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6/50: Embassytown by China Miéville


Embassytown is my “book with a one word title” for the 50 Book Challenge.

I'm begrudgingly rating this 3 stars. I feel like this book has nearly everything I love about writing and speculative fiction, so I should have loved it so, so much. It has some amazingly innovative ideas, especially with regards to language, and the world-building is absolutely exquisite. So why did I have to constantly force myself to slog through it? Why did reading it become such a dreaded and procrastinated chore? I'm impressed and intrigued by the author and will definitely read more of his work, and I love some of the ideas in this novel, but I really wish the actual storyline had gripped me and propelled me through to the end.

Embassytown has some very compelling awesomeness: interstellar travel, biotechnology, excellent world-building of worlds/aliens/cultures/languages, cloning and body modification (both technical and tribal-esque), fame, politics, addiction, sacrifice, war, love. As a writer, I was particularly impressed with the alien Language he created and the concept of Language as a drug. It's a fascinating concept that was tackled well and doesn't skip over some of the ugliness of addiction like so many books and shows often do. I also like the underlying theme of how every species or alien race seems to battle the same difficulty with great change.

But the plot itself just didn't hook me and wasn't even really apparent until the last third of the book. I'd set it down and weeks would go by without picking it up, and then only because I had to finish the thing for book club. While I was cheering some awesome alien touch or technological/linguistic advancement, I was forcing myself onward in search of the point. It eventually got there, but it was a surprisingly and disappointingly boring ride.

I'm somewhat tickled by the irony of my dual feelings on this: I loved all these concepts and little touches/I really hated reading this book.