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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to lie
I'd been looking forward to this for a while. It is at first sight something of a departure from Miéville's last two books, in being, perhaps more overtly "science fictiony" that them (which will maybe please some of those who didn't like The City & the City and Kraken?)

Set on a human colony, on an alien planet, right at the end of everywhere, it is...
Published on 20 May 2011 by D. Harris

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the girl who did not read what she wanted but read what was given to her
This feels like the penultimate draft of what could have been a really good book, but it isn't quite 'there' yet. It's difficult to get into, and feels as if a couple of different attempts at starting the novel have been integrated, not wholly successfully, into what we have here. Is it going to be about immer? Is it going to be about the Festival of Lies? As ever, it's a...
Published on 8 Jun 2011 by Maria


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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to lie, 20 May 2011
By 
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Embassytown (Hardcover)
I'd been looking forward to this for a while. It is at first sight something of a departure from Miéville's last two books, in being, perhaps more overtly "science fictiony" that them (which will maybe please some of those who didn't like The City & the City and Kraken?)

Set on a human colony, on an alien planet, right at the end of everywhere, it is narrated by Avice, a cool-headed space sailor who has returned to show her new husband her very odd home world. The aliens whose world Avice was born on are very.. alien, something Miéville conveys well by not describing them. It's not just their physiology that is strange, or their technology of "biorigging", making buildings, machines, everything from live flesh. The oddest thing is their language - or as it is rendered, Language. It would be a shame, and spoil some of the careful revelation that Mieville uses to draw his reader in, to say much about how it is produced or what humans need to do to speak it, but one feature he makes clear from the start is that the natives of this planet - the Host - cannot lie. Their Language does not allow it. So when a cult of would-be liars springs up, it is a matter of concern, and the repercussions of this seem to be shaping up to the climax of the book - until Miéville deftly twists his plot and everything changes. The crisis we thought was coming is suddenly unimportant, and a much worse threat arises.

This is a compelling book, stuffed with vivid language, meaty concepts (the idea of "immer", a space-beyond-space, underlying the Universe and allowing navigation; the Hosts' technology; the colonial politics of Embassytown and its distant masters in Bremen; the strange society of the Ambassadors, those who can speak to the Hosts; the Hosts themselves; characters who are living similes - the Hosts cannot lie, their language can only refer to what is true, what has happened, so if they need a new figure of speech it has to be acted out, made concrete; the mysterious Lighthouses - enough in this new universe for a string of books). But the central concern is the nature and magic of language, of truth, of lies.

Avice herself can seem a rather distant, cold narrator. Only towards the end of the book does she drive the plot to any degree. In large part, this mirrors the split between the unknowable Hosts and the humans, or that between the human "commoners" and the privileged Ambassadors and their Staff. Avice is an outsider, looking in - as of course are we. This is, I think, is where the book shows some similarities with its immediate predecessors - I found echoes especially of The City & the City here (while Kraken has perhaps some analogues in the sheer exuberance of the Host and their world and there are even parallels with Un Lun Dun, both the way things fall apart and in the malignity of bureaucrats and rulers.

This is a beautiful book, not an easy read but easy to read, thought provoking, lavish in what it gives the reader, a great gift from China Miéville to his readers. I think it's the best thing I've read so far this year.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick with it, it's worth it., 24 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Embassytown (Kindle Edition)
I gave up on this twice when I first tried to read it. It's pretty incomprehensible for a while - even more so than the beginning of "The City and The City". But I decided to persevere, having liked previous Mieville novels, and I'm really glad I did. It turns into a really imaginative and original story - there's enough spoilers and descriptions in other reviews. The main thing is that if you're in the early stages of the book and wondering whether to bother forcing your way through - the answer is a most emphatic yes! In the end I absolutely loved it. If only I'd loved it when I first started it, it would have had the full five stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truly alien dystopian tale, 12 Oct 2011
This review is from: Embassytown (Hardcover)
In this book a world is created then torn apart. In this respect it reminded me a bit of Perdido Street Station, which I found more unnerving (terrifying, giant moths) and in the end more melancholy. The major difference is that Embassytown is a far more fragile settlement, it's a human settlement that relies entirely on the cooperation and technology of the native alien Hosts (Ariekes). The story is told entirely in first person by Avice Benner Cho, a woman from Embassytown who was one of few inhabitants to leave and go out to other planets. The first part alternates between present events and flashbacks so that Avice and the world she grew up in are introduced to the reader.

