By China Mieville
On the concrete balcony of a third-floor industrial complex in London, China Miéville was speaking earnestly about his early experiences of reading H.P. Lovecraft. He was remembering the Cthulhu. They were, he said, quite sexy.
Three years later and the alien species of Embassytown are a language-impaired, bio-wonderful race called the Ariekei. Collected together as a mass of wings and hooves, with bodies moving diligently, graceful despite the furious motions, the Ariekei are akin to the terror-inducing Cthulhu of Lovecraft in many ways – similarities abound – but two distinct differences are made rich by Miéville.
Ariekei speak twice through two mouths, both at once and with different sounds. Their words are uttered together, one making one noise, the second another, but only together making a meaningful "word". Particularly alien though this sounds, Miéville is not just interested in curious difference. Ariekei do not understand recordings of their language, nor do they register non-Ariekei speaking half their words – neither "cut", nor "turn" will count apart. They must be spoken together; moreover, they must be spoken by one such as them, unified mouths, tongues that speak as one.
Those first intrepid adventurers across space encountered many species before the Ariekei, faced charging hulks as translator algorithms violently whirred through variations of a greeting. But despite previous experience, the language-bots’ myriad salutations fell on deaf ears with the Ariekei.
Until decades later, Earth time, clone twins are grown. Only after intense training, chemical enhancement and implants – after distinct de-humanising – do the Ariekei finally suspect that the humanoid beings gesticulating around them are thinking, breathing beings. At least, the stuttering clone twins are anyway.
That afternoon in London was not well attended or particularly noteworthy, but despite the relatively dark surroundings, Miéville gave the impression of a writer with great potential. He moves through ideas with ease in Embassytown, making each thought as individual and striking as the characters he depicts. Miéville’s talent appears to have only increased over time, and has no signs of ever diminishing.
Written on 22nd July 2011 by Charles Haynes.