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Embassytown

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Reading
September 13, 2021
1 min read

Embassy town is a pretty good book for the lore and language theme of this week. It tells the story of a humanity spread across the stars, and a special relationship in one town between two species — space-faring humanity and the Ariekei. What’s special about this relationship is that only a few people can speak the language of the Ariekei, which requires the uttering of two words at the same point in time. They’re also entirely literal — there’s no concept of subterfuge, no notion of metaphor in the language. Statements are statements, and these statements construct reality (hence the inability to lie).

It’s a bit difficult to describe the arc of this book without giving away the whole story. However, after an initially quite challenging immersion (which itself is a bit of a joke, since the idea of the Immer as a kind of warp-travel idea is core to the book) in the book’s worldbuilding, the alienness of the language and how language comes to construct reality becomes an incredibly useful tool for interrogating our own use of metaphor and language to warp the real and also protect ourselves from that effect.

Given the rise of populism and the role of the influencer in society through affinity-based recommendation platforms, the interrogation of speech and worldbuilding performed by Mieville through this book is poignant. I walked away from it both very satisfied and curious for more.

Definitely give this book a read, but be prepared for a challenging one.


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Andrew Lovett-Barron

Software Designer and Researcher

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