Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: 'The Embedding' by Ian Watson

1 / 5 Stars

‘The Embedding’ was published by Gollanz (UK) in 1973. This Bantam Books paperback (217 pp) was released in April 1977, with a cover illustration by Paul Lehr.

‘Embedding’ was English author Watson’s first novel.

The book contains two alternating sub-plots, both of which eventually mesh later in the narrative. In one sub-plot, Chris Sole, a linguist at a research institute in England, is working with traumatized, semi-catatonic Bangladeshi refugee children (?!) and trying various elaborate social conditioning methods – including a brain-stimulating drug – to get them to communicate.

In the other sub-plot, a French anthropologist named Pierre is living with a tribe of Amazonian Indians called the Xemahoa. The Xemahoa possess two languages, one being a ‘conventional’ method of spoken communication. The other Xemahoa language is an ill-defined, esoteric form of semi-telepathic communication that involves taking hallucinogenic drugs, which in turn triggers an all-encompassing Awareness of the True Nature of the World.

When an alien spaceship is discovered en route to Earth, both of these plots begin to converge, as the communication becomes the all-important key to managing First Contact.

‘The Embedding’ was a struggle to get through.

Author Watson was intent on using various linguistic theories, that were hip and trendy in the early 70s, as the underpinning of his novel. Many passages are over-written efforts to introduce concepts of a Universal Consciousness through Communication, and these paradigms are too half-baked, and too tepid, to drive the narrative.

The reader must confront clunky mediocre exchanges of dialogue, such as this interaction with one of the aliens:

“Not so,” howled Ph’theri , raising both arms and tick-tacking his thumbs in the utmost anger or agitation. “We Sp’thra are not sick. We are aware. Change Speakers exist – in another reality plane ! When they phased with This-Reality, the event set up a resonance which is this Bereft Love and this Anguish and this Grim Haunting all at once. You have not known this. No other race has. The Change Speakers modulate all the reality tangents to the plane of our embedding here….”

Even FanFic dialogue is superior !

‘The Embedding’ is a yet another New Wave sf novel that concentrated too hard on layering its narrative with gimmicky tropes from the soft sciences – psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. – while failing to tell a good story in the process.

Unless you are a dedicated follower of linguistic theorizing, this book can be passed by without penalty.


MPorcius said...

Have you read anything else by Watson? Way back in the '90s I read his Inquisitor; I guess I got it for free in a Games Workshop boxed game. I didn't like it enough to read any sequels.

tarbandu said...

No, 'The Embedding' is the only Watson novel I've read to date. I'm not in a hurry to read any others, if 'Embedding' is any indicator....

Anonymous said...


Because I read Yaleen a month ago and loved it.