Once we are familiar with Embassytown and how it works -its links with the Host aliens, its bubble of breathable air, its upper class of Ambassadors (fully identical, linked, doppels/twins)- a paradigm shift happens and everything goes to pot. The society that was built up faces a major catastrophe and descends into desperation and barbarism and war. The book is about the people who carry on trying to keep things running in the face of likely destruction. It's about how there will still be factions and politicking even in the face of disaster.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars the girl who did not read what she wanted but read what was given to her, 8 Jun 2011
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This review is from: Embassytown (Hardcover)
This feels like the penultimate draft of what could have been a really good book, but it isn't quite 'there' yet. It's difficult to get into, and feels as if a couple of different attempts at starting the novel have been integrated, not wholly successfully, into what we have here. Is it going to be about immer? Is it going to be about the Festival of Lies? As ever, it's a hugely intelligent and interesting work, I just wish, in fact, that Mieville would write more slowly instead of producing a book a year as he is at the moment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cutting edge science fiction about language..., 16 Aug 2012
By 
A. J. Poulter "AP" (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Embassytown (Paperback)
As the title of this novel suggests, it is set in a special place, where different peoples meet. However, it is soon clear that the 'people' who meet are somewhat more different than might be expected. The slew of newly-coined words and phrases immediately signals science fiction. We are ushered into a strange universe. 'Real' space is not real. What is real is an underlying void called the Immer. Locations in 'real' space do not in any way match up to locations in the Immer. The planet Embassytown is on, Arieka, is nowheresville in 'real' space but in the Immer it is on the border between human and alien space.

We learn all this from one Avice, an 'Immerser', a human trained in coping with the stresses of Immer travel. Avice grew up in Embassytown and the whole novel is recounted by her. One of the things we learn about her is a that an unpleasant event happened to her, while she was still young. Arieka is inhabited by the Ariekene. No direct description of them is ever given, because there seem to be no parallels between their forms, and those shared by Terran life. They are called 'Hosts' by the humans. The Hosts are not backward: they have technologies that the Terrans covet. But one thing above all others makes them totally alien. They communicate using something called 'Langauge'. It is not language as we understand it. Hosts have two 'mouths' (or more accurately 'apertures') and both 'speak' together. Host's names are shown in the text as name1/name2 for 'individual' Hosts. This strange biology results in a Language which cannot express anything other than truth. The unpleasant event that Avice was involved in was orchestrated to get Hosts to experience the concept of 'likeness'. They can use it as a simile later, to compare and contrast with other experiences. For the Hosts this is a mildly addictive piece of fun. One Host in particular, for fun, tries to take things further and edge towards being able to lie...

This all sounds rather Edenic. And it is until the creation of 'Ambassadors', pairs of twinned humans linked like Hosts. They are ostensibly there to better communicate with the Hosts. But what happens is a descent into chaos. Language is used as a means of oppression. Avice has to use deliberately oblique language in her recounting of events so as not directly state things (like that there seems to be a 'black ops' team based in Embassytown which is trying to de-stabilise the Ariekene world). Finally, Avice is instrumental in stymying this clandestine colonisation effort, by devising yet another twist in the nature of language...

By any means of accounting, this is a remarkable novel. There are some pretty obvious political 'messages' emblazoned in it, but they fail to take away the sheer alieness of this novel, generated by all the different meanings and usage of 'language' it plays with
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A SciFi Celebration of Language, 19 May 2011
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Embassytown (Hardcover)
I'd best get this first bit out the way and say that to try and describe `Embassytown' to anyone who hasn't read it yet it going to be hard work. Not because the book is completely flummoxing, though I will admit I had a pen and notepad to hand for the first 100 pages or so but that could simply be me, but because there are so many strands and themes and, well, `things' encompassed in it that to try to define its 432 pages in one set of thoughts is going to be pretty tough. I could simply say that I am not the biggest sci-fi fan and yet I finished it and I really rather liked it, but that wouldn't be enough would it. So here goes...

In another world, Areika the home of many life forms, we follow the story of Avice. Avice has returned to her homeland of Embassytown after spending many years as an immerser in the `immer', a substance or lack of substance that can send you from star to star "the sea of space and time below the everyday". As she returns at the bequest of her new husband Scile, a man of language, this leads her to look back from her childhood onwards and an event with The Hosts, a species who cannot lie, that made her literally become a story in the Areika consciousness that helps them bend the truth in the future. However on her return she finds that the homeland she knows is changing under the new rule of the Ambassador EzRa and something sinister has started and that something truly awful lies ahead, but in order to stop it Avice is going to have to do something that is almost impossible.

That is possibly the easiest, though by no means best, way of trying to describe the way the book starts. It's hard to say more without giving away too much plot or discussing how Mieville throws in some unexpected, and often rather weird, twists as the book moves on. The thing is there are so many more strands to the book and for me the main one was the fact this is a book that is in some ways Mieville's ode to language. The fact Avice actually becomes a story, or in fact a `simile', I found fascinating, and this happens before the main story really gets started. I liked the fact that language could almost be a religion, though the book is also a tale of revolution.

You see I am still left feeling that I haven't actually done `Embassytown' any favours of explained it well enough to do the book justice. I am sure it won't be for everyone, and indeed the blurb does seem to miss out how much language is almost worshipped in this novel which could be a selling point, but if someone like me who knows very little about science fiction could get so deeply immersed in it then surely it's got to be good, right?
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Embassytown was violently dying, 8 May 2011
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Embassytown (Hardcover)
Words have power. But imagine if you belonged to a species where words are thoughts, people can be part of language, and you can even get high on language.

Such is the idea behind "Embassytown," which easily takes the prize for the weirdest science fiction novel in... well, awhile. China Mieville (who is known for writing really bizarre dark fantasy) set his sights on other planets in this book, and it's an intelligent, multilayered tale whose aliens are truly, complete, utterly ALIEN. The problem? The underwhelming main character.

