Embassytown by China Mieville

Science fiction can stretch the understanding of ideas which one might never otherwise consider. In Embassytown China Mieville provides a stimulating, entertaining story of the importance of language (eat this Pinker!).

We are introduced to an alien culture which is out of sync with the way in which we humans communicate even though the common denominator for species communication is through sound. Our protagonist, Avice, was brought up in the one human town “Embassytown”-an outpost of a human-dominated world “Ariekei” which is not a very amenable place to live in.

Avice brings to light the culture of the synergy between humans and aliens by narrating certain parts of her childhood at Embassytown. Only human genetically engineered linguists (Ambassadors) can communicate with the “Extos”-aliens. Extos on the planet are screened, with an important exception, extos can only settle on Ariekei if their sociologic and genetic makeup (to communicate, to move comfortably in a human-run world & thought processes are similar enough to allow integration with humans.)

The human and exto population of Ariekei long struck a balance. They are always problems, but Embassytown is an almost disturbingly cordial society. The Hosts do their best for Ariekei, and the Ambassadors keep the peace and essentially run the society.

But when a new Ambassador arrives, the delicate balance is lost.

As with all excellent science fiction stories one might have to have two readings to be fully appreciated, first for orientation to the new world and to understand the plot, the second for the sheer delight of finding all the subtleties the author includes in the book.

If you enjoyed King Rat and Perdido Street Station you might enjoy Meivelle’s quantum leap to science fiction.

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