East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A memory called Empire


My insomnia keeps raging, and so I am filling my long nights with books and movies – because you can’t go on writing without a pause. A good opportunity to catch up with titles I have overlooked or left behind in the past years.

And right now I am really enjoying Arkady Martine’s A memory called Empire, that is the sort of smart, fun space opera that I have always liked. The reason, really, why I read (and sometimes write) science fiction.

The plot in a nutshell: Mahit Dzare is rushed to the position of her people’s ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire when her predecessor dies. Winging her way through the political red tape and the byzantine rules of the imperial court, she starts investigating the causes of the previous ambassador’s untimely death. Because she could be the next one in line.

Martine’s debut novel – published in 2019 and shortlisted for the Nebula Awars – is intelligent, politically savvy and fast paced, and it shows that it is possible to tackle serious themes while taking full advantage of a whodunit structure to drag the reader into the story. We get to visit an alien empire and we see it through the eyes of a foreigner – but one that has been deeply imbued with romantic dreams of the empire. This allows the author to slip into the narrative some acute observations about colonialism, both material and cultural, without being preachy or heavy-handed.

It’s hard to read about the Teixcalaanli Empire and not be reminded on one hand of Jack Vance, and on the other of Iain M. Banks, but the novel is snappier and tightier than Banks’ Culture novels.

A very good book, by an author I’ll certainly follow.
Whoever tells you that SF and fantasy are in crisis is obviously not reading the right books.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “A memory called Empire

  1. Sorry to hear about your insomnia, hope it gets better soon, but I guess the lockdown is taking its toll on all of us.
    As a fan of the Culture this sound like a very entertaining and fascinating read, I’m definitely going to check it out! Besides the author is also a scholar of Byzantine history, and usually very interesting things happen when a Byzantine scholar writes speculative fiction.
    So thanks for the rec and stay safe!


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