In the last couple of years, I read an SF book in which a conquering general negotiates a surrender from a conquered world - in exchange for an end to resistance, the defeated planet's cultural records would be preserved. After the treaty is signed and the rebels disarm, the general takes possession of the digital records and orders them sorted - so not one bit is erased, but the data is rendered useless.

I had thought that was from one of Arkady Martine's novels (A Memory Called Empire or A Desolation Called Peace) but after extensive searching, I can't find the passage where this event is described.

  • For some reason I thought this was The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 21:02
  • Does it make sense to consider this a duplicate question? The answer is the same as the other question, but the questions seem very different (one is about the main plot of the book, while this one is about a small aspect of the book not associated with the main plot at all).
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 1:06
  • 1
    Absolutely. It helps if you think of the duplicate notification as a signpost. Your description of the destination may be different, but you both want to get to the same place.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 7:15
  • Thanks. Understood
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


This sounds like a little side episode in The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, the sacking of the Urutypaig Library by a young military officer named Lo Frag Traff.

Traff found himself in a position to threaten the species' capital city from the ground. The enemy had sued for peace, making it a condition of the treaty that their great library, famous throughout the civilised species of the Lesser Cloud, be left untouched. Traff knew that if he refused this condition the fight would go on, so he gave his word that not a letter, not a pixel, on the ancient microfiles would be destroyed, and they would be left in situ.

Traff had orders from his star marshal that the library had to be destroyed. Nicosar himself had commanded this as one of his first edicts after coming to power; subject races had to understand that once they displeased the Emperor, nothing could prevent their punishment.

While nobody in the Empire cared in the least about one of its loyal soldiers breaking an agreement with some bunch of aliens, Traff knew that giving your word was a sacred thing; nobody would ever trust him again if he went back on it.

Traff already knew what he was going to do. He solved the problem by shuffling the library, sorting every word in it into alphabetical order and every pixel of every illustration into order of colour, shade and intensity. The original microfiles were wiped and re-recorded with volumes upon volumes of 'the's, 'it's, and 'and's; the illustrations were fields of pure colour.

There were riots, of course, but Traff was in control by then, and as he explained to the incensed and - as it turned out, literally - suicidal guardians of the library, and to the Empire's Supreme Court, he had kept his word about not actually destroying or taking as booty a single word, image or file.

  • That's it - thanks. A checkmark will be delivered shortly.
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 21:05
  • 2
    There's a character in "Desolation Called Peace" called "The Butcher of the Nakharese Mind" (Nakhar being a rebellious planet) - and that just seemed the perfect epithet for someone who would pull that kind of trick.
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 21:06
  • And I did read Player earlier this year
    – Andrew
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 21:11

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