Hey all. Been away for a few days doing that whole Easter thing. Put up a festhall in my backyard, barbecued a whole bunch of meat. Life is good.

As far as books go, I can recommend a few delights we’ve been enjoying lately. First up, for those of you who enjoy their hard science fiction with a strongly intellectual bent I can heartily recommend Embassytown by China Mieville.

China is one of my favorite authors though I freely admit that his is a flavor that’s not to everyone’s taste. A Mieville novel can usually be summed up by the phrase “OK, so there is this awesome, super-creative world… let’s all watch as it goes totally to shit.” This has been true for every book of his that I’ve read so far, Embassytown is no different.

I can’t say TOO much about the novel, as all China Mieville novels have this sort of Journey-esque thing going on where the more you know about the project going into it, the less you will enjoy the experience of discovery. That said, the book centers around a colony (Embassytown) which exists on a far off backwater planet miles from galactic civilization. It’s one of those colonies in which a tiny group of settlers is making their way in a bubble habitat while surrounded by terrifying alien biosphere.

What makes Embassytown interesting is that the book is split right down the middle between “book for people who want to geek out over a hard sci-fi war story” and “book for people who want to geek out over very academic dissertations about language”. You heard me: LANGUAGE. Without going into tremendous detail I can say that this is a book about semiotics, communication theory, sociology and what happens when the white man’s ships roll up onto the native man’s shores and people start trying to connect their own vision of how the world works to a people who have absolutely no context for what they’re hearing.

Like all China books it’s also a very intellectually demanding read. The author (as usuasl) immediately hurls the reader into this batshit crazy world and starts throwing jargon at the reader without any warning whatsoever. For the first several chapters it’s very much sink or swim until you get your sea legs underneath you — but once you begin connecting the dots between crazy terms and cultural indicators the world map opens up and you start to appreciate the plot and worldbuilding that’s gone into this one.

As usual, China isn’t heavy on the characterization but he’s spent an insane amount of work building up the personality of his WORLD as well as setting up a very compelling page-turner as far as the actual plot goes. In short, it’s basically a story for people who like both Marshall McLuhan and Star Control. Yep, that’s about the most succinct description.

Aside from that, lots of Xenoblade this weekend. As Pete will attest it’s a hell of a thing.

We haven’t seen a JRPG like this since.. oh, Final Fantasy XII at least. super deep enjoyable battle system, likable characters, strong narrative, expansive mega-interesting world that China would be proud to have created. Basically everything you love in the genre.

As a person who’d been hankering seriously for an old-skool J-grindathon with stats and HP/MP guages flashing in front of my face it’s gone down super smooth so far. My only complaint – and this will be the same complaint that everybody has – is that it happens to be released for the Wii and therefore looks like a back-assward low-res title compared to the visual fidelity we’ve been used to seeing for the last 4 years. While I can certainly get over this pretty quickly, it’s a damn shame when you think of just how good this experience COULD have been as Xenoblade HD.

Oh well. Managed to play way too many hours of it over easter weekend nonetheless. Currently ramming around the Bionis’ hip area, killing zugs and butting heads with Metal Face, aka this world’s version of Skeletor. You know, Mechons, you were kind of scary until one of you opened your mouth. Now I just giggle at the resulting cranky sounding moustache twirling. Robots with north London accents are hilarious.