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A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, 1) Paperback – February 25, 2020
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“A mesmerizing debut . . . it left me utterly dazzled.”―The New York Times Book Review
"[A] gorgeously crafted diplomatic space opera . . . Readers will eagerly away the planned sequels to this impressive debut."―Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Politics and personalities blend with an immersive setting and beautiful prose in a debut that weaves threads of identity, assimilation, technology, and culture to offer an exceedingly well-done sf political thriller."―Library Journal, starred review
"This is both an epic and a human story, successful in the mode of Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee. A confident beginning with the promise of future installments that can't come quickly enough."―Kirkus, starred review
“Exquisite . . . a compelling journey with a rich world and fascinating characters”―The Los Angeles Times
"Interesting, detailed, lavish."―The Wall Street Journal
"A Memory Called Empire perfectly balances action and intrigue with matters of empire and identity. All around brilliant space opera, I absolutely love it."―Ann Leckie, author of Ancillary Justice
"In A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine smuggles you into her interstellar diplomatic pouch, and takes you on the most thrilling ride ever. This book has everything I love: identity crises, unlikely romance, complicated politics, and cunning adventurers. Super-fun, and ultra-fascinating."―Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky
“Stunning sci-fi debut. An ambassador from a small space station has to survive in the capital of a galactic empire where everyone seems to want her dead. Add in a great will-they-won’t-they wlw romantic interest. Awesome.”―Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series
“An elegant and accomplished example of the subgenre of subtle scheming with a background of stars. A delightful read. I couldn’t put it down.”―Jo Walton, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of Among Others
“Arkady is one of the best new voices in speculative fiction”―Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of Children of Time
“A taut murder mystery entwined with questions of technological ethics, A Memory Called Empire is also an evocative depiction of foreignness. Martine creates an elaborate and appealing culture against which to play out this story of political intrigue, assimilation, and resistance. Daring, beautiful, immersive, and often profound.”―Malka Older, author of Infomocracy
“A Memory Called Empire is a murder mystery wrapped up in a political space opera, and deeply immerses the reader in a unique culture and society. I very much enjoyed it and look forward to what Martine does next.”―Martha Wells, author of The Murderbot Diaries
"A cunningly plotted, richly imagined tale of interstellar intrigue that does something new with space opera."―Ken MacLeod
“A Memory Called Empire elevates space opera to poetry―clever, deep, sometimes tragic, sometimes violent, always transcendent poetry that shines like the edge of a knife.”―Delilah Dawson
“An intricate, layered tale of empire, personal ambition, political obligations and interstellar intrigue. Vivid and delightfully inventive.”―Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award-winning author of the Xuya Universe stories and The House of Binding Thorns
“A cutting, beautiful, human adventure about cultural exchange, identity, and intrigue. The best SF novel I’ve read in the last five years.”―Yoon Ha Lee, author of the Machineries of Empire trilogy
“An exceptional first novel recommended for fans of Cherryh, Leckie, Banks, and Asimov.”―Elizabeth Bear, author of Hammered
"A Memory Called Empire . . . is so frigging good. It's like a space opera murder mystery combined with all the political parts of Dune."―Dan Wells, author of I Am Not a Serial Killer
About the Author
- Publisher : Tor Books; Reprint edition (February 25, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250186447
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250186447
- Item Weight : 13.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.52 x 1.25 x 8.23 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #37,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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A couple of centuries ago I was in a club to catch the 'band of the moment'. The PR machine had been promoting them overtime and in the last few minutes before they took the stage the joint was electric with anticipation. The place was packed, all the cool kids were there, and when the first guitar riffs rolled across the crowd it was electric. Several songs in I realized they weren't really that good. Looking back I realize they weren't bad, but the 'next thing' they were not. I never really forgave the band after that, I felt betrayed, but the hype machine was just doing its job even if that meant setting unrealistic expectations that were almost impossible for the band to meet. Loading down Arkady Martine's credible debut effort with that level of expectation is almost certainly setting her and us readers up for a fall.
