Twisted diplomacy

Embassytown

By China Miéville

A writer I’d been meaning to read for some time. Darling of the modern scifi world. Unpronounceable name (mee-YAY-vill). Massive lefty. Genre tart. There’s little not to like here on the face of it.

And his writing’s not half bad. I’ve still only read the one book, Embassytown, but it had me totally gripped. Miéville’s startling originality glistens on every page. The set up is this: an outpost planet, on which humans have established an embassy to maintain relations with a unique alien species who don’t communicate like we do. Their language is a kind of truth-telling; they cannot lie. A select group of humans are trained to speak and therefore massage the diplomatic ties – until a new ambassador arrives and speaks in an ‘impossible’ way to the aliens. Suddenly, an entire way of living is threatened and revolution proceeds.

This theme of communication is at the core of Embassytown. The story is so unnerving that it both changes your perception of reality and makes you question whether the way we communicate could ever be different. When you start to think about that, your brain starts to bend a bit, doesn’t it? The great thing about Miéville is that he’s not just all concept. He’s got characters too: emotions, arcs, believable actions leading from one another.

And the best thing about him as far as I’m concerned is that there’s a wealth of his work just waiting for me to penetrate it.

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