With its epic scope, worldbuilding that reaches centuries into the past and future, and relatably human moments in the midst of it all, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire joins the canon of unforgettable space opera that reveals new truths to readers here on Earth. For all of its standout elements, there’s also a comforting familiarity in certain details: the protagonist resisting her assimilation into empire (paging Baru Cormorant), the use of futuristic pop culture to better understand foreign people (hello, Murderbot), or even imperial affinity for a double-A (Teixcalaan, meet Radchaai).
Whether you’ve had the chance to devour Martine’s novel and are looking to stay in that mindset, or you’re just filling out the space opera section of your bookshelf, these seven books are perfect companions for A Memory Called Empire!
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
The Masquerade series immediately comes to mind, with the island nation of Taranoke serving as a brutal example of the fate that could befall Lsel Station if Teixcalaan were to extend its reach just a few more light-years, and Taranoke’s star pupil Baru Cormorant representing the level of self-assimilation that Lsel ambassador Mahit Dzmare could only in her most nakedly vulnerable daydreams admit to desiring. Even if Baru is supposedly dismantling Falcrest from the inside out, this double agent might have turned triple by the time she has been named The Monster Baru Cormorant, drawn as she is to the power and intrigue of serving as one of Falcrest’s cryptarchs, or secret lords of the Empire of Masks. Turns out a geopolitical thriller fantasy and a space opera have plenty in common—even if one spans the seas and the other stars—if they’re both about the sweet temptations of empires.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
The Radchaai Empire knows all about creating ideal citizens, but what most makes Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy a kindred spirit to A Memory Called Empire is the unique set of circumstances that created its main character. We’re talking, of course, about Breq, formerly known as Justice of Toren One Esk. Once a warship that housed an artificial intelligence that in turn controlled hundreds of human “ancillaries,” Justice of Toren was the inverse of a Lsel Stationer: one mind spanning across countless bodies, instead of a dozen-plus generations of heritage councilors/miners/ambassadors combined in an imago, sharing a single body with their successor’s mind. However, due to forces operating beyond the ship’s awareness, Justice of Toren was destroyed, the AI abruptly cut off from all of its ancillaries except for a single body, One Esk Nineteen. Nearly twenty years later, Breq (as she has renamed herself) has still not grown accustomed to being constrained to one body, not least its complete lack of a singing voice for the song-loving former AI. Like the version of Mahit Dzmare who has come into herself by the end of A Memory Called Empire, Breq must learn how to absorb multiple influences or accept constraints, and still carve out an individual identity that is more than the sum of her parts.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
While the Teixcalaanli series could never be accused of being cozy SF in the same fashion as Chambers’ Wayfarers series, they share the same wide-eyed awe for their respective universes, as seen through idealistic young people venturing out into the black for the first time. While Rosemary Harper is fleeing her old life to serve as a file clerk on the Wayfarer, and Mahit is responding to a call for a new ambassador, neither knows entirely what she is getting into—and both find they must rely on a mix of employers, cultural liaisons, friends-of-friends, and found family in order to survive.
Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone
A brilliant innovator catapulted across space into completely alien territory and—worse—into the middle of an intergalactic war. An ancient Empress who can destroy planets with a single thought. Rebellion that manifests in part through a terrifying mass artificial intelligence. A space opera inspired by the Chinese epic Journey to the West! Gladstone utilizes many of the same elements that make A Memory Called Empire so compelling, but with a whole new cast of characters who will make navigating this universe all the more unforgettable: tech entrepreneur Vivian Liao, star-pilot Xiara, pirate-queen Zanj, and of course the eponymous eternal Empress.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
After hacking its governor module and gaining autonomy, Murderbot technically could have lived up to its name and massacred the humans with which it worked on a low-rate mining gig. But then it discovered 35,000 hours of books and serials like the space soap opera Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon—and why rush when it could wind up killing humans and being stuck with a groanworthy cliffhanger? (This is especially ironic, considering that Wells describes Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon as “the future version of How to Get Away with Murder.”) Murderbot’s obsession with finding out the fate of the colony solicitor and the terraforming supervisor mirrors Three Seagrass’ constant desire to compare the latest Teixcalaanli political intrigue with an epic poem from centuries before—remixing and referencing the past to better contextualize the present. But what at first seems like a tangential and too-meta line of thought from Mahit’s cultural liaison actually comes in handy later—just as worrying about fictional characters might be the teeniest bit responsible for Murderbot’s ongoing decisions to save certain human lives.
Space Opera by Cat Valente
When the universe comes knocking on their door, Earthlings—the seemingly primitive, naïve, backwater planet inhabitants within a larger sentient framework they’ve only just become aware of—must assert their right to existence through the power and poetry of song. “Barbaric” ambassador Mahit and semi-pro poet slash cultural liaison Three Seagrass (or, as her friends call her, Reed) might know a thing or two about that; and their relationship carries the same notes of desire and regret as former bandmates Decibel Jones and Oort St. Ultraviolet. Better collaborators than these duos we haven’t seen in a long while.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
For all its political machinations and bloody wars, A Memory Called Empire is really about the clash of empire and other, canonical versus heretical—themes that resonate in Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy. Disgraced for her use of quasi-heretical tactics in battle, Captain Kel Cheris is granted the chance for redemption if she can manage to take back the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the heretics, who seek to unravel the entire hexarchate hivemind. To do so, she must draw on a terrible and unhinged weapon in the form of the undead General Shuos Jedao—who is undefeated in battle, certainly, but who also massacred his own army to win that battle in his first life. Cheris’ reliance on Jedao’s instability mirrors Mahit’s desperate attempts to integrate with the imago of her predecessor, Yskandr Aghavn, the former ambassador to Teixcalaan and an imago fifteen years out of date. Saddled as they are with faulty weapons or aids, Mahit and Kel must each determine to what level they rely on themselves, and to what level on supposedly heretical or barbaric technology that have the potential to undo the empires they supposedly serve.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
The Mahit Dzmare who leaves Lsel Station is not the same Mahit Dzmare who touches down in “The City,” the glittering and seductive center of Teixcalaan. Nor is The City, as alluring and cold and sharp-edged as a jewel, the same capital planet a week after Mahit’s arrival. Just as the Lsel Stationers build their entire culture on the foundation of their imagos—that is, merging a dozen generations’ worth of knowledge and experience with the latest successor’s unique mind—so too does the mighty Teixcalaan Empire find itself shifting and evolving due to the unexpected influence of the green Lsel ambassador. With her debut, Martine has performed the stunning dual trick of worldbuilding for a massive, complex empire with hundreds of years of history—and then changing it.