Rant is over, now on to the review. In the far future a small space station on the fringes of a large empire that threatens their independence, receives word that the station's ambassador to the empire has died and a replacement is requested ASAP. A young, just out of school, graduate is picked for the job. The empire is an ancient one with a depth of culture that (purposely) overawes the small surrounding cultures into feeling like uncultured rustics. Mahit, the new appointee is thoroughly versed in the ins and out of the poetic language and culture that exhibits so much intimidating depth that many of the best and brightest of the surrounding powers dream of being able to go and live what is overwhelmingly considered the seat of civilized society. Mahit shares that dream and nurses a serious inferiority complex throughout the book that interferes with her desire to serve her home. Upon arrival at the capital she finds out that the previous ambassador was almost certainly assassinated, she makes friends, suffers through a couple of assassination attempts upon her own life, and is quickly embroiled in escalating civil insurrection aimed at overthrowing the emperor and installing a contender from one of the several rival factions. To add to that complexity, plans are being made by the empire to invade her home station and attach it to the empire. Circumstances gradually move our heroine from the fringes of the action closer and closer to the very center of the whirlpool that threatens to pull in her, her home, friends, and the whole of the empire. Well drawn appealing characters, especially Mahit and her imperial liaison, Three Seagrass, combined with smooth writing, excellent world building, usually sharp dialogue (minus occasional regressions), and with only vague writing on the infrequent action sequences hindering this excellent read. I look forward to Ms. Martine's next book.
The writing, while technically competent, feels somewhat cold and distant...much like the world and the characters she describes. All of the social formalities (described and then internally analyzed, ad nauseam, by the main character) are excruciatingly formal...prim, proper, and oh-so "civilized". It is exhausting and - as a result - it was difficult to find the characters likeable or even relatable. They posture and pose, and pretend to second-guess everything that is said and done. She tries so hard for nuance and intrigue that it quickly becomes excruciating. Maybe if we had a reason to care about these characters or what was happening in their world, then perhaps their internal machinations might not feel like such a chore to wade through. As it was, I just kept saying (and often out loud): "Who cares??"
There is a good bit of focus on the grammar and linguistics of this culture. If you find such topics to be of interest, this may appeal to you...but it was just more for me to skim over as quickly as possible. And then there are the character names like "Fifteen Engine" and "Three Seagrass". Every citizen has a number and a random object combined for their name. Awful. That last one is a main character and every time her name popped up, all I could think was "Sea-three-pee-oh".
The one potentially interesting aspect of the book is the idea of an imago, which is "the implanted, integrated memory of one's predecessor, housed half in her neurology and half in a small ceramic-and-metal machine clasped to her brainstem..." The imago can communicate with the host, share memories and experiences to help them out with complex tasks, etc. More-or-less, it's like the Trill from Deep Space Nine...but instead of an organic creature which houses the living memories from its previous hosts, it's a computer chip containing an interactive simulation of said hosts.
Kind of a cool idea, but then she [warning: minor spoiler] loses the connection with her imago on page 35 and that's it. All of that potential to develop the relationship between herself and her predecessor - as they start to become one functioning entity, with all of the trials and challenges which that would inevitably bring - just evaporates into thin air. And we are left alone with the main character and the endless questions bouncing around her otherwise unoccupied head.
When a new author is compared to Banks or Leckie, that's a lot to live up to. And I respect her attempt to do so...I just did not enjoy it whatsoever. Your mileage may vary...good luck if you give it a shot!
A Memory Called Empire does that too. Here we have a brand new ambassador to the largest empire around, an empire that seemingly runs on poetry. While I would have LOVED to see a little bit of the more mundane taskings of the ambassador, empire spanning intrigue gets in the way, and we're immediately thrown into the fire.
Martine's prose was well suited to the Teixcalaan empire, with the dialogue that is full of subtext and allusion. It's also evident that her experience with cultures isn't limited to the US. There is a lot in this book that seems as if the author came at it through different cultural mores that what I'm used to. I understand that creating an "alien world" is part of what SF authors do, but the way that it was gone about doesn't seem to be wholly US/UK derived.
I thought one of the most interesting things about the book, was that though the protagonist is in the middle of a galaxy spanning crisis a planet's civil war, the action always felt intensely closely held and personal. The crisis drove the plot and made the protagonist's decisions necessary, but it's felt more than seen as if just off camera. It enhanced the theme of isoilation throughout the book, and I thought it was incredibly well done.
I enjoyed the book, and will preorder the next one.
Top reviews from other countries
I’d be tempted to say it’s YA in disguise, if I didn’t think that even that cynical, marketing-led mock-genre’s worst remainder-bin fodder might have reasonable grounds to feel insulted by the comparison.
It’s fairly derivative out of the gate, with liberal swipes from obvious sources, but the writing was lively enough at the start to hold my interest and the take on the secondary personality download trope seemed more interesting than Yoon Ha Lee’s.
You don’t have to wait long for the first arrival from Deus Ex Machina Airlines, and the techno-fail gimmick just put me in mind of Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, which is pretty grim company. Then the Famous Three have a squee party and head off to explore the spooky old mortuary, and it all just falls apart.
