Contented Reader

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Embassytown

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Embassytown

China Miéville

Del Rey

I suffer from Chinaphobia.

No, not fear of China.  That would be sinophobia.  I’m afraid of China Miéville.

I first encountered his books in London, when I picked up a copy of Un Lun Dun as a souvenir of my trip at Waterstone’s Piccadilly (Europe’s largest bookstore!).  I read it.  I liked it.  I liked it enough to look for another book when I returned, and found Kraken, which I loved, though I had to read it twice.

“This China Miéville is a heck of an author!” I said to myself.  “I wonder what else he has written?”  And of course, if you have read Mieville yourself, you know what book I picked up next.  Perdido Street Station.

It was dazzling.  It was immersive.  It was so hard to read.

And as I continued learning more, I discovered that I had just gotten lucky in my first few choices.  As brilliant as Miéville is, as astonishingly well-written and groundbreakingly original as his books are, they are really, really hard to read.  Even his name is hard to type.

Now, when Miéville comes out with a new book, I am full of conflicting emotions.  I know I want to read the new book, because it will probably be a masterpiece that will change the way I think forever.  I will lose myself in an unfamiliar world that will become my new home for a week or so.  And I will struggle, and feel stupid, and lose the thread of the plot, and wonder if I’m really a competent reader at all.  And it languishes on the ‘things to read’ shelf for months while I work up the courage to open it.

Embassytown was different.  It didn’t languish on the ‘things to read’ shelf for months.  It languished in my electronic reader for months, instead.  It’s much easier to lose a book there.  Things can languish indefinitely.  But last week, on a visit with my extended family, I finally opened it.

Of course it’s a wonderful book.  And well worth the effort.  This book is all about language.  And its achievement is creating a race of aliens who are some of the most alien aliens I have read.  They don’t think like us.  Their language is so different from ours that it would seem impossible to communicate at all.  They speak from two mouths, different sounds from each mouth that together form speech.  Two mouths from one mind.  And it doesn’t work to have two different people speak together, or a person and a computer, because if the two sounds don’t come from one mind, the Ariekei don’t even recognize it as language.  A whole new kind of person has to be raised from childhood to be able to speak to them.  They are the Ambassadors.

The Ariekei language is represented by a bit of formatting that my electronic reader didn’t catch at all, and I had to go find a paper copy in order to see how it was supposed to look.  I think you should read this one on paper for that reason, unless the version that is sold at Amazon or Barnes and Noble gets it right where the free Hugo-packet edition mangled it.

Maybe I should let go of my fear of China Miéville.  This book did require my full attention, and more time than it usually takes me to read a book, but it was not as difficult as all that.  The plot, after all, kept moving forward in interesting ways, each step leading to the next in ways that were at once inevitable and surprising.  The thoughts on language were fascinating.  I know that if I carefully and thoughtfully read it again, I’ll have all sorts of insights about language and communication.

I’m already both eager and afraid to reread this book.

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Written by Contented Reader

July 10, 2012 at 8:34 am

Posted in Reviews

4 Responses

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