After many years as an immerser, Avice Bennon Cho and her new husband Scile return to her home city of Embassytown. Embassytown is a place where humans coexist with the exot species known as the Hosts (or Ariekei), and because the Hosts need two voices working in tandem to communicate, genetically-engineered twin "doppel" Ambassadors have been bred to speak to them.

However, something strange and sinister is happening in Embassytown with the arrival of EzRa, a new Ambassador. Scile practically vanishes from Avice's life as he pursues his linguistic obsessions, a strange new cult appears, and a conspiracy arises. Soon the entire planet is dying from a deadly addiction that cripples the Ariekei, and there may be no way of saving Embassytown...

Giant multimouthed coral/horse/fish/tree "exots," umbrellas and purses literally growing on trees, and mind-linked twins who are regarded as one person. Even the social norms of the future are what we think of as unconventional with open bisexual marriages being the norm, and children in Embassytown being raised via a gang of "shift parents."

Yeah, China Mieville has a dazzlingly weird imagination, and he has definitely come up with a science fiction story that kicks aside the genre cliches. He spends the first half of the book carefully setting up the disastrous events, and then spends the SECOND half dealing with the disastrous fallout. And he doesn't give it a pat convenient "back to normal" solution, but brings in some truly unexpected, weird plot twists.

The major problem is Avice herself. It's like Mieville just needed a pair of eyes to observe everything in Embassytown, and didn't feel the need to really flesh her out. She feels very remote and distant, and Mieville has a bad tendency to just TELL us what she feels or experiences rather than SHOWING us. Why is she even the narrator?

It's a shame, because there are a LOT of interesting characters in it -- the increasingly fanatical and ultimately tragic Scile, Spanish Dancer, CalVin, EzRa, the "split" Ambassador Bren, and countless others. You really feel their emotions, even the exots who are too weird to understand.

"Embassytown" is a science fiction book by China Mieville, which tells you basically everything you need to know. Weird, inventive and wildly intriguing, but not for casual readers or fans of fluff sci-fi.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating with a rewarding conclusion., 16 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Embassytown (Kindle Edition)
Stick with it, the second half of the book is superb and makes up for the sluggish pace of the first. Great pay off with some thought-provoking concepts about language and a truly intriguing alien race.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, if flawed, 17 Sep 2012
By 
Philtrum (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Embassytown (Hardcover)
I had not read anything by Mieville previously, though I have long read in the SF/weird/dark fantasy genre. Having read this, I'm not sure this was the best place to start. I avoided reading reviews before reading the book, as I prefer to approach a book, when possible, without preconceptions. Had I read some reviews, however, I think I might have opted for one of his earlier books.

In a nutshell, it's the story of a human outpost (Embassytown) on a planet at the edge of the known universe, where the indigenous (and very alien) population - the Ariekei (or Hosts) - can only understand humans speaking their own language if the human speakers are clones (Ambassadors) who speak at the same time and, furthermore, are incapable of lying. The plot revolves around the opiate-like addiction the Arieki develop to the speech of a newly arrived ambassador, the repercussions of this addiction, the development of cults within the Host population whose purpose is to learn how to lie, and the steps taken by the two sides - human and Ariekei - to these developments.

As with many novels in this genre it's not so much what the book's about per se but what it's "about". I've only just recently finished reading the book, and, sometimes, it takes a little while, with me, for the wider meanings of such books to become clear. First impressions are that it's "about" the effect on societies of paradigm shifts (social, political, technological etc). There are allusions to decline and fall, angels and devils, Armageddon, that sort of thing. How do societies/worlds adapt when things change and can never again be how they once were. And it's about what happens, at various levels, to people/beings involved in the actual moments of change. As noted, perhaps, with time, I'll decide it's all "about" something else entirely.

On a more mundane level, the book is full of neologisms which can make the story a little hard to follow in places. Mieville uses such words often without explanation - which can be fun, leaving readers to fill in the blanks, or irritating, depending on one's bent, I suppose.

The book is narrated by a female character, Avice, a space pilot who was born in Embassytown, got out as soon as she could, but ends up coming back with her new husband (a linguist who wants to study the Ariekei and their Language). I found her to be a rather cold and emotionally detached narrator. One certainly did not warm to her much.

I think there are some fantastic ideas here but I do think the story probably needed a little more work before the final draft. The neologisms got in the way more than they should. I think with a story like this, such a wide canvas, so much new information to assimilate, multiple points of view might have been better.

I would say 3/5 for now. In time, I will know whether or not this is a story which sticks in the memory and, if so, I might revise the score upwards.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be challenged, 17 April 2012
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This review is from: Embassytown (Kindle Edition)
Like all China Mieville books this one is full of unique ideas and characters. I have read all his previous books and I have not yet finished this one but I am hooked. It is however a challenging read with many 'chinaisams' and full of concepts that require patience to get to grips with. Well worth the time. A great kindle buy.
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Embassytown
Embassytown by China Mieville (Hardcover - 6 May 2011)
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