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Literature / A Memory Called Empire

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The great Teixcalaanli Empire has made a demand of the small independent station of Lsel, their old ambassador has become unsuitable, the Empire demands a new one. Mahit Dzmare is sent, guided by the imago of her predecessor, to the imperial capital to represent her home station, but quickly finds herself in over her head. The City is restless, can she survive what her predecessor did not?

A Memory Called Empire is a sci-fi political murder mystery written by Arkady Martine and published by Tor in 2019.


  • Bi the Way: It turns out that Yskander slept with both Nineteen Adze and the Emperor himself.
  • Clones Are People, Too: Cloning is not an uncommon means of reproduction, though Teixcalaanli law requires entrants and citizens to have a genome at least 90% unique for identification reasons. The emperor’s primary heir is a “ninety-percent clone”.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: Mahit's official correspondence is on "infofiche sticks" that project messages on holograms when snapped open and are sealed with melted wax. She remarks that such an inefficient use of resources wouldn't pass on Lsel.
  • Culture Chop Suey: Teixcalaan combines Mayan naming conventions (and ritual bloodletting) with Imperial China's scholarly bureaucracy and Rome's imperial succession methods.
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: Teixcalaanli names combine a number with a proper noun, usually a plant though there are other possibilities. Cultural liaison Three Seagrass thinks a Lsel expat's chosen name of "Twenty-four All Terrain Vehicle" is in poor taste while another suggestion of "2e Asteroid" sounds hilarious.
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  • Humans Are White: Averted, in fact Mahit takes note of one blond-haired person from the northern regions of Teixcalaan as unusual.
  • Human Sacrifice: Teixcalaanli seal oaths in blood but actual sacrifices are rare, always voluntary, and usually done as a political statement. The first we see is a supporter of One Lightning sacrificing himself, the second is Emperor Six Direction after declaring his successor.
  • Mega City: The capital of the Teixcalaanli Empire, often referred to as simply The City and which has the same name as the planet, empire, and universe in Teixcalaanli. It has multiple climate zones.
  • Modified Clone: "Ninety-percent clones" are a legitimate form of reproduction on Teixcalaan, including one of the Emperor's heirs.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: In the Empire neurological enhancement is banned due to the critical importance of the Imperial Examinations in their institutions, it would be seen as cheating.
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  • Population Control: Lsel practices strict population control due to limited resources, everyone has a birth control implant and new births are only authorized when food is available. A memo estimating the station's future population capacity is shown just after a travel guide to the City's rich variety in food.
  • Succession Crisis: Emperor Six Direction is very old and lacking natural children to inherit the throne, he has a "ninety percent clone", Eight Antidote, but he's only ten years old, so he's named his creche-sister Eight Loop and the merchant scion Thirty Larkspur to be co-emperors. But there's been stirrings favoring the general One Lightning. It culminates with One Lightning attempting a military coup while Thirty Larkspur uses the chaos to try an internal coup. Only for Six Direction to suddenly name his adviser Nineteen Adze Emperor before sacrificing himself in the temple.
  • Uterine Replicator: The norm, though not universal, on Teixcalaan and the only form of reproduction on Lsel. Mahit finds the idea of giving birth alien.
  • Virtual Ghost: Lsel uses brain implants to create "imagos" from the memories of their people, and when one dies, their imago is loaded into their successor's implant to guide them and add their own memories to the imago. Some imago-lines go back fourteen generations. Unfortunately Mahit's imago of Yskandr suffers a mental breakdown when she sees his body.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: External backup variant. Yskandr's imago was made fifteen years previous and suffers a mental breakdown after discovering he's dead, going silent and only occasionally providing flashes of memory to Mahit.

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