Embassytown Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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|Listening Length||12 hours and 23 minutes|
|Audible.com Release Date||June 28, 2011|
|Best Sellers Rank||
#282,582 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals)
#1,191 in First Contact Science Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#13,107 in Alien Invasion Science Fiction
#13,572 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
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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 premise could be interesting: Embassytown is a small human settlement on an alien planet. The aliens are very different from us, but seem overall very tolerant of the human presence. The aliens lack abstract reasoning, they can only handle what is real and has happened. So for example they don't point at things because the act of pointing and the thing being pointed at are not the same thing and therefore they can't put the 2 together in a symbolic relationship. Their language is a reflection of their thinking. The human protagonist is a good example of this. She is a figure of speech, "the girl who ate what was given to her", that is the concept of acceptance. But the interesting thing is that when the aliens see her, they see, literally, acceptance incarnate, not a person that exemplifies acceptance. I thought this was an interesting idea, especially in how it influences the interactions between aliens and humans (how do you interact with aliens when they don't see you as a person but as a concept?)
Unfortunately it all went downhill from there. The book is exceptionally boring. Sure the issue of the language is interesting, but the aliens are reduced completely to their language. Any other aspect of their life, for example the fact they are wizards at biotechnology, is only hinted at. The main character is bland and seemingly incapable of meaningful emotions. She says she loves her husband, but I just didn't feel it. At random times she jumps in bed with different people without me feeling what connection, if any, they share.
At some point, the very existence of Embassytown is in jeopardy, but I couldn't bring myself to care about any of it. Nothing really meaningful seemed to go on in that town anyway (mostly parties, it seems), and I felt invested in none of the characters. As the story proceeds, some of the characters die but the fact left me completely cold.
The book picked up some of my interest again near the end (yes, I finished it. It was a slog but I did it) but by that time it was too hard to care about anything.
How did the same author write a tight page turner like "The City and the City" and a meaningless slog like "Embassytown"? Since these are the only 2 books I read from this author, I have to wonder which was the outlier and which is more representative of the author's work?
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The world created here is fun. Embassytown is a point of contact where humans exist near an alien race with whom we can only communicate through specially raised twins, conjoined mentally through technology, in order to serve as ambassadors for humans. The alien-ness of the language is remarkable.
The “work” that language does is at the center of a plot that weaves galactic and local politics into a brisk adventure. I gained a new appreciation for just how complex creating and understanding simile and metaphor are and how central they are to our language.
I’d like to note that also own the audio companion to the kindle edition, and in this case highly recommend it. The aliens speak through two speech organs (which is why twins are needed as ambassadors). Textually this speech is represented as one word over another (like a fraction). The audiobook has the narrator read both words and plays them together so we can hear the representation of the words accurately .
Top international reviews
When a new ambassador pair arrives, the dissonance between the two voices acts as a drug on the Arekiene, addicting the whole planet to the 'god - drug'.
Excellent read, this was my favorite Meiville after Perdido Street Station.
It’s ironic then, that I really liked Embassytown, a book where one of the major themes is language itself.
The main character is Avice, a space pilot who has returned home to the planet of Arieka, where a colony of human live with the permission of the Hosts, a truly alien species that are only half-understood by the colonists. What follows is a tragedy of unexpected consequences, where in an effort to understand the Hosts better, ambassadors from Earth precipitate a crisis which puts the Hosts and the colonists in danger.
There are 2 main themes here. First is the Fall, where humanity is the serpent in the Garden of Eden who have unintentionally corrupted the Hosts by their ability to lie. The second is colonialism, in particular China Mieville seems to have used the Opium Wars as a template for the crisis, with some Hosts turning on humanity in the hope of wiping out the source of their corruption.
I think I liked this book because it is more of a ‘proper’ Science Fiction book than his other work, and was concise without any padding. If I was to criticise it, I didn’t find the ending particularly surprising and I wish that Avice had been a more active character.
The Hosts themselves were a fascinating creation, which reminded me in some ways of the ‘Great Old Ones’ from the Cthulhu Mythos, the hints about the Immer were intriguing. Would love to find out more about that if he ever gets round to a sequel.
Read it to enjoy the journey as much as the outcome and you have a rich novel filled with beautifully-realised characters, human and alien. Embassytown definitely passes the John W Campbell test ("Write me an alien who thinks as well as a man but utterly unlike a man.") The driver of the plot - a crisis involving alien language - is brilliantly imagined. Unfortunately, I can't really say more without major spoilers.
If you've never read any Mieville before, this is a good starting point (since it's a stand-alone novel). Though he has an incredible lightness of touch with his exposition, weaving it into narrative so that you don't realise the sheer volume you're getting, Mieville does drop you into the narrative midway and then brings you up to speed as you go along, so be prepared to concentrate and have faith that everything will be explained eventually.
Beyond that however, this book is full of flaws. The first half of the novel's a mess - verbose prose liberally sprinkled with unexplained neologisms take the text to verges of unreadability in places, and that's before the narrative splits into 2 alternating timelines (for no apparent reason except to further prolong the amount of pages before anything of interest actually happens).
Our main heroine is a shell of a person. She has lots of sex with men, women and doppelgangers as the book progresses, but it would have been far more interesting to go into her actual feelings about what she is witnessing, which almost never happens - I didn't feel I actually got to know this character at all beyond a list of things that happened to her, which is a bit of an issue in a first-person novel.
And then there's the second half, where other Amazon reviews here have suggested things improve drastically. Not for me it didn't, the style certainly becomes easier to read when things actually start to happen, however without going into spoilerific specifics, it's pretty much a Mieville revolution-by-numbers that will feel all too familiar to those who've read his vastly superior Bas-Lag trilogy.
I think there could have been a really good book here with a different structure and another couple of re-writes, but as it is I feel a good premise was wasted on a pretty limp story, and even had the conclusion pulled a massive rabbit out of the hat, I wouldn't have been invested enough in the characters to care.
Overall, though, it didn't quite convince. The premise is a little unconvincing - it's hard to see what conditions would lead an organism like that to evolve, and the additional idea that they have two voices that must speak simultaneously is also a little forced (but essential to the plot). Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, I don't think it quite achieves its ambition. Themes of communication run throughout the story, and the way the book is written feels as if the author thinks he is building to a big philosophical point about the nature of language. In the end, he doesn't quite pull it off. The resolution is neatly done, and ties up the plot threads well - but doesn't quite carry the weight of what has gone before.
At heart, this books is a ripping sci-fi yarn that's been thoroughly thought out, but the language leads you to expect that it has higher ambitions, which it doesn't quite fulfil. The ending left me feeling a little empty. I found it considerably more satisfying than Adam Roberts' Stone (which also attempts a Big Idea and, for me, fails to pull it off), but nowhere near as much fun as the more thoughtful Iain M. Banks novels (say, Excession or Matter).
Imaginative and unique.
China Mieville at his best.
Take your time reading this one - relax and enjoy.