Review: Embassytown by China Mieville

China Mieville’s Embassytown had a lot of potential. Modern day science fiction from a universally admired author with a reputation for producing quality writing and exciting plots. I only wish it could have lived up to my expectations. 

Embassytown’s plot certainly seemed to have potential. It is written from the perspective of Avice Benner, a woman who grew up on the planet of Arieka in a town called Embassytown. He describers herself thus:
“When I was seven years old I left Embassytown. Kissed my shiftparents and siblings goodbye. I returned when I was eleven: married; not rich but with savings and a bit of property; knowing how to fight, how to obey orders, how and when to disobey them; and how to immerse.”
On Arieka, the human colonisers live side by side with the original inhabitants or Hosts, who have a completely different Language system and who are incapable of telling lies. Avice leaves the planet to travel the Immer and is only convinced to her return to her home planet when she marries a linguist named Scile who is fascinated by the Hosts.

This is about as far as I got into the book.

I could recognise that there were some interesting ideas in this book, particularly about the use of language. It seems an interesting and rather unique subject matter for a hard science fiction novel.

The issue I had with the book, and ultimately the reason I abandoned it, was because I found it far too conceptually challenging to be enjoyable. I don’t know if I used the correct phrase there, but this is what I mean. There were too many invented words and Mieville provided no explanation for what they referred to. In fact, Mieville invented many fictional concepts, characters, names, words, experiences, existences etc names, but he didn’t devote enough time to explaining what they were or what they meant.

I don’t mind having to figure things out for myself, but I at least need some descriptive clues to do it, and I felt that these were completely lacking. What it meant was that I spent the entire time I was reading Embassytown trying to figure out what I was reading instead of just enjoying the story.

In the end, I felt as though he left me with no choice but to move on to the next book.

1 / 8

Has anyone else has a disappointing experience with China Mieville? I really want to read something of his that I enjoy, but now I am nervous about exploring his works further for fear of being disappointed again. Any suggestions?

I think it only fair to add that since I attempted to read this book and since I wrote the review of it, I have read a couple of reviews that have made me re-think my initial reaction to Embassytown. This is a book that requires a lot from the reader and I think that perhaps I might not have lived up to my end of the bargain. At the time I read it I was pregnant (still am come to think of it) and this has had a serious effect on my brain capacity (no joke sadly). I was also on holidays, and if there is one thing I want from a holiday read it is that it is easy and fun (ok, two things). 
I am not going to give up on this one entirely. I think I will approach it again when I am in a better frame of mind and am willing to put in the effort that Mieville has asked of me. I hope that this effort will eventually be rewarded. Since this is unlikely to happen any time soon (need to get the baby out first) I might see I have better luck with another of his books.

1 comment

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