By R.J. Huneke
The language is key. And with language, China Mieville’s venture into the science-fiction genre is nothing short of spectacular.
As the master storyteller’s past works often utilize unique, flowing and intricate vocabulary, in general (just read The City & the City), the future described in Embassytown imbues. The world-society on Arieka is based around the very use of language and is dependent on word-craft to survive.
China Mieville depicts Arieka as an alien world in which the native populous, the Ariekei, only harbor the human enclave within a city that was co-constructed, alongside the Ariekei’s own, to be an Embassytown. The human city is a colony for the humans on the edge of the most unknown portion of space, the Immer, where few (Avice, the Immerser, is one of these) have traveled. And it is also a colony, of sorts, for the Ariekei, though the humans are largely ignorant to this fact…
There is nothing like this. The Ariekei, also referred to as the Host, are horse, maybe-fly or bird hybrid – well aliens – with two sets of wings and two mouths; they feel and seem utterly strange, lucid and imaginative (while still leaving plenty to the readers’ mind to discern). The Ariekei can only speak truth, from their two completely separate mouths, which is quite a contrast to humanity’s use of language in the book and out of it. The humans of Embassytown have learned how to genetically create and/or manipulate biotechnology and people to form their own Ambassadors who are linguists able to speak and negotiate with the Ariekes.
The main character that Mieville utilizes is Avice Benner Cho, the former native-born Embassytowner and successful Immerser, and she is as contemplative, stubborn, smart and kick-ass a female protagonist as you will ever see. Her life is forever intertwined to her homeland when the Ariekei choose her to become a simile, which allows them to stretch the truth in just such a manner that their minds evolve, a little.
For the Ariekei language is power, life and starkly intoxicating. Their dependence proves to be treacherous, as evolution and language-as-drug-use threatens the entire foundation of Embassytown.
“We speak now or I do, and others do. You've never spoken before. You will. You'll be able to say how the city is a pit and a hill and a standard and an animal that hunts and a vessel on the sea and the sea and how we are fish in it, not like the man who swims weekly with fish but the fish with which he swims, the water, the pool. I love you, you light me, warm me, you are suns. You have never spoken before” (Mieville, Embassytown).
The way of the planet and the space surrounding it is constantly explored and revealed to us, the reader, in a compellingly emotional and explorative narrative that unfolds steadily and brilliantly. What needs to be stressed is how the invented languages (and there are multiple of these in the work), terms and use of characters and story techniques are extremely experimental and courageously innovative, while maintaining a streamlined, philosophical, understandable and absolutely addictive reading experience.
Rarely are there newly constructed future-worlds in fiction that have such depth and originality as this one does. Frank Herbert’s Dune is the only book I can bring to mind that does so similarly, and that comparison is, in itself, of the highest praise.
If you do not know by now, China Mieville strives to bring his monsters to every genre of fiction, and to do so in an enthralling and utterly innovative fashion.
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