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A Memory Called Empire Hardcover – 9 April 2019
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
An intricate, layered tale of empire, personal ambition, political obligations and interstellar intrigue. Vivid and delightfully inventive -- Aliette de Bodard
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
An exceptional first novel recommended for fans of Cherryh, Leckie, Banks, and Asimov -- Elizabeth Bear
A cunningly plotted, richly imagined tale of interstellar intrigue that does something new with space opera -- Ken MacLeod
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
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
Arkady Martine’s first novel is a thrillingly smart space opera with grand scope. Everything’s here: plots and counterplots, political manoeuvring, great writing, and brilliant ideas on language and empire. Like Iain M. Banks, she’s created a universe that can spawn a hundred books. Hop on now, people -- Daryl Gregory
Exquisite and smart as hell -- Fran Wilde
Gorgeously crafted . . . Martine allows the backstory to unroll slowly . . . walking delicately upon the tightrope of intrigue and partisan battles in the streets to safely bring the tale to a poignantly true conclusion. Readers will eagerly await the planned sequels to this impressive debut -- Publishers Weekly starred review
- Publisher : Tor UK (9 April 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1529001579
- ISBN-13 : 978-1529001570
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Dimensions : 16.3 x 4.5 x 24.2 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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I look forward to read more from Arkady, as I found the writing, themes and tone to remind me of the better work of Bujold and Cherryh. I am rooting to read more about those plucky stationers with their vaguely Armenian sounding names.
I guess it's political and psychological science fiction if there's such a sub genre. - I'd be interested in a follow up story exploring the City Algorithm if it has interesting Freakonmics like things in it.
It had interesting and fully fleshed characters, and I found myself cheering for the protagonist and hoping she achieved her objectives. I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.