Hello and happy Friday, ambassadors and aswangs! Today in linky goodness we’ve got some reading recommendations, a counter to Game of Thrones, and Tolkien’s grave, plus a review of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine.
This newsletter is sponsored by Finder by Suzanne Palmer.
From Hugo Award winner Suzanne Palmer comes a sci-fi caper starring Fergus Ferguson, interstellar repo man with a simple mission: find the spacecraft Venetia’s Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, a power-hungry trade boss. Fergus locates both Gilger and Sword in a backwater deep space colony. But his arrival kicks off a civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger’s enemies to survive. Even worse, he’s become inconveniently invested in the lives of the locals. He’ll need all the help he can get to take back the Sword—and maybe save the colony from destruction in the process.
I am, perhaps weirdly, a sucker for epidemic stories (both fiction and nonfiction) so this post about 10 fictional pandemics is of great interest to me, and even has a few I haven’t read yet. (Shout-out to favs Station Eleven, Zone One, and Her Body and Other Parties!)
If you’ve been struggling with HBO’s Game of Thrones, this essay on leaving GoT and learning to love The Dragon Prince is a great and nuanced read.
The fairytale nerd in me is absolutely in love with this round-up of ways to start a story from around the world. Krik krak!
And speaking of fairytales, an amateur folklorist is here to correct some of the many misconceptions surrounding them, and I love this idea of fairytale as meme!
Do you need more unicorns in your life? DON’T WE ALL? Here are 50 must-reads, you’re welcome.
If you’re in need of “Thanos was wrong” ammunition, this look at the scientific practicalities of The Snap is my favorite, especially for the line: “If you wiped out half of all humans, in another 40 years, we’d likely be back to the same population numbers.” It would, however, be very bad for rhinos.
And from cool-and-kind-of-weird: did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien is buried in a special type of grave known as a cradle grave, that allows for gardening on top? I’m a gardener in a historic cemetery tending a couple of these, and now need to plan a pilgrimage/chat with the Tolkiens’ gardener. They will probably definitely not think I am weird at all!
Space opera ahoy! It’s A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine:
We get regular requests on the Get Booked podcast for Star Trek read-alikes, which I understand to mean space opera that contains interesting and varied characters, political and moral complexity, and trending overall towards optimism. It’s an interesting question, and I don’t take the comparison lightly. (Captain Janeway is my captain, for the record.) So when I say that Arkady Martine’s debut A Memory Called Empire should be added to that list, I really mean it.
In a galaxy far far away, in an Empire that references both the Aztecs and Romans, newly-minted ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives at the Emperor’s court to find her predecessor murdered. Had the previous ambassador followed protocol and backed up his memories for implant, this would just be a regular ol’ murder problem — but Dzmare only has access to an implant, or imago, that is 15 years old, and it’s malfunctioning. She has no idea what he’s been up to in the meantime, people at court know things about her home station that they shouldn’t, and Mahit has to plunge into the deadly political wheelings and dealings of Teixcalaan with only her gut instincts and occasional flashes of insight to guide her. Oh, and solve a murder!
Martine has done such excellent world-building here, both for Mahit’s Stationer home and Teixcalaan. The obsession with poetry and literature; the variety of inventive tech; the jagged emotional edges of civil unrest; the descriptions of clothes and food and the streets and the palace, and and and! It’s detailed without being overwrought, highly immersive, and fascinating. The emotional details are on point as well: Mahit struggles with her fascination with Teixcalaan and her loyalty to her home, the high-stakes game of chicken she is forced to play to maintain their independence is an absolute nail-biter, and the other characters are beautifully drawn as well. The political machinations felt genuine (and, in certain cases, unsettlingly familiar), and the action sequences were well-paced. Martine also shows the respect of a historian for her influences, which is perhaps not surprising since she is, in fact, a historian. I do have a quibble in that the use of italics for emphasis through-out is a stylistic choice I never love, but c’est la vie.
While the main plot-line came to a staggering resolution, there are no tidy conclusions to be found here. Which is as it should be; complexity begets complexity, and one can retain hope without settling for “easy” answers. I picked up this book because it had an Ann Leckie blurb on the cover, and I’m happy to say that it was well-earned. I’ll be following this series with great interest, and shelving it alongside Leckie, Le Guin, Butler, and my ST: Voyager DVDs.
And that’s a wrap! You can find all of the books recommended in this newsletter on a handy Goodreads shelf. If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda, or on Twitter as jennIRL.
Your fellow booknerd,