Recent Reading

June 15th, 2012

Have you ever read anything by China Mieville?

He keeps winning awards of all kinds — I think at this point that feeds on itself, because he won the World Fantasy Award for THE CITY AND THE CITY last year, naturally everybody reads EMBASSYTOWN already thinking, “Should I nominate this for the Hugo?” So of course it got nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and everything.

Well . . . One can see why. I’m still trying to decide if I actually liked it. I’m not sure. I didn’t really like the narrator (the book’s in the first person) for most of the book. Actually, I hardly thought the narrator (Avice) had an actual personality for most of the book. I guess she did . . . not a very interesting personality? To me? Or something?

Which may kind of be the idea, because Avice is supposed to be sort of permanently drifting through life in a not very committed way, and at the end that’s no longer the case, but I suspect that even if Mieville wrote her that way on purpose, the effect was to make me feel that the protagonist just was so uninteresting for the first, I don’t know, maybe 3/4 of the book. Which is a lot of time to not really care about the, hello, protagonist of the book.

Certainly I did not “fall in love” with any of the characters, and you definitely can’t expect to “fall into the story”, either, and that more distant feeling leaves me, not disappointed exactly, but . . . well, I wouldn’t have nominated it, okay? Even though I can see very well it’s good in other ways.

What other ways? Well, it’s a setting novel and an idea novel. The setting is far future and it’s done well; the idea is based around this wild double-brained language and that’s really kinda cool; the major problem doesn’t appear till about 100 pages in and doesn’t start to snowball into OMG WE ARE SO SCREWED territory for about another 100 pages after that.

After which there is quite a bit of excitement, I grant you. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, so I’ll just say I read that part MUCH faster than I read the first 3/4 of the novel. And I wound up liking Avice much better at the end — she was more engaged in her world, and therefore so was I.

In contrast, I loved THE CITY AND THE CITY (that’s the only other Mieville I’ve read, though UN LUN DUN is on my TBR pile downstairs). The setting was more intimate, both more jarring and more familiar — it’s a murder mystery set in a middle European city (sort of), and while you read it, you keep asking yourself, Really? And you can’t quite figure out how the Beszel / Ul Qoma thing actually works, but it’s just so cool.

And besides, I loved Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. And since I’m a character-driven reader, that makes all the difference.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on June 15th, 2012

6 Comments already, do join in...

  1. Maureen E Says:

    June 15th, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    I feel like Mieville is someone I admire and appreciate, but I don’t necessarily love his books (except UN LUN DUN) and in some cases couldn’t even manage to finish.

  2. Rachel Says:

    June 18th, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    I kind of felt like reading EMBASSYTOWN was a worthwhile exercise, but not actually, you know, fun. And in general I don’t pick up a book if I think it’s going to be work rather than fun. At least not genre.

    So after reading THE CITY AND THE CITY, I was kind of on the lookout for more by Mieville — and after EMBASSYTOWN, not so much. I’m glad you mention UN LUN DUN as an exception for you, since after all I already have that one on my TBR pile! I hope I love it — I know it got a lot of attention.

  3. Linda S Says:

    June 24th, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I liked the book better than you did, mostly because I appreciated the way Mieville developed a very foreign setting without resorting to infodumps. I completely agree with you about the main character, though. I would have liked the book much better if Avice hadn’t been such a cipher.

    I’m glad I read EMBASSYTOWN, and I won’t be outraged if it wins the Hugo, but it will only be getting my #3 vote, after LEVIATHAN WAKES and AMONG OTHERS.

  4. Rachel Says:

    June 25th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Oh, hey, you liked LEVIATHAN WAKES? The reviews of it I read made me think I really wouldn’t, so I confess I kinda filled out the novel category without (ahem) actually reading it. I put AMONG OTHERS first and EMBASSYTOWN second. But now I think perhaps I better try LEVIATHAN WAKES after all before I actually mail in the ballot. Which did you put first?

  5. Linda S Says:

    June 25th, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Jo Walton wrote a very nice review of LEVIATHAN WAKES on Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/01/more-like-this-please-james-sa-coreys-leviathan-wakes. As she says, it reads like an old-school SF novel in a lot of ways; it reminded her of Heinlein, Niven and Cherryh. (I’d say it’s closer in feel to Cherryh than to either of the others, but I see what she means.) If you like that kind of book at all, I’d say you should give it a shot. If you’ve always hated that kind of book, you probably don’t need to bother. Also, you probably already know this, but as a member of the Worldcon, you can download the Hugo voter packet, which contains a copy of LW (in PDF format only, unfortunately).

    Even though I thought the ending was a little disappointing, I’m probably going to put LW first on my ballot as a small vote for SF with spaceships and space stations. I don’t actually expect it to win, though.

  6. Rachel Says:

    June 26th, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Well, hey, Cherryh is just one of my all-time-favorite authors. So I guess I’ll get LW after all. Glad you mentioned it before it was too late to read it and vote!

    I do know about the Chicon packet — but reading a whole book in pdf, ow. I’ll just get a real copy. I need to get a couple of the novellas and novelettes from the Chicon thing, though.

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