Literature / Embassytown
is a 2011 novel by China Miéville
. Superficially a sort of New Weird
twist on the 19th-century colonial tale of discovery
, the novel is actually an extended exercise in Fun with Foreign Languages
, narrator, and pioneer
Avice Benner Cho was born in the colony of Embassytown, on the planet Arieka, located at the very edges of the known universe. There, humans live alongside profoundly weird aliens
called the Ariekei
(or "Hosts"), who are noteworthy for their baffling language
known as Language
. By some unspecified mechanism
, Language can only be understood by the Ariekei if it is spoken by two speakers who share one mind. As such, only genetically-engineered identical twins known as Ambassadors can communicate directly with the aliens.
After leaving home
to become an interdimensional explorer, Avice relunctantly returns to Embassytown with her linguist husband, who wishes to study Language. During their stay, the status quo is thrown into disarray by an arrival from the colony's parent nation, threatening to destroy both the human and alien communities.
This novel provides examples of:
- Alien Geometries: Reality in Embassytown is divided into the Manchmal (corresponding to conventional reality) and the Immer (the scary sort of hyperspace). As an "immerser," Avice is one of the few humans with sufficient talent at sideways thinking to face the Immer and not Go Mad from the Revelation.
- As a subset of how bizzarly weird the Immer is, it is stated that the Manchmal is the third iteration of the current universe, the previous two having been destroyed. The Manchmal sits upon the Immer like a boat would float on the water.
- Aliens Speaking English: Subverted, because the Ariekei are incapable of even recognizing any language other than Language to be intelligent communications. However, the trope is abruptly fulfilled during the climax when the Ariekei become capable of abstraction.
- Anachronic Order: The three parts (of nine) alternate between periods denoted as Formerly (Avice's background) and Latterday (the nominal present).
- Angsty Surviving Twin: With all the perfectly cloned twins running around, it isn't long before someone loses their better half.
- Arc Words: "The girl who ate what was given to her."
- "Before the humans came we didn't speak"
- Bi the Way: Avice was married to a woman before meeting Scile, but never shows any attraction to women in-story.
- Bilingual Bonus: Several words used to describe the Immer come from German, including "immer" itself, which means "always". Others include "manchmal", used to describe the regular world, which mean "sometimes", and a kind of scary hyperspace beast known as "hai", from the German word for shark.
- Gets turned into a bilingual Stealth Pun as well. How do you enter the immer? You immerse.
- Bizarre Alien Psychology: The Ariekei can't even conceive of a single isolated mind, and, despite learning the language, humanity can't even begin to communicate with them until someone stumbles across the trick of having identical twins speak in two-part harmony. When a pair of folks who aren't identical twins show up who nevertheless seem to be able to communicate, the result begins to drive the aliens mad.
- Chemical Messiah: Because the Ambassador Ez Ra consists of two non-twins who hate each other, the Ariekei find his pronouncements intoxicating and addictive, leading to a Terminally Dependent Society.
- Different as Night and Day: EzRa, despite their job description requiring them to be identical.
- Dissimile: Ariekei use these quite frequently because it's as close as they can get to abstraction.
- Language of Truth: Lying is impossible for the Ariekei, who cannot comprehend counterfactuals. As such, Language consists exclusively of statements of fact.
- May-December Romance: Avice and Bren, eventually, though their relationship may be less "romance" than "shacking up before the end of the world."
- Organic Technology: Everything the Ariekei do is accomplished with biotech as uncanny as they are, including Bizarrchitecture.
- Person as Verb: Because Language is incapable of abstraction, new words must refer to specific people, places, or objects. As such, several of the characters, including Avice, become "living similes" by performing strange and unique actions, subsequently becoming a part of Language. To talk about something being like a girl who ate what was given to her in a dark room, first they have to find a girl, take her to a dark room, and give her some food.
- Small Town Boredom: Avice leaves Embassytown to escape its bland smallness, returning only reluctantly.
- Title Drop: Relentless, since the title refers to an embassy town called Embassytown. See especially the last page.
- Twin Threesome Fantasy: An automatic consequence of bedding an Ambassador: The only thing better than sex with twins is sex with twins who reflexively think and behave as one person.
- Shout-Out: To George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, which the besieged Embassytowners see as metaphors for their own predicament. They also believe, perhaps inspired by Romero's name, that these films are "early Roman" or "late Georgian."
- Unconventional Formatting: Since Language is a two-part harmony, words spoken in Language are presented as fractions, with one voice (the "cut") appearing in the numerator and the other voice (the "turn") appearing in the denominator.