Sunday, June 19, 2011


I wanted to generate what the aliens, Ariekei, in Embassytown by China Mieville look like before I looked up the better job other artists have probably done.  It's almost instantly one of my favorite books, everyone.  I don't think I have any better examples of Literary Sci Fi.  I can compare it to Babel-17 or Anathem but better.

Anyway, the Ariekei are described with mixed analogies to earth creatures, enough that you get an idea of something very alien-looking.  Their technology is all biological and they speak a non-representational language with two harmonizing mouths, the "cut" (above, on the neck) and the "turn" (at chest level).  They walk on four "spider"-like legs ending in "hooves", with spines and dark hair.  They have two coral-like "wings", the giftwing (manipulation, from under the turn mouth) and the fanwing (hearing, behind cutmouth and eye antlers).  Wings and eye-antlers all retract or furl and emerge like those of sea creatures or stop-motion plants.  Mature hosts are accompanied by battery creatures (zelles) and older ones grow edible sacs.

Ariekei embassytown hosts


Aric said...

Thanks for posting these. Yours are the first sketches I found via Google Image Search.

If you're interested in other literary SF, I think Ursula K Le Guin's Hainish Cycle is generally well regarded. I think The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are the most famous. I've read The Dispossessed, and Embassytown brought it to mind (though the stories are very different), as well as Frank Herbert's Dune. The other books I was reminded of are Mary Doria Russell's hard SF duology The Sparrow and Children of God which are also alien contact gone bad, but once again, in very different ways than Embassytown.

Janet said...

Hi Aric - I hope you just responded to this recently! I intended to finally read Dune very soon now. Already read Le Guin. I will definitely check out Mary Doria Russell. Embassytown could be compared to Neal Stephenson's Anathem or Samuel Delany, especially Babel-17, but Mieville really brings something new and strange to SF, with a kind of Marxian academic bent I haven't seen much more of in my short life. I'm usually not so engaged with alien contact stories, but this had a lot of very contemporary postcolonial theory to it.