Best of May 2011 in SFF: China Mieville's Embassytown

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Best of May 2011 in SFF: China Mieville's Embassytown

Posted on 2011-05-31 at 9:0 by Sam

Link: Best of May 2011 in SFF: China Mieville’s Embassytown

Narrated by Susan Duerden, whose previous titles include Android Karenina, China Mieville’s Embassytown is my pick for the best science fiction and fantasy title to be released at in May.

Here’s the publisher’s summary:

China Miéville doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. Relentlessly pushing his own boundaries as a writer—and in the process expanding the boundaries of the entire field—with Embassytown, Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war.

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

Duerden ably pilots us through the dense linguistic plot, and nice production touches give listeners a flavor of the Ariekei tongue of which readers can only be jealous, mashing words on top of each other to create a truly alien effect. (Here is a short, low-fi clip of me saying “Jeff” and “Chi” overtop each other in a similar way to give “JeffChi”.) Meanwhile the book never devolves into pointless and expansive background and detail, without leaving us truly in the dark. In short, Mieville creates an alien world and lets it breathe, with the sometimes horrific suffocation this can imply. That said, the book opens with an intimidating series of undefined terminology, and alternates chronology from “formerly” to the present, and is a challenging book to unravel — to the point of, at times, an exasperated “what is going on?” Sticking it out, however, is plenty rewarding.


  • The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, narrated by Scott Brick, a non-stop plot-driven semi-hard sf heist novel and plenty of fun


SEEN BUT NOT HEARD: Unfortunately some books released this month did not come out in audio:

Note: this post is back-dated from June 21, 2011, for sort order purposes.

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