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    Review of EMBASSYTOWN by China Mieville

    Del Rey, May 2011

    Growing up in Embassytown, Avice Benner Cho is much like the other children--taking dares, seeing how far she can travel into the territory of the "Hosts" (as the intelligent native species of Ariekei are known) without suffocating, and suffering through school. By chance, Avice is nearby when the Hosts return an injured child to the mysterious Bren and is given a signal honor. The hosts need a human to play a role in a simile they're creating--"the girl who ate what was given her." Helping the hosts opens doors to Avice and she has a chance to become a immer--one of those gifted people who pilot spaceships through the wormholes of the universe. Embassytown is the end of the line and Avice is positive she'll never return, but when her husband develops a fascination with "Language," the mysterious and truthful speech of the hosts, she finds herself back in Embassytown, this time as an adult.

    Hosts use humans for similes and other functions partly because humans can lie--something that Language is otherwise incapable of. Even simile (I'm like 'the girl who ate what was given her' because...) is a challenge. But the Hosts delight in hearing lies and struggle, mostly unsuccessfully to lie themselves. Communication with the hosts is further complicated because they simply cannot hear machine-constructed speech. In fact, possibly because Host simultaneously talk with two mouths, they can only make sense of what is spoken by Ambassadors, a peculiar group of human twins who are programmed from birth to be as close to identical as possible. A new ambassador, however, sets off a strange speech-addiction that threatens to destroy both Host civilization and everything else on Embassytown's planet--including the human settlers. Avice struggles to find a way to head off disaster.

    Author China Mieville (see more reviews of speculative fiction by Mieville)creates a fascinating world and clash of cultures. To many, the inability of Hosts to lie is a blessing--like humans before the fall. To these, including Avice's now-estranged husband, anything that teaches the Hosts to lie is darkest evil. Even the ultimate promise of young humans "say it like a Host" means the highest truth. As this society breaks down, perhaps the truth is the only thing left to the dying Hosts... or perhaps the truth is something that must be shaken off. It's wonderful to see Avice (a vice?) look for ways that lies can tell the deeper truth.

    Mieville is one of towers of 21st century speculative fiction and EMBASSYTOWN is a mature work. I found myself caught up in the story, caring about the characters, sympathetic both to those who wanted to preserve something wonderful and those who saw the only path to survival requiring that a new society, perhaps ultimately a whole new people, emerge. I'm happy to recommend this powerful story.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 6/05/11

    Buy Embassytown from Amazon

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