- Audio Download
- Listening Length: 12 hours and 26 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 28 Jun. 2011
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0058OGNHW
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
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Embassytown Audiobook – Unabridged
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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.
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
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.