Saturday, 31 August 2013

Reading Challenge #1 - Embassytown by China Mieville

Well, I got through it. It was a bit of a hard slog, but I persisted because of the linguistic and existential nature of the story. The concept is so high-flying that it is largely opaque to begin with and for me, not a whole lot better at the end. The author uses a lot of invented words, or repurposed, so that until I got used to it, it was like reading a foreign language, which I suppose is one intended effect.

The alien Hosts on the planet Arieke have a language that cannot be spoken; they also are unable to learn other languages. It has to do with the essence of the world and of words that cannot be separated from reality, hence there is no lying in that society. Cloned doppelgangers eventually enable communication, but then comes a new pair whose speech is like a drug for the locals, and chaos breaks out.

Did I enjoy it? In places, yes, the sheer randomness of the words flung together and the strangeness of the situation. Here is a pretty passage spoken by the alien Host nicknamed Spanish Dancer after he has learned to speak metaphor:

"Before the humans came we didn't speak. We've been like countless things, we've been like all things, we've been like the animals over Embassytown in the direction of which I raise my giftwing, which is a speaking you'll come to understand. We didn't speak, we were mute, we only dropped the stones we carried in our mouths and had the birds we described fly out, we were vectors, we were the birds eating in mindlessness, we were the girl in darkness, only knowing it when we weren't anymore."
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