Like all of Miéville’s additions to the literary atlas, this place seems at once wildly imagined from scratch and phantasmagorically drawn from life … Language is the principal theme of Embassytown, a particularly deep-thinking entry in a tradition of using the speculative resources of science fiction to address how language shapes culture and society. Miéville joins Jack Vance, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, Suzette Haden Elgin, Samuel Delany and others in this project. The drama of Embassytown develops as the Ariekei learn to lie and are beset by violent addiction to a new kind of speech … Embassytown has the feel of a word-puzzle, and much of the pleasure of figuring out the logic of the world and the story comes from gradually catching the full resonance of its invented and imported words.
The alien language, which is the novel’s driving conceit, is plainly impossible, which is the point: like H.G. Wells in The Invisible Man or The Island of Doctor Moreau, Miéville takes an impossible proposition and works through its implications with rigour. At some moments the novel resembles a thought-experiment in semiotics, except that it’s at least as interested in the tangential oddities its premise entails: because the Hosts can’t lie, they can’t use metaphors, and their limited lexicon of figurative language consists of laborious similes that must be manufactured in reality before they can be spoken … Embassytown is an SF novel through and through, unironically committed to its own narrative, and serious, like a no-nonsense B-movie, about providing the discerning genre fan with the monsters she’s paid to see. There’s no reason this should preclude an interest in the manner of a story’s telling.
Mieville’s ambitions here are grand, his imagination fertile. He’s clearly having fun describing things such as bio-rigged technology that’s part living being, part machine: ‘chewing beasts, which would defecate fuel and components.’ And that joy translates to the reader. A lot of this is just a blast … Characters sleep together, betray one another, die off, but it’s all related to us afterward, almost as an aside. This serves to make Avice increasingly wearisome: While others act, she ponders, which becomes ponderous...Still, Embassytown bursts with so many amazing ideas from start to finish that the reading experience remains rewarding. I found myself grinning at each new concept, dazzling set piece and clever turn of phrase.
It is a testament to Miéville's skill that all these elements add up to a compelling mystery. And it is the signature delight of the book that the puzzle at the center of this vast and complex world is language. Miéville has a muscular intellect, successfully building a science fictional world around semiotics. For some readers, that will be enough. Others may notice that his characters go somewhat neglected … This is, in part, structural; for all the doubling that appears in Embassytown, and for all her various lovers, Cho remains a character who is essentially alone.
Embassytown is a novel of ideas — a novel about the philosophy of language, about how language is linked to ethics, and about our ‘biopolis,’ the structure of the links between individual humans and the larger human community. It’s easy to envision the book taking center stage in the seminar room, since Miéville’s star continues to get brighter, no doubt becoming the topic of more and more dreary academic articles which claim to have finally figured out the proper, definitive way to explicate those ideas … Everything in Embassytown revolves around the conditions and consequences of language, offering up an extended meditation on its figurative function, on what separates art from quotidian speech … It is a miracle of a novel, one where Big Ideas cohabitate with Monsters, and neither is lessened by what academic propriety insists must be capital letters.
China Miéville's new science-fiction novel is a rich concoction of multiple strangenesses, and it bears repeated savoring. 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 … These ideas aren't just fantastic visions; they're reasoned extrapolations from real-life forms of religion, technology and sociology. In patented genre fashion Miéville defines his terms on the fly and via context, so readers unused to this approach will probably want to revisit the book's first pages after they've absorbed these new words' meanings. And anyone who isn't a linguist will have at least a little difficulty absorbing the author's arguments about what can and can't be said, and why. None of these are reasons to skip Embassytown; all of them are reasons to read and reread it.
Miéville describes the city’s quirks and interstices in typically loving detail. The Ariekei themselves remain more of a mystery, but they have learnt to rub along with the planet’s human population and a handful of other alien races … Embassytown threatens to turn into a didactic parable about how contact with civilisation degrades and corrupts ‘primitive’ cultures. Miéville, though, is smarter than that, and delights in wrongfooting us throughout. This is a novel about language – in particular Miéville’s love of language, evident in his use of neologisms and allusive derivations. His prose bristles with verbal invention and at moments verges on a sort of dense polyglot poetry … At times, Embassytown seems to be a linguistic thought-experiment more than anything, a book-length crossword clue to be decoded, its pleasures solely cerebral. But this is offset by pacey narrative action and sharp characterisation.
China Miéville knows what kind of novel he's writing, calls it by its name, science fiction, and exhibits all the virtues that make it an intensely interesting form of literature. It's a joy to find this young author coming into his own, and bringing the craft of science fiction out of the backwaters … The story, at first a bit hard to follow, very soon attains faultless impetus and pacing...In Embassytown, his 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.
Embassytown creates yet another memorable city, this time in a more recognizably science-fiction setting: a distant planet recently reached by human colonizers. Embassytown is their tenuous toe-hold in this new world … Embassytown is, in its way, the story of a Fall. The winged Hosts are like angels exposed to a new original sin brought to them from outside by mysterious strangers with names like EzRa and CalVin. To some readers, this may seem philosophically very deep. But Mr. Mieville never really integrates the intellectual complexities with a compelling narrative. One problem is that the ideas that preoccupy the author here have to do with language itself. Language about language must always be in some sense secondhand, and the Host language is presented as essentially untranslatable. This makes the
goings-on in Embassytown—and the characters—hard to relate to.
Miéville’s ruminations on language are brilliant, as are explorations of the relationship between Avice and various Ambassador pairs, which deepen the political intrigue. Miéville also sets up an interesting factionalism within the Ariekei by presenting a sect of the aliens who use a Festival of Lies as a deadly serious gambit to change their civilization. The crisis that emerges is intensified by the author’s cross-cutting between real-time and past events, a technique which results in a richly layered portrait of Embassytown and its inhabitants … Embassytown isn’t a perfect novel—it is infuriatingly dull and plodding in places—but it’s also original, sophisticated, bristling with subversive ideas, and filled with unforgettably alien images.
Miéville adds to the sparse canon of linguistic SF with this deeply detailed story of the ways an alien language might affect not only thought patterns but ways of life … Miéville's brilliant storytelling shines most when Avice works through problems and solutions that develop from the Hosts' unique and convoluted linguistic evolution, and many of the most intriguing characters are the Hosts themselves. The result is a world masterfully wrecked and rebuilt.
Avice Benner Cho returns to her childhood home, the remote planet Arieka, after many years of working in the immer, a weird hyperdimension that permits passage among the stars … Much of this is far too formidably dense and complex to be summarized, and Miéville further blurs matters with a difficult, almost hallucinatory narrative structure. Conceptually, though, it's utterly astonishing. A major intellectual achievement that, despite all difficulties, persuades and enthralls.