Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More Reviews of Mieville's Embassytown

A reader's rendition of the otherwise never-fully-described-in-
one-passage Ariekei. By Janet Bruesselbach.

I wrote my own (mostly very positive) review here; Norman Spinrad gives a review in an article in Asimov's, which is similarly effusive but I think wide of the mark in terms of Mieville's construction of the aliens. They're definitely not the most alien in fiction (which Spinrad asserts). Although they're refreshingly non-humanoid, their motivations share human rationality a little too clearly for this kind of praise.

Christopher Priest (the Prestige) is having none of this. In a post in which he systematically curses each of the Clarke Award nominees, he complains about Embassytown thus: "In Embassytown there is scene after scene in which these weakly drawn characters twitter away to each other in what might be a field or an airport terminal or someone's front room, for all the lack of evocation the author manages." In a work of ideas (which Embassytown clearly is) you sacrifice some characterization and setting for the dialogue that's communicating those ideas; otherwise your audience gets bored. For me, Embassytown would be a worse book if it had more of that sort of clutter. When I read a lot of characterization in fiction, I feel like I'm wasting my time, and I'm learning about the way the author thinks about people, rather than about anything other humans do (and I don't particularly care what authors think about people - why would anyone? - unless those authors are psychologists). When I want to learn about people, I read biographies - about real humans. My counter-critique of Priest's post is that he's applying standards that don't apply to what Mieville was trying to do, and what the audience for this book is looking for.

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