Completed 10/30/2013, reviewed 10/31/2013
I first tried to read Cyteen this summer. I borrowed it from the library and started it, four times, then returned it. The first fifty pages were leaden with a huge number of characters and complex political intrigue, and I just couldn’t get my head around it. On the day I was laid-off from work, I checked it out from the library again, still needing to read it for my personal Hugo challenge, and thinking I could use it for my WOGF challenge. Being unemployed, I’d have the time to hunker down and give it better try. I devoted ten days to this complex 680 page behemoth which seemed to mix elements from the classics of SF and paranoia literature: “Brave New World,” “1984,” “Future Shock,” and Kafka’s “The Trial.” When I was done, I felt sorely cheated.
Cyteen is a planet in an interplanetary system recently out of a disastrous war. The government is controlled by the Expansionists and dominated by the powerful, arrogant, and manipulative head of Science, Ariane Emory. Ariane is murdered. Jordan Warrick, a colleague and rival, admits to the murder and is exiled to the opposite side of the planet. It’s not a spoiler. That’s just the setup, the first 150 pages. The rest of the book follows the coming of age of Ariane’s clone, also called Ariane, and her relationship to the tortured but brilliant Justin Warrick,
This book has a lot of interesting concepts. One of the most central is the “azi,” cloned people who learn and are trained using tapes, sort of like subliminal messaging. These tapes are programmed so that different azi are able to perform different functions in society. Citizens, or CITs, are regular people, sometimes clones, but not azis. They may also learn via tapes. The difference is azis are never allowed the ability to completely think for themselves. The whole of an azi or CIT’s tape library is called a psychset. Reseune, the powerful scientific research center of Cyteen, exists for the study and development of cloning and psychsets. Ariane and Jordan were brilliant psychset developers.
While these concepts were great, it is also the cause of my disappointment in the book. Despite the scientific and sociological wonders, it felt like Cherryh never developed a real story out of them. The book feels more like a simple novelization of the life of a famous person. There was no real plot, direction, or denouement. The setup takes place, then we watch Ari, the clone, grow from infant to young adult. There’s some tension because you don’t know if she’s going to be ruthless like her progenitor, or more compassionate. But it just feels like a series of events written around the science.
Another big disappointment was finding that the book didn’t end. There was no conclusion or resolution. It just stopped. There’s a lot of drama at the end, but nothing to bring closure to the story. And you see it coming. As I was finishing the book, I just keep reading, and reading, and thinking “Oh no, it’s not ending…Fifty pages left and it’s not ending…forty…thirty…where’s the ending?” You get to the last few lines of the book, and there’s a very simple wrap-up with no emotional impact. I researched the book on the internet and sure enough, there’s a direct sequel. Aaaargh! That’s when I felt cheated. Ten days of my life, and there’s a sequel.
A third issue is the Kafka-esque harassment of Justin by Ariane’s uncles. Justin is constantly abused by Denys and Geraud Nye. I couldn’t figure out why they kept on abusing Justin so horribly, turning this brilliant software developer into a miserable, paranoid victim. He already has PTDS from his interaction with the first Ariane. Their motivation for continued abuse and torture just isn't clear. Maybe because the book was so long, I just lost sight of it. But after a while, it just seemed like Cherryh was a sadist nursing a fetish.
Now, the technical complaints. I have never seen--- never seen---- such an overuse of dashes and repeated words and phrases. Words and phrases. My initial guess was that Cherryh was trying to use punctuation and repetition to more accurately mimic real thought, speech, and conversation. I found it distracting and annoying.
There was also a unique dropping of words in phrases. The most notable were the use “of a sudden” instead of “all of a sudden” and “what hell” instead of “what the hell.” At first I though this was a publishing or editing error. But she uses “of a sudden” a lot, and “all” is never part of the phrase. And words seem to be missing throughout the book. Whether it was her style, her editor, or her publisher, I found it terribly distracting and annoying. Between that and the complexity of the science and politics, it made the book very hard to read.
After all that, I will admit that the book wasn’t all bad. As I mentioned at the beginning, the science is really interesting. I was lost at times when it got into heavy sociology, but still, I enjoyed it.
I also really liked the character development of the Ari the clone. As her story unfolded, I found I really liked her, and wanted her to succeed in everything, and believe she was striving for honesty and integrity. In retrospect, I find this an interesting experience, because the setup at the beginning is written so that you hate her and are rooting for the opposition. But by the end, I was rooting for Ari.
I liked the relationship between Justin and his personal azi, Grant. Justin and Grant were raised together, as many people and their azi are. Their relationship is incredibly intimate, but as the story progresses, it becomes pretty clear that they are lovers. This relationship becomes profound. I wanted Cherryh to explore that a little more. The only affirmation of it is one point where Ari makes note of a rumor. And that little reference just felt like a cop-out.
For a rating, I have to give this book two stars, solely for the universe she created. I just don’t like books that don’t have a plot or an ending. I also don’t like books that need such a long setup. I felt like I wasted my time. I had no gratification in finishing it, nor did it give me any motivation to even consider reading the sequel. In fact, it makes me dread reading her other Hugo winner, “Downbelow Station.”