The Word For Human In Any Language

Embassytown, By China Mieville

This was a strange one. Not quite what you’d expect, either form a space opera or from China Mieville, and both in a good way. I don’t even know if you’d want to call it Space opera, Or even planetary Romance, though it has elements of both adventure on alien worlds and galactic politics but they aren’t the driving forces of the story.

That driving force is language and where it comes form and what it means to communicate. Here we have a story that for once looks at humans meeting aliens and deals with the profound differences in psychology that creates a gulf in communication, the lengths we’ll go to just to say hello to something other, and what the ramifications of trying to communicate in our own fashion with something so unlike us and how it changes both us and the aliens culture.

China Mieville’s best quality as an author is in his ruthless abandonment of the genre scaffolding and willingness to just plunge the reader into an alien world and let them sink or swim. Most of the exotic words and neologisms are never defined. You just pick them up as you go along and figure it out, like the characters do. This can be disorienting and off-putting if you aren’t expecting it. But the joy of discovery and sorting out the world for yourself is part of the fun of this book.