Last week, A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace author Arkady Martine held an Ask Me Anything on Reddit’s r/Fantasy section.
Over the course of the AMA, she answered a number questions on a wide variety of topics, including the future of her Teixcalaan series, how she wrote the books, and a bit about her work as a policy advisor for the Cabinet Secretary of Energy, Minerals, & Natural Resources of the State of New Mexico.
In her preamble, Martine highlighted what she’s got coming up: a novella from Subterranean Press called ROSE/HOUSE that’ll be due out in 2022, which is a “locked-room mystery with AIs, Le Corbusier, dead men with rose petals in their mouths,” and a novel called Prescribed Burn, “which is about water wars, arson, drought, smart grids (REALLY smart grids, the kind that talk back), and a coverup of a murder,” which is set in a near-future LA.
Here are some of the highlights from the AMA:
On the future of the Teixcalaan series
Will there be a sequel to A Desolation Called Peace? (u/E-Igniter)
Not a direct sequel, no. I’ve always considered Memory and Desolation to be a duology: they comprise an emotional arc.
However, I am planning several more Teixcalaan books, and Mahit may appear in one or more of them. But the immediate story is done for now.
The journey I think I enjoyed the most in these books was that of Eight Antidote. From a void to be filled to a political pawn, he really fought to find new purpose in a life not originally meant for himself.
I wanted to ask, do you think that one day you might return to the character, to uncover what kind of Emperor he became, if Emperor at all? (from u/Active-Swimming-6342)
Eight Antidote gets his own book someday.
I don’t yet know what that book is about, exactly – whether it’s a ‘what kind of emperor does a child like that become’ book, or a ‘what else but an emperor does a child like that become’ book, or something else altogether. But he gets a story. He deserves one.
Would you ever consider writing a novella covering Dawn With Encroaching Clouds? I absolutely loved what we heard of it in ADCP. It sounds right up my alley. (from u/crystalspine)
… honestly I’ve part of an outline for it, but it’s mostly ridiculous over-the-top emotional drama and loyaltyporn because, well. It is. Someday I’ll do something with it. (It’s as high-drama as a kdrama historical, really…)
Can you talk about how you developed the poetic allusions/ideas/forms of Teixcalaan? I was riveted by that aspect of their culture and appreciate it more on every reread.
Not a question, but Nineteen Adze is one of my favorite ethically complex figures in all of fiction and I would love to see her in a book again one day. (from u/Nineteen_Adze)
I too love Nineteen Adze, and I have some unformed but genuine plans to give her at the very least a novella of her own…
As for the poetry, it’s a pretty direct lift from Middle Byzantine literary culture! Teixcalaan, like Byzantium, has a literature that centers poetic forms in part because their literature is one which is performed out loud in political settings. Oratorical verse, with rhythm and meter, is a valued skillset amongst the intelligentsia.
In terms of my interpretation of the ideas and forms, I actually took a lot of inspiration from English translations of Kobayashi Issa…
I started reading your books after I ran out of C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner novels. Did her work have any influence on yours? (from u/fullstackthaumaturge)
SO MUCH INFLUENCE
Cherryh showed me how to successfully write protagonists and stories where the real, deep, terrifying conflicts are internal to the protagonist’s mind. Her narrators – especially Bren Cameron in Foreigner and Ariane Emory II in Cyteen – are so unreliable and so simultaneously aware of their unreliability that they cannot trust themselves or their interpretations. It’s claustrophobic and amazing, and I was writing like that anyway, but Cherryh gave me the tools to do it in a way that was exciting and kept moving forward.
Also, well. Thematically, A Memory Called Empire is a pretty direct response to the Foreigner series. (I’d love to put Nineteen Adze and Ilisidi in a room. Someone write me the fanfic.)
Also, everyone knows that Eight Antidote is my version of Ari Emory II, right? :D
Your TEIXCALAAN books is all about the adventures of Ambassador Mahit Dzmare who “must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion”. She is definitely one of the most complex and human female characters in Science Fiction today. What and who are your inspiration for Mahit? (u/ThePixelProject)
Mahit comes from a lot of places – including my own fascination and horror at empire and the colonized mind. But more specifically, I have two central inspirations for her: first, a piece of terrible juvenilia I was writing in my twenties, which had a few good ideas in it, one of which was a protagonist haunted – literally – by the ghost of the last person who had her job … I loved the idea of that, of being haunted by the past. Possessed by it. The identities of the past bleeding into the present.
The other thing is the story of the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Petros Getadarj. It goes like this: in the year 1044 AD, the Byzantine Empire annexed the small Armenian kingdom of Ani. The empire was able to do this for a lot of reasons – political, historical, military – but the precipitating incident involved Petros Getadarj, who was determined to prevent the forced conversion of the Armenians to the Byzantine form of Christianity. He did this by trading the physical sovereignty of Ani to the Byzantine emperor in exchange for promises of spiritual sovereignty. When I started writing A Memory Called Empire, my inciting question was: what’s it like to be that guy? To betray your culture’s freedom in order to save your culture? And then I thought: oh. These two things go together perfectly. Because it’s much more interesting to write about the person who has to clean up after that guy.
Can I ask: what’s your favorite aspect of that world to write about? (from u/ThatFoolTook)
My favorite aspect is probably the focus on architecture, poetry, clothing, food — all the accoutrements of a world, the richness of the built environment.
Real world stuff
Do you think that geoengineering like SRM or carbon capture is a realistic hope for climate mitigation? (from u/GeneralBattuta)
oh, the difficult questions, thanks ever so
Three issues with the question.
“realistic” – What are we talking about here? CCS on active fossil fuel plants? (The tech is there, but the finances aren’t – look at Petra Nova, or, closer to my current home, the attempt by Enchant Energy to purchase San Juan Generating Station.) Air scrubbers? (Not at scale yet.) Weather control? (… I’m more bullish on this than I have any goddamn right to be, but it’s also a horror waiting to happen.)
“hope” – Can geoengineering bring back the climate you and I were born into the tail end of? Nope. Can it maybe cut off a spiral into the awful lands of 4C? Yeah, I think so.
“mitigation” – See “hope” above … and also, I find CCS, at least, to be an adaptation tool rather than a mitigation one. If we need baseload dispatchable power, and hydrogen doesn’t pan out like the current hype expects it to, then a fossil plant with CCS is a tool to keep from putting more carbon into the atmosphere while keeping the lights on.
Why do you support ending violence against women and what do you think authors like you can contribute to the collective effort to stop gender-based violence? (from u/ThePixelProject)
And … ‘support’ is a very narrow word for how I feel about ending violence against women and girls – and nonbinary/other-gendered people as well. I am vehement about it. Gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, is an absolute scourge. I am particularly concerned with violence inside the queer (and specifically female and femme-identifying) community. We are not immune to being perpetrators, or being victims, just because we love other women and femmes.
I think portraying gender-based violence with sensitivity, realism, and emotional weight is one of the things we can do as authors to combat it. To let it be visible and awful and life-warping … and complicated, as it is in the world as well as in fiction. To show the scope.
I’m interested in how your energy planning system works in New Mexico. Is it strategic plan-based or is it more of a case of permitting on an ad-hoc basis? (from u/inunn)
So we aren’t the permitting agency – that’s the Public Regulation Commission. We’re the policy and technical assistance agency. On the other hand, we’re the ones who champion legislation which enables us to create strategic plans, and we can (through that legislation) champion particular sorts of infrastructure…