The Three Find-Outers continue to shuffle through a sequence of blank-walled rooms droning exposition at each other, while nothing else keeps happening, over and over.
The publisher’s product description makes an aspirational comparison with Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, which is just speaking ill of the dead.
I started it because of the publisher’s initial release hype and blurbs from names you don’t usually find alongside the inevitable suspects, and I read it to the last page with increasingly grim determination.
I have nothing to show except a grubby ring around the bathtub of my self-esteem and 99p less in my bank account.
I definitely won’t be back for the sequel.
Because it was the title that first caught my attention and made this stand out. It was intriguing, mysterious? What exactly did it mean? And it led to the blurb, which was also intriguing but didn't explain the title, and to reading the story.
Which still didn't exactly explain the title. The Empire mentioned is obviously the great Star-spanning political edifice that is Teixcalaan, within which the story exists and around which it revolves. But what of the Memory part? Does that refer to the secret technology from outside the Empire that allows thoughts, experiences, memories and personalities to be recorded and passed on? Vital for the small space-station culture of Lsel, where valuable experience and knowledge needs to be retained. But open to abuse and to having unknown but possibly dangerous results if introduced to Teixcalaan, where neuro-science generally is restricted.
Or does the title refer to something even deeper? Perhaps to the way in which Teixcalann is itself controlled and influenced by its past, by the huge weight of culture and literature and history that defines and directs it - so that the memory of what it was controls what it is. The Empire exists as much in its own memory as in the present.
Or perhaps it's both. And that sort of ambiguity, the multiple possible meanings of words in Teixcalaan is a theme that runs throughout the book. Everything that is said, everything that is written, is at once both cultural and political. All meanings are shaded, and what is said is never what is meant.
In this fast, culture rich and treacherous Empire there are numerous currents flowing. There is the political intrigue driven by a dying Emperor, there is the mystery of what happened to the previous Ambassador from Lsel, there are the rifts between the rulers of Lsel Station itself.
Central to the story is the new Ambassador from Lsel, who must adapt to a vast new culture, find out what happened to her predecessor, discover who sabotaged her own neuro-tech, and try to keep Lsel from being swallowed by the Empire.
The author does an excellent job of weaving all these elements into a brilliant, fast-paced and absorbing novel. The title is perfect. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, no matter what it's called.
Instead it is a long hard slog of a novel that, while it has some very interesting ideas, is more of a 'fish out of water' type story mixed in with a whodunnit and a sprinkling of palace intrigue. It's certainly not the worst I have read but it is nowhere near the best either.
In the appendix the author writes he came up with this idea while studying another language. Boy does it show! Huge chunks of the novel are devoted to the Teixcalaan language in an attempt to give us some idea of their world view but, by the end of it, I wound up with the impression of an Aztec/Mayan knockoff, with the serial numbers painted out and a gob of high tech slapped on the top.
There were moments where the narrative picks up but I realised I could not tell you the name of single character or what they looked like a few minutes after I finished the book.
It made that little impact on me.
Some reviewers have found more in the novel than I did; I'd simply rate it a good read.
I was slightly irritated by the tortuous Teixcalaan names and by the technical considerations of their poetry, which failed to move me. Ah well, colour me Philistine.
Having said that, I look forward to the promised sequel.
She has the benefit of an implant with a recording of her predecessors memories and personalities, last backed up 15 years ago.
The game is afoot !!!
And then straight away it isn’t. The implant fails and our heroine is left to wander around an Empire with her two new friends trying to figure out what is going on.
And essentially this is where it all falls down for me. There’s some decent stuff on the architecture and design of the Empire we visit and an attempt at aligning the language that is spoken to poetry. So that the meanings of the words spoken by the Empire folk she is dealing with are hidden within obtuse and flowery prose. And everyone is rated by how clever their poems are. Ah yes, you’re thinking, the kind of pretentious waffle that pseuds will vote for to make them look clever come awards time.
But from the point of implant failure to about 75% in the book it is just three people constantly over analysing others words and actions whilst sat around coffee tables (great world building) and our heroine being repetitively introspective.
Things pick up but not to any great extent and the whole thing is really just one big non event.
One big plot point I will mention is that a key factor is the previous ambassadors implant, but because plot, it is made super easy barely an inconvenience for our heroine to get hold of it, even though everyone wants it.
There’s very little action and , with the author being prone to over stating everything , very little tension. You really are bored to tears by the characters in here..who read like well meaning student types rather than professionals.