I brought this book home in March 2019. It was Mysterious Galaxy’s featured speculative fiction hardcover pick for the month. Over the past year this book kept getting recommended; by fellow Cannonballers, articles, and it is nominated for a Hugo award. That nomination finally pushed A Memory Called Empire to the top of my TBR.
In a normal timeline, I would have torn through this book in a matter of days. Instead it took a few weeks. This book pushed all the right buttons; excellent sci-fi world building, creative cultures, intrigue, a murder mystery, and as an added bonus it is populated with LGBTQ people going about living and loving (something that has been historically lacking in mainstream sci-fi). I do not blame the slow pace on A Memory Called Empire, it is a fantastic read, I’ve just been distracted and with a shorter attention span than usual. Perhaps I’ll be in a better frame of mind when the sequel is released.
Martine showcases two cultures, both part of human civilization, in this first book. Teixcalaan citizens are considered the peak of humanity, art and culture flow from The City to all the distant regions of the massive empire. They speak in poetry and play upon the dual symbolism in the glyphs of their language. The further out one gets, the Teixcalaanlitzlim look down on those people who are considered barbarians at best and barely human at worst. Lesl station has been self sufficient for generations and one secret to their stability is their imago machines. Due to the limits of living on a space station, reproduction is strictly controlled. As a way to preserve knowledge and ensure that nothing is lost from generation to generation, select individuals are chosen to carry an imago machine. A machine that carries the life experiences and knowledge of previous generations as passed from individual to individual who had that imago machine during their lifetime. Such neurosurgery and mental manipulation would be anathema to Teixcalaanlitzlim if they knew of the technology’s exsistence.
Mahit Dzmare in an ambassador from the remote space station mining colony, Lsel Station, out on the fringes of the Teixcalaan Empire. She has been summoned with all haste to the heart of the empire, The City, without reason given for why a new ambassador was needed. Inside her head is an out of date imago of the previous ambassador Yskandr to help guide her through the intricacies of life in The City and Teixcalaanlitzlim. On Mahit’s arrival, she learns that her predecessor is dead under suspicious circumstances and the book kicks into high gear.
It technically never leaves high gear, with a whirlwind of events happening over the course of a few days. Martine carries the action along with sparkling dialog and the wonders of her world setting. I haven’t read any of the other Hugo nominees to be able to compare but this book is well deserving of it’s spot on the list. Solid 4 stars. Will just have to be patient for the sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, as the release date looks like March 2021.