A Memory Called Empire
December 3, 2019 7:51 AM - by Arkady Martine - Subscribe

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident. Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, to save herself and her way of life. Arkady Martine, scholar of Byzantine, history brings all her knowledge of intricate political maneuvering to bear in her debut space opera.

“A Memory Called Empire” makes much of past and future selves, of memory and language and the things that can change them. One of the first questions Mahit asks her cultural liaison is, “How wide is the Teixcalaanli concept of ‘you’?” — a question that roots philosophy in grammar, makes manifest how language and custom are indissociable from the politics of conquest. With incredible clarity and precision, Martine folds layer after layer of complexity into this book, such that it, like Mahit, is a fusion of Lsel Station and Teixcalaan: welding beauty and efficiency, building engineering out of verse. It left me utterly dazzled. - Amal El-Mohtar

Ultimately, the temptations of the City and the Teixcalaanli Empire, and the struggle to truly be seen as “civilized” in the eyes of those who defined the word, rather than a “barbarian,” provide the story’s central conflict, as Mahit fights against warring impulses. Does she give in to the joy she feels at being accepted by a people and a culture that look down on her, or instead defend the fierce pride and love she has for her home, protecting that identity and those parts of herself from the mighty, overwhelming influence of the Empire? Martine doesn’t turn away from the brutal forms this type of emotional colonization can take, nor from the effects it can have on the souls being forced to grapple with the effects of that colonization. - Martin Cahill
posted by tofu_crouton (16 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm still finishing it but I would already recommend it to fans of the Goblin Emperor or Ancillary Mercy.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

This was so good.

So, so good.
posted by kyrademon at 7:56 AM on December 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

This book was excellent, just the kind of amazing science fiction that can really delve into concepts of memory, identity, civilization and colonialism. There's so much to unpack in here. Highly recommended.
posted by dellsolace at 8:00 AM on December 3, 2019

I really loved this book. The worldbuilding was fascinating and left me with a lot to think about, while the plot built tension nicely and kept me engaged. Plus, despite the fact that LGBTQ representation in fiction is something I seek out, I had somehow missed anyone telling me that this particular book was queer, so the f/f relationship development at the end was a wonderful surprise.
posted by bridgebury at 1:41 PM on December 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of the very few books lately that I've liked just as much as everybody on the Internet does. Worldbuilding/characterization/plotting all A+.
posted by huimangm at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2019

It's funny you mention that, bridgebury, because I thought about recommending it to a friend who doesn't like sff that much but does want to read queer sff. Then I thought that even telling her about it would be a spoiler, so I didn't.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:08 PM on December 3, 2019

I loved this as well. I gave it five stars on Goodreads/Amazon, which I usually only do about three or four times a year.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:46 PM on December 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm still finishing it but I would already recommend it to fans of the Goblin Emperor or Ancillary Mercy.

Oh shit, you just insta-sold me
posted by smoke at 2:10 AM on December 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I liked this! Though I did keep trying to pigeonhole the Teixcalaanli as "XXXX empire in space!" for various values of XXXX, which is a bad habit I need to work on.

Also we need more SF written by scholars of Byzantium.
posted by Justinian at 8:57 PM on December 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

FYI for you lucky bastards in the US, it's only 2.99 at the moment. Still full price here, damn it.
posted by smoke at 2:13 AM on December 5, 2019

The sequel's title is _A Desolation Called Peace_ which is a reference to one of my favorite quotations ever!
posted by Justinian at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

It seems to be a banner year for queer SF, at least as far as my reading list goes. This was one of my favorites this year, as was Amal El-Mohtar/Max Gladstone's This Is How You Lose The Time War.
posted by lhauser at 6:11 PM on December 8, 2019

You know, I thought it was fine, good even. Personally, I would not be giving it the over the top praise I've seen from other people.

Maybe I'm just getting old and picky.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:59 PM on December 26

I enjoyed it but also had qualms.

A lot of the tension comes from Mahit lying and trying to keep another character from finding out some truth. Unfortunately that tension is weakened because ultimately by the end everyone knows everything. There was little overall need to keep things a secret. One of the most dramatic actions that Mahit undertakes is done to decipher a very secret code. She then immediately tells everyone what was encoded.

It's also narratively confusing. It's hard as a reader to keep track of which characters know which truths and which lies. When Mahit does finally tell a character the truth, there is no drama to it because I as the reader have known for a while and had already forgotten that it was supposed to be a secret for ~reasons~.

I love the worldbuilding and themes though, so I look forward to the next installment.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:44 AM on December 27 [1 favorite]

The intrigue was suspiciously "cozy", yeah, in the sense that everybody you want to be trustworthy ultimately is. But not every space opera needs to have Dune-level plot machinations, and a certain level of false drama seems to be in keeping with Teixcalaanli culture anyway.

On top of which, the very precarious nature of Mahit's success -- things can still go very badly for Lsel, as a Texcalaan-aligned "neutral" station at the crossroads of a major galactic war -- and the fact that all the "trustworthy" characters stood to benefit, and did, by helping Mahit get her way prevented the conclusion from feeling unsatisfyingly easy.

I'm looking forward to the next one as well, although part of me wishes that for once someone would write a good sci-fi novel with compelling world-building that's just a one-and-done novel instead of a sprawling epic.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:50 PM on December 27

How did I miss this thread? I absolutely love this book and have recommended it to just about everyone and not just because the author is a close friend of mine. I got to read the sequel yesterday and oh man, everyone is in for a treat.

the fact that all the "trustworthy" characters stood to benefit, and did, by helping Mahit get her way prevented the conclusion from feeling unsatisfyingly easy

This was absolutely why the romance (a thing I very seldom care much about) worked incredibly well for me. Those two characters are obviously compatible on a personal level, but their priorities are such that the success of their relationship is incredibly contingent on the alignment of their political goals, and Mahit realizes this. And doesn't settle for it.

And man, poetry in fiction very seldom works on me the way it's described working on the characters, but... "Released, I am a spear in the hands of the sun." I realized the implications of it about three paragraphs before it was explicitly stated, and it kinda blew my mind. So few endings really have the impact they want to, but this one did.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:01 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]

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