Embassytown by China Mieville

This is not a review. This is a comment.

There are many a review of Embassytown which lavish it with high praise. SFX gave it 4.5/5. They called it daring and exhilarating. Ursula K. Le Guin raved about it in the Guardian. She thought it addresses who we are – a standard trope for good SF.

I’ve read here and there that this is an example of literary science-fiction? Is it? What is literacy science-fiction? Is that a good thing?

Now, I really, really like China Mieville. I love the Bas-Lag books. I thought Kraken was a cracking read. The City & The City was an intelligent and enjoyable story. I try not to read hard-back books. I’m not in a hurry so I’m happy to wait for the paperback. So it was with some excitement that I opened up China’s latest. Sure, I’d read the reviews and contrary to my usual standpoint, I believed the hype.

Embassytown was a massive disappointment. Don’t get me wrong. It is incredibly well written and very clever. The use of language in a book essentially about how language is used was outstanding. The world-building was among Mieville’s best. His imagination and wit and the weird shit that goes on in his head are second to none. But…

There were no characters I could relate too. There was no story as such; certainly nothing I could take from it. It says nothing to me about the world I live in or the world which may be round the corner. I found it cold and plodding.

Now, I might not be as clever as Mieville or Le Guinn, but I’m a reasonable smart chap. I’ve a masters degree in micropalaeontology. But I just don’t get it. The plot was moved on by a series of statements; a succession of ‘this is what happened’, followed by a crisis or a scene of import. I’ve read a fair bit on writing and one of the most important things you are taught is show and not tell. I believe that there is far too much telling and not enough showing. I might be wrong. Tell me if I am.

What does this say about literary science fiction? What does this say about me? Either I don’t get it, or a lot of people are fawning over the Emperor’s New Clothes. I hope Mieville returns to telling ripping stories with great characters with traits I can relate too. If not, I think I’ll be sticking to zombies and urban magicians.


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