Science fiction isn’t a genre that usually appeals to me – but the wonderfully-named China Miéville is an exception.
If you haven’t come across him before, Miéville is rapidly making a name for himself as a brilliant fantasy storyteller. He’s won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award for best sci-fi novel of the year three times and his writing, described by some as “weird fiction,” has even been compared to that of Kafka and Orwell.
His ninth book, Embassytown, is out in paperback this month (January) and if you’re looking for a book that’s completely unique, give it a go. Complex and awash with radical ideas and linguistic wordplay, it’s a book that requires 100 per cent concentration, but once you get to grips with the setting and the characters, it’s compelling.
Embassytown is a “small and crowded” ghetto on Arieka, a planet on the edge of the universe. It’s part of a much larger city inhabited by a mysterious alien race known as the Hosts - bizarre creatures who look like a cross between winged insects and horses and have two mouths. They talk by using both at once and their language is so difficult to master that few humans can speak it.
The story is narrated by Avice Benner Cho, a feisty young woman who has recently returned to her childhood planet with her new husband, an outsider who’s fascinated by the Hosts’ language.
Apart from a few spats, the humans and Hosts have lived alongside each other for years, but everything changes when a new ambassador arrives in Embassytown. Conflict looms and with the humans vastly outnumbered, Avice realises the only hope is for her to speak directly to the Hosts. But how can she possibly do that?
The beauty of Miéville’s books is that he combines pacy storytelling with ingenious plots and deft characterisation. Even here, when he’s writing about space, time and planets where humans aren’t the only intelligent life, he manages to explore age-old themes like power, language, friendship and love. It's a great and highly original read.
Embassytown by China Miéville (Pan, £7.99)