Cyteen

Monday, October 3, 2016


Cyteen
CJ Cherryh, 1988

Hugo Winner - 1989

Premise: You live, you make enemies and friends, you work, and you die. But what happens to a child who inherits your enemies. Your friends. Your work. Especially if the child is a clone...

This is a hard book to talk about, particularly because I listened to it as an audiobook.

A 37-hour audiobook.

It was less reading a book and more drowning in 20 years of an alternate reality.

At the beginning, Ariane Emory is more than a hundred and twenty years old, councilor for the Science bureau, a political power in and out of Reseune. Reseune is an independent, highly advanced science facility on the planet Cyteen. It supplies longevity treatments and cloning. Reseune also provides “azi,” people who are heavily engineered genetically and mentally to be suited to particular purposes.

No one has been able to clone a “special” (exceptionally talented person) like Ariane, not in an exact way. You would have to recreate both nature and nurture. That isn’t going to stop them from trying after she’s killed.

Much of the book follows Ari, the young clone, as she grows up and tries to figure out who she is, given that context.

On one level, this is the story of two families. One is Ariane: the elder and the younger, her extended family, and her personal bodyguards. The other is the Warricks: Jordan (Ariane the first’s sometimes rival), Justin (his son, also a clone, but not an attempt at an exact replica), and Justin’s companion Grant (an experimental cloned product of Reseune). The arc of the book is 20 years of politics, planning, and maneuvering from the two groups, both in opposition and alliance.

Cherryh, as usual, presents a fascinating world, full of nuanced, flawed people and a complicated social and political structure. The book touches on the ethics of childrearing, of cloning, of military might. It deals heavily with a technology that affects the mind, and the ethics of programming people and societies.

It reminded me a lot of Fascimile, in parts of the theme.

It was not an easy read/listen, though. It’s emotionally taxing, involves mental and sexual assault and a major character with long-term PTSD, and I’m not sure I understood the end. (To be fair, I think a lot of the point is that there are mysteries that the characters, for all their intelligence and power, will never solve.)

It was really, really well done. Just exhausting.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

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