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Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
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missing imageThis is the ninth novel by China Miéville, whose previous books include Perdido Street Station (2001), The City & the City (4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2009), and Kraken (4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2010).

The Story: Humankind and the aliens known as the Ariekei have a communication problem. The aliens' biological and linguistic structures mandate that one must have two mouths to say anything at all; humans can only speak to them through genetically engineered pairs of clones known as "Ambassadors." Meanwhile, the Ariekei are proportionately perplexed by the human ability to lie: they recruit members of our species to act out similes and celebrate failed attempts at falsehood in festivals that are part sport, part art. The two species live a relatively stable coexistence on the Arekei planet around the human outpost known as Embassytown--until the central human government attempts to assert greater control with a new type of Ambassador, whose arrival could change the aliens' culture completely.
Del Rey. 368 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780345524492

Io9.com 4.5 of 5 Stars
"I cannot emphasize enough how terrific this novel is. It's definitely one of the best books I've read in the past year, perfectly balanced between escapism and otherworldly philosophizing." Annalee Newitz

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Embassytown is the most engrossing book I've read this year, and the latest evidence that brilliant, challenging, rewarding writing of the highest order is just as likely to be found in the section labeled Science Fiction as the one marked Literature." Jim Higgins

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Miéville's slow-burn narrative is by turns amusing and horrifying, mixing Philip K. Dick-esque satirical banality with a mesmerizing vision of a society on the brink of apocalypse. Yes, it's a bit too long. But Miéville's swing-for-the-fences gusto thrills. This is Big Idea Sci-Fi at its most propulsively readable." Darren Franich

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"In Embassytown, [Miéville's] metaphor--which is in a sense metaphor itself--works on every level, providing compulsive narrative, splendid intellectual rigour and risk, moral sophistication, fine verbal fireworks and sideshows, and even the old-fashioned satisfaction of watching a protagonist become more of a person than she gave promise of being." Ursula K. LeGuin

Observer (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"To read fiction is, in some measure, to take ... true untruths for granted, which makes it a paradoxical pleasure to come across a novel that reminds us so ingeniously and enjoyably of the conditions of fiction, and of the power that fictional language retains to shape and reshape our transactions with the world." James Purdon

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Miéville does for figures of speech what Ursula K. LeGuin did for gender in The Left Hand of Darkness: By stretching our own language to accommodate ideas it wasn't meant to express, he makes us realize how much our everyday lives and perceptions are bound by the words we use." Marc Mohan

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Like the aliens on whose revolution Embassytown focuses, this book speaks simultaneously with more than one voice: It's both a far-future adventure into the weirdness of far-off worlds, and a mind-expanding philosophical excursion into the whatness of words." Nisi Shawl

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Miéville has constructed a breathtaking world of understanding: a new system of measuring time and neologisms that crackle in nearly every paragraph, adding style to the plot." Roger Perkins

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Embassytown creates yet another memorable city, this time in a more recognizably science-fiction setting: a distant planet recently reached by human colonizers. ... But Mr. Miéville never really integrates the intellectual complexities with a compelling narrative." Tom Shippey

Critical Summary

Reviewers were happy to report that Embassytown does what all of China Miéville's best novels do: they take a compelling metaphor, flesh it out into a spectacularly realized place, and tell an exciting story there. Yet Miéville's reliability has not made him any less original: critics frequently expressed their awe at his inventiveness. Though some admitted they felt lost in the book's early pages, that feeling did not prevent some of the same critics from calling Embassytown one of the best books so far this year. Furthermore, comparisons to science fiction classics by Ursula K. LeGuin (as well as a strong endorsement by the author herself in the Guardian) indicate that Embassytown could be one of Miéville's most memorable works.