Out on the edge of civilized space, Lsel Station, the largest of the Stationer settlements, is home to some thirty thousand humans, a gateway to a few further systems, and the holder of some remarkable neurotechnology. The center to which Lsel is peripheral is the Teixcalaanli Empire, a star-spanning empire in the grand tradition with starfaring legions, a capital world that is almost entirely city, and a succession crisis in which minor characters wind up playing a major role. Communication between star systems is only as fast as the fastest jump ship, echoing the state of terrestrial empires prior to the invention of the telegraph.
Lsel has received an urgent message requesting that a replacement for the station’s ambassador to the empire be sent as quickly as possible. Further details are not forthcoming, but the implication is clearly that the ambassador has died at his post. That’s more than unfortunate for the station for several reasons.
The neurotechnology that plays an important role in Lsel’s culture is called “imago,” and it is a full recording of a person’s knowledge and memories at a particular point in time. After that person’s death, an imago recording is implanted in the brain of someone with a compatible personality, giving the recipient full access to the lifelong experiences of the deceased. Done repeatedly, this creates an imago line of massive knowledge. Some of Lsel’s lines of spaceship pilots stretch back fourteen generations. The imago is also considered a crucial secret, and knowledge of its existence is not passed to outsiders.
The sudden and presumably permanent indisposition of the Lsel ambassador to Teixcalaan is unfortunate because he had not been back to the station in fifteen years. Without his body, the recording of all of those years is lost to the imago makers on the station. His successor Mahit Dzmare, the protagonist of A Memory Called Empire, will take her position missing vast amounts of knowledge that she would otherwise expect to have. Further, the previous ambassador’s mission was to deflect, or delay as long as possible, Teixcalaan’s intention to annex Lsel and its allied stations. The empire is vast and could easily bring Lsel into its fold, but the empire also has myriad interests and problems, and a deft ambassador could work to see that imperial attention turns elsewhere, maybe even for a generation or more.