Monthly Archives: November 2020

Ep052 A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

The 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel, A Memory Called Empire is Arkady Martine’s debut novel of interstellar intrigue. In this episode we dive into the characteristic that this book excel at: worldbuilding.

Book Discussion

  • Worldbuilding: The strength of this book. Direct and passive worldbuilding are well-balanced to paint a picture of the interstellar empire, the culture of the court, and the strong contrast between Mahit, the main character, and the ever-expanding empire. Passive worldbuilding, the showing more than telling, for example shows up in the names of the characters (Three Seagrass, Six Direction), the poetry contest. Direct worldbuilding, the telling, for example appears when the Imago devise is described.
  • Epigraph structure of passive worldbuilding, where the beginning of each chapter begins with an excerpt of a history book or report from a
  • Exceptional usage of the magic key, the object or resource the main character possesses that plays a pivotal role in the plot of the story. The magic key of A Memory Called Empire is Mahit’s imago device, a device that allows Mahit to obtain the memories of her predecessor. The imago plays the role as the magic key as it is common to Mahit’s culture, and also is the reason for the death of her predecessor and why the emperor put off choosing a proper successor.
  • Setting: Settings react. A Memory Called Empire has a powder keg set up, and Mahit moves through the world as the powder keg explodes. An important aspect of conflict and plot is to set the story within a powder keg, which means to have the story set with multiple type of conflict occurring: political, economic, geological, geographic, etc.
  • Other topics discussed on:
    • Pacing: speed and tonal whiplash.
    • Physical vs Intrigue conflict.
    • Character depth.
    • What makes a story award winning?







Ep051 Dawn

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is a legend! In this episode we specifically dive into Dawn, the first book in the Xenogenesis book. Dawn is a story of first contact and discusses the liberty over one’s own body. The book despite being originally published in 1987 feels very relevant as themes of consent and oppression call out through time. The heavy themes and at times graphic content emphasize the brutality humans have acted against other humans throughout time all while keeping the actions of the story fully within the realm of science fiction. Dawn is a must read book to be exposed to the horrors of having your rights taken away, the autonomy over your body removed, and the overreaching of power that the intoxication of justification causes.

Discussed in this Episode:

  • Theme of Power Dynamics. The book begins with Lilith after a surgery which removed cancer from her body, but without her consent. The aliens want the best for Lilith and humans, however, Lilith is forced to comply. Even though at first what the aliens want and what Lilith objectively sees as good are in alignment, the motivations for these actions and wants are dramatically different.
  • Additionally through this Power Dynamic the aliens bit by bit by take away all freewill that Lilith and the humans have: from having to live close to the aliens to sexual reproduction. Consent strongly plays a role as the aliens insert themselves as the only way to allow for human reproduction.
  • Allegory and Metaphor. Though the actions that are discussed in this book take place in a science fiction environment, it is hard not to make comparisons to how humans have treated other humans throughout history. Specific historical references could include first nations boarding schools in the United State’s expansion to the western half of North America and the sexual violence that occurred to enslaved people on American plantations.
  • An all to relevant human vs human conflict emerges as a faction of humans awake and question Lilith’s authority. In a world of “fake news” this conflict feels very of the times, as well as the reality that despite the circumstances humans will find ways to fight.
  • Lilith is a sympathetic hero. Lilith plays both sides throughout the book, and through Butler’s storytelling we are able to stay close and cheer for Lilith regardless of what side or social dynamic Lilith was aligned to.
  • The plot structure of Questions and Answers. We begin with Lilith trying to understand her world, but as the story continues we learn the original questions were not fully answered, thus leading to additional questions and the revelations of more answers.

Spoilers and References