I almost didn’t read this book. My Dearly Beloved downloaded it and since we have a linked Amazon account, it ended up also on my Kindle. I thought it would be about a cyber teen, you know, another YA where the teenager has special powers suddenly overnight? Right? No. Wrong.
It is about genetic engineering, and politics and clones, called replicas, and bossing everybody around even after you are dead. Gee. That notion holds a certain appeal, doesn’t it. It won a whole bunch of awards in 1989 – Hugo Award for Best Novel: winner, SF Chronicle Award, Best Novel: winner, British Science Fiction Association Award, Best SF Novel: nomination, Locus Award, Best SF Novel: winner, and in 1998, the Locus Award, All-Time Best SF Novel before 1990: position 38.
Let me see if I can narrow down the plot description from Wiki’s 18 paragraphs to a more manageable length. Whew. OK. Diving in.
Founded in 2201 by a group of dissident scientists and engineers, the Cyteen star system includes the planet Cyteen and Cyteen Inner and Outer Stations. Cyteen declared its independence from Earth in 2300 CE and now serves as the capital of Union.
The planet’s atmosphere is moderately toxic to humans, necessitating enclaves, or semi-encapsulated city-states, which drives Union’s political outlook. Cyteen is seen as the antithesis of Earth; the heart of Union is the research facility Reseune, the center of all research and development of human cloning.
Cloned “azi” provide the additional population Union needs to exist and expand, a policy which Earth and the Alliance, Union’s main rival, deplore and refuse to sanction. Azi are incubated in vitro in “womb-tanks”, but citizen (or “CIT”) babies can also be cloned the same way, for example to replace a dead child. The fundamental difference between azi and regular humans is that they are educated from birth via “tape”, a computer-controlled combination of conditioning and biofeedback training. This technology is not limited to azi; it is used by normal humans as well, though to a lesser extent and after they have a chance to develop (i.e. usually after the age of six). This results in profound psychological differences; for example, CITs are much more capable of handling new and uncertain situations, while azi are able to concentrate better.
The overall educational program of an azi is referred to as his or her “psychset”. Designing tapes is an extremely complex discipline, since a badly designed psychset can cause azi to become emotionally unstable.
OK, that’s the basic background. Onto this scene we encounter Ariane Emory, one of fourteen “Specials”, Union-certified geniuses. In addition to her research on azi, she runs Reseune (founded by her parents) with the assistance of Giraud and Denys Nye. Emory is also a member of the Council of Nine, the elected, top-level executive body of Union. Two political factions vie for power in Union: the Centrists and the Expansionists. The latter, led by Emory, seek to enlarge Union through exploration, building new stations and continued cloning. Her political enemies, headed by Mikhail Corain, prefer to focus on the existing stations and planets. The Expansionists have held power since the foundation of Union, a situation fostered by “rejuv”, which extends lifespans and staves off the effects of old age. Emory herself is 120 years old at the start of the novel – and only just beginning to show signs of aging – and has been the Councillor for Science for five decades.
Emory’s former co-worker and now bitter longtime rival, Jordan Warrick, is also a Special. Jordan has created and raised a clone of himself named Justin. Justin has grown up with and is very close to Grant, an experimental azi created by Emory from the slightly modified geneset of another Special. When Justin goes to work for Emory, she threatens to use Grant, who is Reseune property, for research. Using drugs and tape to overcome Justin’s remaining resistance, she rapes the inexperienced seventeen-year-old. This trauma causes him to experience periodic debilitating “tape-flashes”, similar to the flashbacks that PTSD sufferers experience. Justin does his best to hide the sordid matter from his “father”, but Jordan eventually learns of it. He is furious and confronts Emory.
She is found dead later that day. Though it could have been accidental, there is strong suspicion that she was murdered by Jordan. He protests his innocence, but agrees to a confession in order to protect both Justin and Grant. Because of his Special status, he has legal immunity and is only exiled to an isolated research facility far from Reseune.
Emory’s ultimate goal was to clone herself, with her successor reliving her life as closely as possible, down to her hormone levels and including two longtime bodyguard azi and companions, Florian and Catlin. Emory also created a sophisticated and powerful computer program to help guide her replacement. With her death and the resulting disruption to both Reseune and Union, the second project is begun immediately.
And the rest of the book is all about the replica Ari growing up and the events that happen to her and to the political situation. Full disclosure — a lot of that plot description was lifted whole from Wiki. OK, most of it.
You will be as pleased as I am to learn that C. J. Cherryh is a female. I LOVE sci fi written by women, and so much of her wondrous oeuvre was written during a time when the field was dominated by male writers. Cherryh (pronounced “Cherry”) appended a silent “h” to her real name because her first editor felt that “Cherry” sounded too much like a romance writer. Her initials, C.J., were used to disguise the fact that she was female. Cherryh, has written more than 80 books since the mid-1970s, including the Hugo Award-winning novels Downbelow Station (1981) also set in her Alliance-Union universe. She is known for her world building, depicting fictional realms with great realism supported by vast research in history, language, psychology, and archeology. Her series of fantasy novels set in the Alliance-Union universe, the Morgaine Stories, have sold in excess of 3 million copies.
And dig this: the author has an asteroid, 77185 Cherryh, named after her! Referring to this honor, the asteroid’s discoverers wrote of Cherryh: “She has challenged us to be worthy of the stars by imagining how mankind might grow to live among them.”
Dang. Any of you have an asteroid named after you? I didn’t think so.