Cherryh is a patchy author, some of her books are real pot boiling dross, but Cyteen in quite different, and in it she rivals Ursula Le Guin as a social visionary and feminist Cassandra of change. This is one of the truly stunning entries in the Sci-Fi cannon. It does everything that great science fiction should. Firstly Cyteen challenges our preconceptions about the nature of humanity; secondly it inspires a sense of wonder; thirdly it mirrors a debate that is of significance to the here and now into the future and finally it does this while involving us in a story that is both tragic and finally triumphant. The book is set on a distant world in the distant future where cloning has become a necessity and finally a wepon. Humans are produced in factories faster than they can be integrated into mainstream society and so their socialisation is left to machines. This produces a range of autistic savants that are then ruthlessly exploited by the normal humans, raised in families with familiar childhoods. The premise of the book is that a breakthrough occurs in which a scientist realises she can clone not only a genetic version of herself, but in addition her personality and genius. Cyteen is fun to read and can be enjoyed at many levels. I think it is a deep and bitter book about how technology is changing what we are more than we can even understand, and as such it ranks right up there with the Left Hand of Darkeness as one of my all time favourites.
C. J. Cherryh has been developing her universe of the Alliance/Union empires for quite some time through several books. Most of these are very good action novels with complicated plots and believable characters, but they typically do not have deep themes. Cyteen, however, is the centerpiece of this universe, with great, insightful looks at the ethics and methods of cloning, slavery, identity (what makes you you?), genetics versus environment, the art of politics, and an incredible look at the inner psychology of the gifted, super-intelligent. This book is not an easy read – it requires some effort and thought by the reader to understand the points presented, but the reader will be richly rewarded for his effort. The prose style is very clipped, almost abbreviated, and does much to give the reader a sense of unstoppable, pell-mell action and high tension, but it does take some getting used to. Especially at the beginning of the book, where Cherryh drops the reader into this very complex and alien world with very little background explanation of the situation, the people, or the world, it is easy for the reader to become lost and confused. But if the reader will persevere, bit by bit he will find an envisioned world constructed in the best traditions of the field, fully as rich and satisfying as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Herbert’s Dune, but with dark overtones reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World and the paranoid mind control of Orwell’s 1984. The plot is a complex intertwining of power politics, intriguing scientific concepts, and the personal life histories of some very dynamic characters caught up in the Byzantine struggles for ultimate control of this world. And it is the characters that truly define and invigorate this story, fully realized, highly believable (a very difficult thing to achieve when these characters are super-geniuses), with real concerns and each with their own set of inner problems. Both the original Ari and the clone of her that we follow through most of the book are exceptional people, a refreshingly strong and different female lead compared to so many of the stereotypes that have littered the field of SF. Justin is also finely drawn, a good counterpoint to Ari, struggling with his own problems of personal identity and self-worth. I have added only two books to my ‘Best of SF’ list in the last 15 years. This is one of them. Take the time and effort to read and understand this book and the many ethical/philosophical/psychological points that Cherry brings to the fore in the course of this novel, and you will find your time was well spent. --- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
Ariane Emory is the director and chief scientist at Resune Labs on Cyteen, the heart of the Alliance cloning effort. In this future Humanity has spread to the stars but habitable planets are few and far between. Humanity lives on Orbital Stations and sparse habitable areas on a smattering of planets. The exigencies of war and survival have forced the Alliance to create clones for population and survival. Called Azi these clones are the responsibility of Resune Labs. An engrossing book set in the Authors' Merchanter-Alliance Universe. This concerns the rise to adulthood and authority of Parental Replicant Arianne Emory heir to Resune Labs on Cyteen. Created after her Originator's murder Ariane must attempt to make sense of the world around her, protect herself from potential enemies and try to live long enough to assume the mantle of power that is her destiny. Winner of the Hugo Award for 1988 this well deserves the award. A complex and believable society at the heart of her detailed world makes for a detailed slice of a possible future.
This book has the worst opening chapter I have ever read. A lengthy and academic exposition of the history of how mankind got to Cyteen and the wars between different political factors. With no indication of why the reader should plough through this dry and uninteresting stuff.
Having got past this to the story proper, it doesn’t get a lot better. There’s still a great deal of scene-setting without any story to carry you through, and lengthy explanations of the various political factions which, frankly, left me confused and not really caring one way or the other.
There IS a story underneath, but the pace is so incredibly slow that the reader loses sight of it. I struggled to page 117 and the murder had only just happened. It took me nearly three weeks to get one sixth of the way through the book, and I only got that far because it was the choice of my Reading Group. However, the thought of spending weeks ploughing through the rest of this over-written and tedious prose was making me lose the will to live!
This book seems to have divided reviewers here. The majority appear to love it, and find it outstanding and thought-provoking. A small minority, however, strongly disagree - and I'm afraid I'm one of them.
I have two main gripes.
The first is that it goes on way too long. Most of the story takes place either within the heads of the protagonists, or it consists of conversations between them. In both cases, I felt that these monologues or dialogues could have been just as effective without being dragged out to the extent that they were. It's not a good sign if you can imagine vast swathes of text being omitted without it having any significant bearing on the story.
The second is that, despite coming to know the private thoughts of many of the characters, certain things that appeared (to me, at least) to stand out about this universe, didn't cross their minds at all.
For example, Reseune appears to be a dictatorial police state (albeit a small one), whose citizens have few rights and no privacy. While some characters do talk at length about the *effects* of living in such a state, no-one appears to question it, nor make any move to change it.
In addition, although it exists within a democratic union, no-one in that union is shown to object to Reseune's lack of freedoms and rights.
The use of Azis (genetically-engineers humans, bred for specific functions) is at least objected to by some factions outside Reseune, but not questioned within. Given that it can be seen as a form of slavery, the lack of qualms of anyone within the company about this sub-class doesn't paint them in a sympathetic light.
It also leaves me wondering: if the underlying problem is that there aren't enough people on Cyteen to carry out all the necessary jobs, why not create incentives for people to move there, or for the locals to have more children?
Despite the above issues, I continued to the end of the book in the hope that some kind of resolution might be reached. There was a twist - but it was a huge anti-climax. Perhaps we were supposed to be aghast; I instead found myself thinking, "well OK; but so what?"
I also came to realise, both during the course of the story, and especially in light of that ending, that despite all the hours spent in the characters' heads, I *still* didn't understand a lot of their actions.
Perhaps this is why this book has divided opinions. If you're happy to spend this much time reading about the characters' thoughts and feelings, and if you come to empathise with them, then perhaps you'll like this book.
If, however, all this introspection seems to go on too long; and if, after all that time, you still don't understand what makes these people tick - then perhaps Cyteen just isn't the book for you.