often found myself glancing at the page count and wondering how there could possibly still be more than half a book to go! There were so many subplots that were resolved and then formed part of the larger story arc and all of them came back in the end and the true depth of their meaning was revealed.

Brilliant book. Do yourself a favour and read it soon.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,080 reviews108 followers
September 29, 2019
This is a linguistic SF, which was nominated for both Hugo and Nebula in 2011. It was read as a paret of Author’s birthday challenge in Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group.

There are quite a few SF works that make languages their main topic, including The Languages of Pao, Babel-17 and Native Tongue. This one is the great addition to the bunch.

The story is set in a distant future on a far-away planet Arieka. The protagonist, a female hyperspace (“immer”) pilot Avice Benner Cho. She grew up in Embassytown, a place for human to live and meet with planet’s inhabitants, Ariekei or Hosts. The natives have a unique language, which is the basis of the novel: it is unique both in representation (a Host has two ‘mouths’ that speak simultaneously) and essence (it can represent only true statements). Coming of humans, who can lie changes everything, even if the author doesn’t follow the easy way of cunning men vs noble locals, but does a much more interesting story. While Hosts are limited to their planet, they have a exclusive biotech, moreover, the book’s setting is largely in that biotech environment – living building, living vehicles, even living breathing/filtering masks.

While the language (or more precisely Language) is the basis of the plot, there are some political intrigue, some empire-colony political struggles, a bit of adventure and so on – the book is a great mix that clearly shows Author’s mastery.

While not a hard SF per se, it is a great ‘what if’ story with a great consistent world. Recommended
Profile Image for Paul Sánchez Keighley.
150 reviews92 followers
October 8, 2018
Never had international trade looked so much like symbiosis.

Embassytown is a generous serving of yummy brainfood titillating with novum and teeming with grotesque alien life forms. I’m in love.

I mean, you know you’re reading a good book when you’re just over a third of the way in and you’re horrified and appalled and keep thinking this can’t possibly get any worse and it consistently does to the point where it becomes borderline depressing and yet you never lose faith because at all times you feel that the author knows exactly what he’s doing and that this isn’t an aimless snowball of self-indulgence but a meticulously composed symphony of horror vacui and despair tumbling purposefully towards a very specific premeditated conclusion.

If you’re into languages or linguistics, Embassytown offers a lot to chew on. I was constantly fascinated by Miéville’s ability to seamlessly incorporate semiotics and theory of language into the story and not have it come across as experimental.

I got a very gratifying Solaris vibe from the first third of the book, when we're presented with the near-impossibility of fully understanding, let alone establishing communication, with an alien life form so different from our own.

Anyway, I know I’ve read a five-star book when I can't do more than babble enthusiastic gibberish at the end. I’m happy this man exists and I’m looking forward to reading more of his stuff. (By the way, you should check out interviews with China Miéville on YouTube; he’s not only a gifted storyteller with an elephantine imagination, but also a really cool and eloquent guy.)
Profile Image for David Sven.
288 reviews445 followers
July 11, 2014
This is my first Mieville, and my first foray into his “weird fiction” as he likes to call it. And it is weird - and wonderful at the same time. Embassytown is not just an imagination of new worlds, so much as an imagination of concepts. In this case, specifically, Language.

I had to restart this book three times because I didn’t have a clue what was going on at the start. We’re on another planet, guests of an alien race who can talk to us but we can’t talk to them. Our Hosts have two mouths and “Language” needs both saying different parts of words and sentences simultaneously. Obviously, this is a little difficult when us mere humans only have one mouth.

No problem you say, just use recordings or robots to simulate two voices in harmony. Nope. Our Host’s don’t hear sentences, but the sentience behind the sentence. AI’s don’t cut it, even though they pronounce words perfectly, because they aren’t truly sentient. How about two separate humans preparing their lines and speaking in unison? Still no good. Apparently, our hosts can’t hear us unless Language is coming from a single mind.

So how do we communicate with the Ariekne (our Hosts)? How do we do trade? Because they have some pretty cool stuff. They make living machines and accessories. Fliers that are alive. Leather goods grown straight of the tree. Food and necessaries that gets delivered to us through a pipework of living intestines and gets shat out to us through an actual anus on the other end. Oh yeah.

Anyway, Mieville builds up a story and world around this central concept of Language (what we call the language of our hosts) gradually rolling out the rules and syntax allowing the reader to explore this new world and concepts. Another aspect of Language is that Hosts can’t lie. They can’t think in anything other than literal truths. How then do you think certain thoughts without the use of say similes? They don’t. They know they need similes to think certain thoughts, but they have to make similes literally true before they can use them. It turns out, us humans are very good for being similes. They make certain of the humans perform specific actions, making them true, so they can refer to them as similes – and so there are humans in Embassytown who are incorporated into Language.

The first part of the book where we discover Language, and this new planet, and Embassytown, and how we travel through space, was just fascinating. Even the animals are weird. Like the “trunc.” A small animal that tears itself in two if attacked. The eyes and balls run one way while the teeth and arse stay behind to distract and attack the predator so the eyes and balls can live on to mate another day. Who thinks this stuff up!

Coming into the second half of the book a lot of the rules of the world and Language are established to the point that you should be fluent in a manner of speaking that you would otherwise be clueless about. Mieville then proceeds to make Language a simile, or maybe a metaphor, for his own views on politics, religion, political correctness and more. I don’t subscribe to Mieville’s socialist politics or views on most things, but I can at least appreciate how he communicates them as the sub text in the story.

The story and plot itself didn’t do a whole lot for me, but they are really only there to showcase his ideas and concepts and imagination centred on Language. I am totally captivated by his style of writing and look forward to Mieville weirding me out some more in his other books.

I’m giving this one
Four and half stars
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