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Embassytown by China Mieville - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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August 16th, 2011


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02:58 am - Embassytown by China Mieville
I finished China Mieville's latest novel, Embassytown today. The first third was complex, rich and fascinating, but a bit slow. That stopped about a third of the way through and it became incredibly compelling. It's a novel about language and about a unique alien language that humans must to linked together by implants to speak, and which the natives cannot use to lie. It contains some of the most alien aliens in any SF that I've read, but they are also compelling and sympathetic.

I tried and never managed to enjoy or finish any of Mieville's's Bas Lag novels, but I loved as I describe here, I loved his previous novel Kraken, and while wonderful, fun, and niftily progressive, it was also fairly light, and filled with magic, giant squid, and a passionate fascination with London. Embassytown is a very different book, richer, more complex, less gonzo and somewhat darker. Also, a bit more than a third of the way through I understood what it was about – colonialism, and specifically British style colonialism along the lines of their efforts in India and China. I've studied these places and times a great deal in my anthro classes, and so found this book both fascinating and disturbing.

I was somewhat reminded of Robert Silverberg's excellent classic Downward to the Earth, except that Silverberg wrote about a colonizer's return to a post-colonial world, and clearly references post-colonial Africa, while Embassytown is the harsher story of the beginning (and ending) of colonial control. It is also the only novel I have ever seen to actually play successfully with the noble savage idea – the Hosts (a name with several meanings) are both an absolutely classic noble savage type in some ways, and completely unlike that in others – for most of the novel, some human characters see them as more than humanity and others as less, but almost none see them as remotely like humans, which is of course the key. I enjoyed King Rat, found none of his never few novels either readable or interesting, but I've become deeply impressed with Mieville's recent work and very much look forward to his next novel.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed

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