Check Out the Memory Called Empire

Mahit Dzmare, ambassador of the small mining station of Lsel in the juggernaut of the Teixkalaan Empire, carries in mind the memories of his eventual predecessor Yskandr Aghavn. Until those memories are powerful and inexplicably suppressed, leaving you in a world that people talk about in poetic allusions. calling each other flowers, abstract concepts and sometimes vehicles or gadgets; facing an imminent succession debate; and wanting you dead more often than is actually healthy. Mahit must navigate this deadly maze and maintain his independence while choosing the right allies to prevent him from being eaten by the always hungry Teixcalaanli Fleet. And looking for a way to find her connection with Yskandr’s knowledge and advice without, of course, telling everyone that she has already had such access.


A memory called Empire is a political thriller inspired by the Byzantine Empire with plots reminiscent of the trill symbionts from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and the vocal games of Frank Herbert’s Striking Star. It’s science fiction, and its scope is certainly lyrical, but calling it a space opera seems like a scam, as if something had been left out. Arkady Martine’s prose is a concise and confident mixture of Tense Action and delightful humor. The scenes that denounce the virtues of alcohol when forced to praise bad poetry and mock an otherwise irrelevant character named after a snowmobile are generously scattered between assassinations and diplomatic machinations. A Memory called Empire is dense, full of ulterior motives and subplots and beautifully realized characters, but its diversity makes it superbly readable.


But perhaps the most memorable aspect of Martine’s beginnings is the company that founded her. Teixcalaan is absolutely fascinating, his libertarian self-concept and his passion for art and style mingling with an almost superstitious fear of the human spirit. Her veneer of kindness, elegance and enlightenment is deeply fragile and all the more precious for her. There is still a smile from your mouth, but it is also deeply personal. The mastery of allusion and subtext are such clear characteristics of social and political power that only the highest and lowest in Teixcalaanli society dare to speak clearly. The Empire is the center of civilization, surrounded by barbarians living on space stations, burning and recycling their dead, and yet, in times of civil debate, its inhabitants self-destruct to win the favor of the gods they don’t really believe in. They fear the depths of the human psyche, but live in a city and under the protection of a police controlled by artificial intelligence.


Teixcalaan Imperial is a brilliantly realized world of contradictions, and a place called Empire is full of poets, politicians, spies, soldiers and a thousand degrees of moral ambiguity. Oh, and some of the best names in all of Science Fiction.

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