Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh

October 2, 2011 Reviews 0

C. J. Cherryh is a U.S. author who has written more than 60 science fiction and fantasy novels. Her works may be divided into the Alliance-Union novels, The Chanur novels, novels set in the Foreigner universe and her fantasy novels. The Alliance-Union novels include the Hugo Award winning novels Downbelow Station (1981) and Cyteen (1988). 

The saga of two young friends trapped in an endless nightmare of suspicion and surveillance, of cyber-programmed servants (azi) and a ruling class with century long lives – and the enigmatic woman who dominates them all … 

Ariane Emory is a certified genius – a Special. She runs a research facility called Reseune with the assistance of Giraud and Denys Nye. She is also a member of the Council of Nine, an elected executive body which governs the Union. Emory supports the Expansionists – who seek to enlarge the Union through exploration and continued cloning (for which Resuene is vital). She has many political enemies and is 120 at the start of the novel. This is possible through ‘rejuv’, an addictive substance that extends life. Her rival, and former co-worker, Jordan Warrick, is also a Special. He has a son, Justin, who is Jordan’s genetic clone. Jordan has also fostered an experimental azi named Grant, and brought up Justin and Grant as brothers. Ariane threatens to use Grant (who remains property of Resuene due to his experimental status) for testing unless Justin works for her. She uses this excuse to lure him to her apartment, where she sexually abuses him with the help of her two azi.

Justin attempts to keep his abuse from his father, but when Jordan finds out, he confronts  Emory in her office. She is found dead later that day. 

Jordan is strongly suspected of Ariane’s murder, but due to his status as a Special he can not be punished directly. He is exiled to a research facility on another planet and forced to cut all ties with Justin and Grant. Emory’s last project has been the cloning of a young man in order to recreate his abilities. Earlier attempts at complete cloning have failed. Emory’s goal was to recreate herself by replicating her life as closely as possible. Emory also created a computer program to help guide her successor. Due to her sudden death, this project is initiated immediately and Ari is raised by a woman who is a close match to Emory’s mother. 

The scope of this novel is huge: an in depth study of power, examination of the difference in the psychology of a ‘natural-born’ person and that of a manufactured mind, the story of a ruthless genius, her death and subsequent cloning, and the experiences of the clone herself, who is intended to replace the greatest mind in history and succeeds more completely than anticipated. The large scope makes the novel clunky in some places, but for the most part it is very engaging. Things are infinitely more interesting once the second Ariane has been born. The politics a sometimes dry, but moves the narrative along very effectively.

The relationship between the azi – artificially created beings who learn everything through ‘tape’ and have an artificial psychology called a ‘psychset’  – and natural born humans is examined in great detail. Sometimes the azi are no better than chattels, other times they are trusted fiends and even lovers, but in everything it is shown that azi have no choice – they are programmed to make their Supervisors happy. The plight of the azi was extremely disturbing to read; they have no adaptive skills and suffer deep depression when anything unexpected occurs – requiring extensive tape sessions to convince them that everything is alright. Although most characters in the book consider azi human, the question of humanity and what it means is a point of discussion between Justin and his azi Grant, with some surprising insights into human psychology. 

Grant: Give me a chance, friend. I’m not a damn robot. Maybe my feelings are plastic, but they’re sure as hell real. You want to yell at me, yell. Don’t pull that Supervisor crap.

Justin: Then don’t act like a damn azi!

I also really liked the characterisation in the novel. Justin and Grant are lovers – and it is obvious through their mannerisms and how much they care for one another. Ari’s struggle to find a partner who both matches her intellect and understands her plight as a replicate fuels her attraction to Justin, which makes Justin increasingly uncomfortable as he is unable to forget the horrors which her predecessor inflicted on him. I felt sorry for all of them throughout the book and really enjoyed reading their interactions. 

Cyteen is 680 pages long, with only 14 chapters. The chapters are thus very long and split up into 10 – 15 parts. Each part usually deals with a different issue, or a different character’s point of view. In the fast-paced sections the structure of the book is not so important. But in the slower parts, the long chapters become very hard to read and I found myself skipping large sections. 

This a wonderful example of great science fiction. Although sometimes very hard to read due to the level of detail which creates a sluggish pace, the book is worthwhile to read at least once because of the issues it raises. This is a book of classic SF which many who like to read the genre will enjoy. Be warned though – this is a long read.

About the book:

  • Originally published by Warner Books in May 1988
  • Pub. Date: 15 April 2004 (this edition). 
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Format: Paperback, 680 pages
  • ISBN 13: 9780446671279 ISBN 10: 0446671274
  • Categories: Science Fiction, Space Opera

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