An Interview with China Mieville, Ambassador for His SF Novel "Embassytown"


China Miéville’s latest novel, Embassytown, is a fascinating mix of the cerebral and the visceral, a “weird” science fiction novel that features paired ambassadors communicating with aliens on a distant planet. When a new, strange ambassador pair arrives from a more central world, communication between the groups begins to break down, with disastrous and transformative results for humans and aliens alike. It’s an ambitious, heady mix for readers, rewarded with praise in The Guardian from Ursula K. LeGuin and, this past weekend, in the New York Times Book Review. The novel builds on the success of previous books written in a variety of related genres, and, to this reader at least, reflects a continuing quest to break down the barricades between so-called “literary” and “genre” fiction. As ever, his fiction is a potent delivery system for sometimes difficult ideas.

I interviewed Miéville via email at the end of his U.S. book tour for Embassytown, focusing not just on the novel but on his recent tour. Embassytown is, in part, about language and its uses or mis-uses. Have any interpretations of the novel thus far been in your opinion wrong but still interesting to you?

China Miéville: I wouldn't say “wrong”, but there are interpretations which seem to want to come down to a single conclusion, an approach that has never convinced me--the whole “Book X means Y” paradigm. So their interpretations I may agree with, but would hesitate to seeing as the end of the matter. Conversely, a couple of times people have pointed things out that had not occurred to me at all. Someone pointed out the repeated use of the wing-f---ed Icarus trope in several books of mine: had not clocked it at all, and quite true. Was Doris Lessing’s fiction any influence on the novel?

China Miéville: Not consciously, no. But the unconscious is a large country. Is there anything semi-autobiographical (albeit transformed) in Embassytown?

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