It’s not everyday you get vague descriptions of creatures from other worlds. Often authors are descriptive to the point of redundancy to help you picture what their creature(s) look like. Not China. Not only does he describe the aliens in this novel merely when he needs to, such as when their anatomy plays into a situation, he also uses terms unique to this universe and then does very little (sometimes nothing) to explain them. At first, this was incredibly frustrating, but soon I got used to it and then eventually the story took over and I no longer worried about the language because I had begun to understand it. And this really is simply the tip of the iceberg for this novel.
Carlo Rotella from the New York Times has a good review 1 (mind you, there are a few spoilers in it that are unmentioned as such, so beware). This paragraph sums up nicely what I liked and struggled with in this novel:
“Embassytown” has the feel of a word-puzzle, and much of the pleasure of figuring out the logic of the world and the story comes from gradually catching the full resonance of its invented and imported words: exoterre, Anglo-Ubiq, turingware, manchmal, immer, zelles. There are times when I wish Miéville, brilliant as he is, would take a lesson from other writers he has clearly read — like Vance, the master of planetary romance — and devote a little more of his potent originality to showing rather than telling. Vance’s stories feel as if they were engineered with great economy, tinkered up to impart strangeness while rolling steadily onward under their own power. Miéville’s, by contrast, feel theorized, sweepingly grand in conception but sometimes a bit disembodied, not quite fully fleshed in scenes that feel genuinely lived.
I don’t entirely agree with Rotella; this story does sometimes feel more theorized than actually alive, but on the whole, it lived, for me, in a way that most stories don’t: bridging that gap between theory and reality.
Thank you China for this outstanding novel.
(I usually end these posts with a quote, but at the moment I can’t find the one I’m looking for, so, hopefully I will update this when I find it *smile*)