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Embassytown Hardcover – May 17, 2011
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts - who cannot lie. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes. Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts. And that is impossible.
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If you haven't read Miéville before, you may want to start with The Kracken, which is a bit lighter work out on the brain, but definitely dive right in. My favorite is The City in the City - a little book with a big punch, but decide for yourself. He is habit forming.
The first third of the novel flip-flops between past and present on the planet Arieka and the immer. The immer is some kind of sub space that a immerser travels through in space and time, if that makes any sense. The narrator of the book is Avice Benner Cho, who has just return from the immer to visit her birth place of Embassytown with her new husband Scile, a expert in languages. He wants to study the linguistics of the Ariekei, who surround the human compound. They are known as the Hosts and speak out of two mouths ( the cut and turn ) and only communicate with human Ambassadors. The Ambassadors are actually doppels that speak from one mind and two voices, otherwise the Hosts would only hear noise. This sounds like a normal story, right? Now keep in mind that a Host ( who looks like a large dual winged insect ) also requires similes to make comparisons to things that are unlike in order to communicate properly. Our narrator is one of the similes known as " The girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given to her "! I forgot to mention that these truly unusual Ariekei Hosts are also incapable of lying! Does the story have your interest yet?
The trouble begins when a new Ambassador, EzRa, arrives from the human's home planet of Bremen to become the new chief Ambassador of Embassaytown. At the Embassy reception, EzRa tells the Hosts " That it was a honor to meet them ". Suddenly everything changes! Years of peace and calm are gone. What happened and what did the Hosts hear? What was said that brings the Hosts to a high state of mulligrubs! This is where the essence of the story takes off, later to culminate in an interesting and unexpected end. The books I've read by Mieville are entertaining ,but with all the lacunae and peculiar vocabulary used, I'm always glad that the book is over. Is this good, or bad?
The Hosts are probably the weirdest aliens I've read about since Larry Niven's elephant like creators in the famous sci-fi novel,"Footfall". This is the first novel Mieville has done in science fiction, and I think it was a good effort. Maybe he should be hired to write the script for the next "Star Trek" movie. I have to tell the reader while I recommend reading this novel, I warn you It's going to be a arduous task!
Some of basic world building ideas remained too murky for me - like the "aeoli" which were "biorigged" headscarf-like apparatus that Terre's used to breath outside the artificial atmosphere of Embassytown. Never got a really good mental image of this. This may have been intentional - it provides an experience of how difficult it is to speak with horse-sized, arachnid species (Ariekei) that cannot recognize humans as living beings. Ariekei can be told humans are not just noisy machines by interpreters, but they cannot, by themselves, recognize this. We can be told humans need an aeoli, without actually being able to understand what it is or how it works.
Lovely ideas about language. Interpersonal alliances change like seasons or situational politics. Language as a drug gripping the mind. All these explorations make this a delightful read.