The Similies

OF COURSE we were hardly all the similes the Ariekei spoke. Some were animal or inanimate: there was a house in Embassytown out of which, many years before, the Hosts had taken all the furniture, then put it back, to allow some figure of speech. The split stone, made so they could speak the thought, it’s like the stone that was split and put together again. Most, though, were Terre men and women: there was something in us that facilitated.

Many similes, of course, were uninterested in their status. There were I gathered one or two among Staff. Even Ambassadors. They never came.

“They don’t like being Language,” Hasser said. “It makes them feel vulnerable—they like speaking Language, not being it. Plus they’d have to hobnob with commoners.” He spoke with the complicated amalgam of respect and resentment I’d heard before and would again,


Hasser gave me sotto voce information about my interlocutors as they spoke, like a vizier in the ears of an Ambassador. “She’s just bitter because she doesn’t get called very often. Her simile’s too recondite.” “He’s less a simile than an example, honestly. And he knows it.” When I went home I was peppery about them all. I told Scile how ridiculous a scene it was. But I went back. I’ve thought a lot about why I did. Which does not mean I could explain it.

On my second trip, Valdik, who every week swam with fishes, told the story of his similification. He was an ongoing: his status depended not on something that he had done or had done to him, but on something he had to continue to do. It’s like the man who swims with fishes every week, the Hosts might want to say, to make whatever obscure point it was, and to allow them that, it had to be true that he did. Hence his duty.

“There’s a marble bath in Staff quarters,” Valdik said. Glanced up at me, back down. “They shipped it years ago, all the way through the immer. They put little altfish in with me, which can take the chlorine. I swim every Overday.” I suspected he spent the eleven days between each such trip preparing for the next. I did not know what efforts were made to ensure such activities were ongoing, the tenses of the Hosts’ similes accurate. I wondered if that was part of the Ambassadors’ slight unease with us: the possibility of a simile strike.


The Ariekei can only speak in analogy, not lie, and not speculate. Because of this, they need people to serve as similies, references for their language.

Folksonomies: science fiction otherness alien other

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Metaphor (0.954466): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Simile (0.871293): dbpedia | freebase
Analogy (0.866393): dbpedia | freebase

Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Miéville, China (2013-06-06), Embassytown, FANTASCY, Retrieved on 2014-06-28
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: fiction