Most authors deal in plots; China Miéville, by contrast, deals in settings. Perdido Street Station and the follow-up Bas-Lag novels gave us thaumaturgy and Victoriana; The City and the City was sociological science-fiction – the social construction of reality; in Embassytown, the exotic ingredient is language itself.
We are placed in the far-future, where the Terran origins of humanity have been almost entirely forgotten. The worlds of humanity – there are many – are ruled by different fiefdoms and connected by Immerships which traverse a dangerous, opaque and eternal subspace called the Immer (German: ‘always’), with a wildly-different connectivity from our normal spacetime.
The planet of Arieka is at the Immer frontier under the suzerainty of the distant planet Bremen. Arieka is inhabited by an intelligent alien race, the Ariekei, who resemble large winged insects or perhaps crabs. The native air is unbreathable for humans but the Ariekei (often called the Hosts) have used their bioengineering skills to create an enclave, the Embassytown of the title.
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