After a little bit of a break, it’s time to talk about Part Two of Embassytown, a section titled “Festivals”! Catch up on the previous posts in this series by visiting the intro & index page.
PROBABLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Here we have nine chapters, continuing the alternating Formerly/Latterday structure so that Miéville can intersperse the slow-but-steady acceleration of the plot with more worldbuilding-dense flashbacks. First I’ll talk about the Latterday plot events, before continuing to examine the background details of the novel’s universe.
“A slow catastrophe”
After the turning point at the end of Part One, when EzRa opened their mouths, there is a period of confusion as to what went wrong. Something is undoubtedly wrong but not everyone is privy to the “slow catastrophe” brewing. The Staff and Ambassadors are suddenly on edge, but are keeping tight-lipped, leaving Avice and the majority of Embassytown (not to mention the reader) in the dark with a faint feeling of dread and unease. This tantalising, but opaque, slide into apocalypse makes the eventual moments of clear terror all the more delicious for the reader — much like the slow, uneasy build up to the reveal of the Slake Moths in Perdido Street Station.
This week I’m bringing you my analysis and thoughts on Part One of Embassytown, “Income”.
This series of posts has an intro & index that you should start with. As I mentioned last week, I might get some of the details wrong because it’s been a few years since I first read this book. Bear with me, I’ll correct myself as I go.
PROBABLE SPOILERS AHEAD
As we enter the meat of the novel, China employs an interleaved flashback structure to the chapters, divided between “Formerly” and “Latterday”. The Formerly chapters detail Avice’s return to Embassytown and her relationship with her husband Scile (and later, with others). We learn a lot of the key exposition about Embassytown, the Hosts, and their Language, through their conversations. Meanwhile, the Latterday chapters return to the day of the Arrival Ball from the book’s very beginning, which is kilohours after Avice’s return — a period of time probably in the ballpark of Earth-months.
This entire part of the novel, about 50 pages long (in the UK hardcover), keeps the reader in kind of a holding pattern. We linger at the ball, where we know something momentous must soon occur; and in the meantime China takes advantage of this lull to impart some must-know worldbuilding, in order to get us up to speed on how human-Host relations work on this world, so we understand how everything goes wrong. It’s not until the conclusion of Part One that the main conflict of the book swings into motion.
Welcome to the first part of my Embassytown re-read, covering the section “Proem: The Immerser”.
Start with the intro & index if you are new to my series of re-read posts. And a note: I can’t remember a lot of the details of the book (which is one of the pleasures of re-reading) so I might be mistaken about some of the things I talk about early on. I’ll correct myself as I go!
PROBABLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Embassytown has a strange structure, even for a China Miéville book. It begins with a vignette from a crucial point from later in the story, then there is a 39-page (in the UK hardcover) prologue section, titled “Proem: The Immerser”. The “proem” (just a fancy word for prologue) is divided into three chapters, headed “0.1”, “0.2” and “0.3”. Oh, China Miéville.
Personally I love this introduction to the book. It keeps a lot of the main concepts a mystery (e.g.: the nature of the Hosts, the nature of the Ambassadors, the key points of the Language, the planet Arieka outside of Embassytown itself, and so on); instead focusing on Avice, her youth, and her adventures in the out.
The prologue functions as a broader stage-setting, saving the meaty plot-related concepts for later introductions. Miéville knows the books he writes can be mindbogglers (see The City and the City), so he draws you in gradually, gently. Nonetheless, there is still a lot about the universe of the book that we get introduced to, and I’ll go through what we know so far.
I was one of the lucky ones to get an ARC (advance reader’s copy) of Embassytown back in 2011, and to read and review it before it was officially released. Out of pure excitement, eagerness to review, and the desire to brag, I raced through the book. Now, three years on, I am finally getting around to a more leisurely re-read: that pleasurable second time through a book where you discover ten times the detail you did the first time around, and can appreciate the gorgeous writing and the turns of the plot much more thoroughly.
I’ll be writing up my thoughts and observations about the book and its universe as I go, but in a much less rigid way than I did for my chapter-by-chapter analysis of The Scar (which I may one day finish). Fair warning: I have no idea how many posts this re-read series will comprise, how long it’ll take, and so on. I’ll work my way through the book as I read my other 4 or 5 concurrent books, and hopefully I’ll be done before long.
I simply can’t wait for the discoveries I’ll make as I enter the Immerverse once more.
The Hosts (also known as the Ariekei), the aliens featured in the novel Embassytown, are one of China Miéville’s most bizarre creations. The book only gives hints as to how they look, never definitively describing them.
Collected here are, in my opinion, some of the best renditions of the Hosts by various artists. The artists are acknowledged, and linked to, under each piece. They are presented below purely for the enjoyment of Miéville fans like me.
By Liz Coshow
(This review is spoiler-free!)
Fans of the eloquent and endlessly imaginative China Miéville have been blessed by his recent annual output, with the third book in three years coming out this May. After the previous genre-benders which melded murder mystery with metaphysical weirdness (2009’s The City & the City), and urban fantasy with theological satire (last year’s Kraken), the latest novel Embassytown once again mashes together incongruent elements of fiction to create something beautiful, bleak and terrifying. Embassytown combines planetary science-fiction with colonial novel, lingual exploration with zombie apocalypse.
It is megahours in our universe’s future (all lengths of time are given in hours and multiples of, due to the difficulty of standardising day and year length over thousands of colonised planets), and the nation of Bremen has established a colony on the far-off planet Arieka: Embassytown, a human ghetto-cum-bureaucratic facility smackdab in the middle of the indigenous species’ only city. The natives are the Ariekei, known to humans as the Hosts—and gracious hosts they are, as they provide food and wondrous biotechnology for the settlers, asking virtually nothing in exchange. However, there is a bit of a communication hurdle as the Hosts’ method of speech is physiologically impossible for humans to copy. That is until a breakthrough occurs, and specially trained-and-altered humans known as Ambassadors are finally able to speak to the Hosts. Things go peachily for a time, until the Bremen capitol, unprecedented, sends a new Ambassador to join the embassy’s Staff. This Ambassador is different in a remarkable way to all those who have come before, and the effect on the Hosts is unexpected and disastrous. Horror ensues in typical Miéville fashion.