Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cyteen (1989) and Regenesis

Subgenre: modified humans

Not to be crude, but take a look at that - that is one honkin' huge book. On top of another pretty big book. And until I got to about the point where that bookmark is (around two hundred pages in), I didn't like Cyteen very much. Why? It took less than five minutes for Cyteen to trip a few of my "bad scifi" warnings - the elaborate descriptions of local flora and fauna, the pages of introductory text that read like a history text - all stereotypical of a very frustrating type of science fiction where the author holds their imaginary world more dear than the novel itself. This was compounded by the confusion of the initial plotline, which focuses on two teenagers trying to deal with complexities of politics that they - and the reader - don't understand.

Patience is rewarded, though, as we come to understand that Cyteen Station is separated into two classes of humans - the normal citizens and the azi. While both might be genetically manipulated, the azi are designed and sold by the corporation Reseune; they are trained from birth, imprinted with patterns that provide intelligence, conscience, and obedience. In a sense, they are slaves, bought and sold - but the situation is not so simple, as the nature of an azi is to depend on his or her citizen supervisor - they genetically have no will to be free. Cyteen spends a lot of time tracing the differences in psychology between these two breeds of human, and the effects engendered in a society dependent on azi servants.

This is not to say that Cyteen is a long, badly-disguised screed against slavery and genetic manipulation. If anything, it takes the opposite stance. Azi and citizens are, in the best cases, symbiotic, and the primary qualms of the characters involved are not whether azi should exist, but how to treat them responsibly and fairly. However, because my immediate reaction to understanding what it was to be azi was disgust, the rest of the novel almost felt like a case of Stockholm Syndrome, as the reader gets more and more involved with the leadership of Reseune, I kept thinking back - "Wait, aren't these the bad guys?" In fact, especially after we learn that [spoiler] Reseune has specifically modified azi brains to be more supportive of Reseune policy, thereby ensuring their political power is maintained[/spoiler], I found it difficult to cheer for Reseune's success. This contrast between sympathetic characters and occasionally horrifying actions gives a real charge to the novel.

Now, why is Regenesis in this post, before the Hugo nominations for 2009 are even announced? Well, a lot of Cyteen's plot is driven by a murder mystery - one that isn't ever resolved in Cyteen itself. Fans had to wait 21 years for the sequel - unless, of course you were me, and the sequel was published within a month of your first reading Cyteen. Naturally, I couldn't pass it up. Regenesis is a solid continuation of the series, but it still doesn't manage a really satisfying conclusion - Cherryh's world is just far too big to contain in a pair of giant doorstops, apparently. If you wanted a few more hundred pages of scheming, intrigue, and Ariane Emory, read it, but I don't think the novel's release counts as an earthshaking event.

I think so - Cyteen has a remarkable depth, and I loved Cherryh's "human - but a different kind of human" interpretation of the genetically-manipulated azi. Cyteen rates a B+, and Regenesis a B- (docked for mostly being more of the same).

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