Today I am interviewing Arkady Martine, author of the new science fiction novel, A Memory Called Empire, first book in the Teixcalaan series.
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DJ: Hi Arkady! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Arkady Martine: Hi! I’m a writer, a city planner, and a Byzantine historian (kinda in that order). I mostly write speculative fiction, academic articles, and creative nonfiction/reviews & criticism. I’m a New Yorker in that obnoxious way that New Yorkers have of declaring their city the center of the universe, but I’ve lived on three continents so far — highlights are the UK, Turkey, and Sweden — and right now I live and work in Baltimore with my wife, the author Vivian Shaw. I’m obsessed with urban architecture, climate resiliency planning, deserts, and eleventh-century Armenian-Byzantine cultural contacts, and when I’m not writing or working on adapting our cities to climate change, I climb aerial silks (badly), make chocolates (okay), and sing choral and shapenote music (decently.)
DJ: What is A Memory Called Empire about?
Arkady: It’s about empire and assimilation, and technology that makes people maybe-immortal, and how falling in love with a culture that’s eating your culture alive is a thing that really happens to people. Also it’s a big, sprawling political thriller. In space.
DJ: What were some of your influences A Memory Called Empire and the series?
Arkady: The book is in a lot of ways the fictional version of what I did a postdoctoral project on at Uppsala University in Sweden. My research there was about the contacts between Byzantium and the ‘eastern frontier’, particularly Armenia, during the eleventh century – and how those contacts were remembered, represented, and narrativized by the people who lived through them. The project was very much about borderlands as trauma spaces, about history and memory as narrative repairs to a wounded sense-of-the-world. This book came out of that project, and a lot of previous research into the history of imperialism, its methods and horrors and seductions.
I’m also highly influenced by CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner books, particularly the first six books (which, to me, form the heart of the arc of the series). Cherryh’s diplomat-embedded-in-an-alien-culture, dealing with assimilatory and existential pressures in a time of political crisis, Bren Cameron, is a direct ancestor of my Mahit Dzmare.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Arkady: My protagonist, Mahit Dzmare, is the new Ambassador from her small mining space station to the Teixcalaanli Empire. It’s her dream posting … except she’s landed in the middle of a technological, ethical, cultural, and at-times physical conflict over whether that Empire is going to annex her home for good. And also her predecessor in the job got himself murdered, and she might be next!
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role for in story? Why?
Arkady: One of my absolute favorite non-POV characters is the backalley neurosurgeon and sometime anti-imperial activist, Five Portico. I loved writing her because she’s so practical, and so much more down to earth than the rest of the cast, who are caught up in complex politics. Also describing her apartment was incredibly fun — I accidentally (it was a continuity error in editing) wrote that she had a turquoise couch that appeared in several rooms, and in the last editing pass I decided to keep it: clearly she’d bought them all in bulk, or gotten turquoise couches off the back of a truck somewhere.
As you do.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the Teixcalaan books like?
Arkady: This book is a space opera, with big sweeping interstellar politics — like Dune and Star Wars, except filtered through my own interests and questions about memory, culture, and empire. The Teixcalaanli empire — where most of the action is set — is what happened when I put Byzantium, the Mexica, and the Mongol Empire in a blender; it is a culturally imperialistic universalizing empire that thinks it is the only real civilization in the universe. I contrast this with Mahit’s home, Lsel Station, which is a small, very independent mining and refining space station where 30,000 people live together with absolutely no planet — they’re completely self-sufficient. A lot of this book is about the ways these two cultures interact, and what kinds of power they have over one another.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing A Memory Called Empire?
Arkady: Writing the epigrams that start each chapter. It was amazing to get to write little snippets of in-universe texts — a history, a television script, some bureaucratic paperwork, a restaurant guide, all sorts of things. It helped me flesh out the world and I think it makes the entire universe feel real for the reader, too.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Arkady: I hope readers think about why Mahit makes the choice she makes at the very end, and whether or not they’d make a choice like that, in her situation. (Sorry for the lack of spoilers! 🙂 )
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from A Memory Called Empire that you can share with us?
Arkady: Here’s a favorite passage — this is the first time Mahit sees the Emperor of Teixcalaan:
In the center of the sun-spear throne, revealed like a seed in a flower or the core in the heart of a burning star, Mahir got her first glimpse of the Emperor Six Direction.
She thought, He’s not imposing except by position — he was short, sunken-cheeked, the long fall of his hair more dirty steel than silver even if his eyes were sharp — and then The position is more than enough, I am being devoured by my own poetic imagination.
Six Direction was old, was small, looked fragile — brittle-boned, too thin, as if he’d been ill and was now just barely recovered. And Six Direction was in command of all this ceremony, or commanded by it — the emperor and the empire were the same, weren’t they? As close as the words for empire and world were, or nearly — and he claimed the attention of every Teixcalaanlitzlim. The exhalation of breath that sagged through the room when he lifted his hand in benediction was like a physical blow.
Smoke and mirrors and refracted light, and the weight of history in a glance — Mahit knew she was being manipulated and couldn’t find a way to stop being.
DJ: Now that A Memory Called Empire is released, what is next for you?
Arkady: Right now I’m finishing up the direct sequel to A Memory Called Empire, which is titled A Desolation Called Peace. It’s about incomprehensibility and impossible wars. A lot of it happens on a Teixcalaanli battleship. There’s interstellar mail fraud. And a kitten. (Technically, several kittens). Also a maybe-genocide, some extremely unwise kissing, and the usual dose of political machination.
I’m also working on several short stories, and some other novel-length projects. One of those is a ‘science fantasy’ co-written with my wife Vivian, which contains, in no particular order, a post-nuclear-war desertscape, mass-concentration-inducing minerals, a dead city that talks, a political romance, a pre-fab imperial colony town, a steppe kingdom with a city on a mountainside, a possibly-alien or possibly-magic local king, and a geologist/mining engineer who ends up becoming a cartographer (amongst other things).
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Author Newsletter: https://www.arkadymartine.net/newsletter
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about A Memory Called Empire the Teixcalaan series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Arkady: The poetry contest in Chapter Seven really is plot-bearing. Trust me.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** A Memory Called Empire is published Tor Books available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.
About the Author:
Arkady Martine is a speculative fiction writer and, as Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, a historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. Under both names she writes about border politics, rhetoric, propaganda, and the edges of the world. Arkady grew up in New York City and, after some time in Turkey, Canada, and Sweden, lives in Baltimore with her wife, the author Vivian Shaw. Find her online at arkadymartine.net or on Twitter as @ArkadyMartine.