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When the world is reduced to a bubble on an alien planet

Monday, April 09, 2012

Embassytown by China Mieville is another great book by three-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, twice winner of the British Fantasy Award and many others. For those not familiar with this genre of writing, this is an invitation. There are words to be learnt. The glossary of the future keeps expanding with every writer and every book. The first term that stopped us short was ‘immer’ which implies space-time reality as akin to our sea and land, and to travel is to immerse.

Embassytown is a city of contradictions located on the outskirts of the universe. 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. This is what she realizes. Before she could speak the Ariekei language, they made her part of it, a figure of speech. She is “the girl who ate what was given her”.

A different kind of human ambassador is sent to Embassytown, one who can give them what they want – or an intoxicating imitation of it, a misuse of their language producing a kind of false lie. The Ariekei do not permit lying. Avice is desperate to be able to speak directly to the Ariekie and prevent a violent confrontation.

l Embassytown by China Mieville Pan Macmillan Rs.350

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