the Little Red Reviewer

Embassytown, part 3: A little bit more

Posted on: May 28, 2011

Apparently it’s China Mieville love fest week on LRR this week. You cool with that?  Cuz I’m cool with that.

This post will make much more sense if you read my other Embassytown posts, On Reading China Mieville and the Embassytown review.

it’s been a few days since I finished the book, and I’m having trouble getting it out of my mind. or getting my mind out of it?  Having a bit of an Alice in Wonderland moment, I’m not quite sure which way ’round that goes.  Anywhoo, I’ve got a bit more I’d like to get off my chest regarding Embassytown, Mieville, aliens, sound, and such.

Also there may be some spoilers here, so if you haven’t read the book, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

After today I should have Embassytown out of my system, mostly.

the Aliens – never really physically described, the Ariekei’s eye stalks, wings, fans, and scuttly insecty feet are mentioned.  Sounds  rather Lovecraftian, doesn’t it?  Are they simply putting up with the human colony? Do they see us as interesting animals? Do they see us as intelligent? A novelty?  I wonder what they think about our technology, computers, electronics, etc. Because the Ariekei don’t really have anything like that – everything they use is bio-tech, everything is grown, and I get the impression has naturally evolved that way.  These creatures are so utterly alien, how fucking arrogant are we to think for one damn second that we understand anything about them?  which leads me to wonder: how damn arrogant am I, to think that I understand anything about, really, just about anything? I don’t need a universe at my fingertips to feel small.  this is a good thing.

And is there anything more science fictional that aliens who are so un-human, so completely different than anything we imagined we could encounter? China Mieville, is there anything you can’t do?

The Plot – Some reviewers have complained that Mieville drops in characters and subplots that are never heard from again, or only show up as plot devices. I can’t argue with them, because YES, it happens. But I’m not the kind of reader who insists on having everything explained. I didn’t mind that sublots came and went and maybe weren’t concluded.  that gave me opportunity to put my own endings in, explain things my own way, almost turn Embassytown (the book and the place) into my own private PRG where I can have my own adventures and conversations.  When a novel turns into a world you want to play in, to me, that’s a damn success.  I can only hope that Mieville will write more in this universe, like he did with his Bas-Lag novels.

The Addiction –  ahh yes, the sounds, and the addiction.   All I’m going to say is that I can 100%, competely, unquestioningly, sympathize with the idea of getting drunk on a sound. Drunk is the wrong word of course, but I often listen to TV shows more closely than I actively watch them. If I find a voice I like, I hear that voice itself (the vibrations, the tone, the timbre, the sounds) more than I listen to what’s being said.  Often times I just want that voice, that sound: I don’t care what the words are, I just want my fix.   when I joke that all someone needs to do is read the phone book to me, I’m really not joking.  More than once have I said to someone whose voice I like “just talk to me. I don’t give a shit what you say, just talk”.

4 Responses to "Embassytown, part 3: A little bit more"

[…] Manga/Graphic Novels Embassytown, part 3: A little bit more […]


Ok – the last thing you said had me smiling. I admit to thinking that same thing on occasion. And it’s not just James Earl Jones, or Laurence Fishburne …. it’s also that Scottish guy in the cereal commercial (you know, the genie in the tux….).

It’s been interesting to read your thoughts on this book. Still making my way through, but hope to have my own thoughts up on my blog later in the week. 🙂


make sure you send me a link when you’ve got your post up, I don’t want to miss it! 🙂

wait, what? Scottish guy in a tux, you say?? SCOTTISH???

mmmm…. Laurence Fishburne. . . please tell me he’s recorded some audiobooks? not that I would pay attention to the plot of the book. . . .


Great review! A real labour of love:)

A lot of people have bigged up the ‘at last, a truly alien alien’ angle, but I’m not so sure. The Ariekei are a great creation: the evolved organic tech, of course, but mostly the highly innovative tweaks that make communication so very very difficult. All that said, though, I didn’t have that hard a time imagining their motivations. Even if I can’t speak with them, I can imagine them wandering around town, dropping into the bakers to pick up a loaf of bread, or whatever, and stopping to have a chat with their neighbour. This, plus the use of metaphorical language, plus the ultimate meeting of minds that takes place by the end of the book, indicated a fundamental correspondence with human patterns of cognition and behaviour.

I can think of other alien species (e.g., Alastair Reynolds ‘Vigilance’) that are substantially more out there.

I think I would agree, though, with the position that Miéville has created the most alien aliens to have appeared as central characters in a novel. I’ve commented elsewhere that you need some degree of humanity (i.e., non-alienness) to be successfully used as a character. Within those parameters, I think, yes, the Ariekei are pretty close to the minimally-human limit:)



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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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