A Memory Called Empire (Arkady Martine)

27 October 2021

A Memory Called Empire

In a war of lies she seeks the truth . . .

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare travels to the Teixcalaanli Empire’s interstellar capital, eager to take up her new post. Yet when she arrives, she discovers her predecessor was murdered. But no one will admit his death wasn’t accidental – and she might be next.

Now Mahit must navigate the capital’s enticing yet deadly halls of power, to discover dangerous truths. And while she hunts for the killer, Mahit must somehow prevent the rapacious Empire from annexing her home: a small, fiercely independent mining station.

As she sinks deeper into an alien culture that is all too seductive, Mahit engages in intrigues of her own. For she’s hiding an extraordinary technological secret, one which might destroy her station and its way of life. Or it might save them from annihilation.

Winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Average Rating:

Sinclair Manson (2 November 2021 22:17)

One of the reasons I suggested this novel was its endorsement by Ann Leckie and it shares several themes with Leckie's Imperial Radch novels: most obviously the use of futuristic technology to explore identity, the blurring of gender, the cultural impact of empires. It feels a little more sentimental than Leckie and only minor characters (like the hilariously named Six Helicopter) seem really heartless. I did though enjoy the characterisation and particularly the tangled relationships. I admired the subtlety of the chemistry between characters, which seemed to be present before either characters or reader were really aware of it. The relationships across cultural lines give a bit of blood to what feels like a particular interest of the author: the negotiation of cultural identity in an imperial setting, as personified by Mahit, in love with the Teixcalaanli culture that she is trying to keep at arm's length. Teixcalaanli culture itself is painted with depth and rich colours, with obvious Central American and Byzantine influences. It contrasts throughout with what we see of Lsel, more austere and less individualistic (though that doesn't do justice to its nuances). The author's background in history shows through all this, she clearly relishes immersion in foreign cultures and political upheavals, and the book tends more towards explanation than leaving readers to pick at clues themselves.

Ross Hetherington (29 October 2021 12:51)

I listened to an interview with the author, which I quite enjoyed (it was on the "Geeks Guide to the Galaxy" podcast). I think listening to this she is obviously deeply immersed in science fiction - we kind of wondered how much this was a science fiction novel. The next book apparently is from more viewpoints than one - listening to the author talk, I think this might help to give that book the oomph this one felt to lack to me, given it had such good worldbuilding.

Also - this won the Hugo Award. Not mentioned on the cover! I gave it three stars - it's good, but if this is literally the best novel of 2020 (an interpretation I doubt), it wasn't the best year.