C. J. Cherryh
Cyteen Cover



"The murder of brilliant researcher and political power Ariane Emory, one of fourteen Specials or Union-certified geniuses, has staggering consequences for her constituency and for all of Reseune, as well as for her closest family and friends. As the news generates a shockwave across Union space, Emory's family and colleagues implement her final experiment -- the attempted recreation of her abilities by raising her clone successor in an environment as closely matching her life as possible."

-From The Alliance-Union Wiki

I am alternately extremely happy to write this (positive) review, because I had such poor reading of Downbelow Station, and also very nervous because there is just no way that I have the capability to do Cyteen any justice.

Who killed Ariane Emory?!

While the book is a long one – there is no doubt about that – the format of several chapters which are broken up into shorter parts and each chapter being separated by excerpts from reports or interviews or minder transcripts goes a long, long way to making this book as readable as possible. It was really easy to pick up Cyteen and just read a page or two (which would cover one of those parts of a chapter, if I found myself with a few extra minutes before leaving for work, and then being able to just put it back down fairly easily. Especially toward the end, this was no longer a problem as I had a hard time putting it down at all, but it was good because I didn't feel forced to read for hours every time I picked it up. I think it was also a contributing factor, apart from the story itself that made Cyteen one of those books that completely invades your personal life.

Cyteen nearly covers the entire spectrum not only of human experience, but also of SF themes. Really, this book should be too much for one person to handle, but unlike my experience of Downbelow Station, the interplay of probably a thousand different themes in Cyteen made it that much more compelling. What is most gripping is that woven throughout all those crazy intense themes of cloning, slavery, psychology, genetics, philosophy, politics, neurology the matter of who killed Ariane Emory? manages to infect just about everything good or bad or stupid or silly or sexy in the book with a terrible a sense of foreboding. You're never allowed to relax and It's. Just. Amazing.

What is this book about?

The copy from the back cover calls Cyteen a "murder mystery". This misled me quite a bit. In fact, relatively early in the novel Ariane Emory is killed but rather than leading to a protracted search, the killer is identified early and though a cloud of mystery hangs about for the remainder of the novel, no one ever resumes or reexamines the case. This was really exciting to me. It's obvious that the killer's guilt is suspect from the beginning and that is never cleared up, and I believe in Regenesis, the real killer is actually exposed (someone correct me if I'm wrong here), so Cherryh clearly has the long-view in mind – we just haven't gotten there yet. Still, it was significant to me that there was no attempt to broach the subject in Cyteen itself. Well, it does come up actually, but again it is crazily significant that we never find out the conclusion of the council's interrogation of Justin Warrick. What was more important was his experience there.

So, we aren't necessarily so concerned with whodunit, but where does that leave us? Well, as I said there are literally TONS of ridiculously complex topics brought up throughout, but it was telling that in the very last excerpt from archives, Ariane uses a "magic word".

B/1: Ari senior has a message.

Stand by.

Ari, this is Ari senior.

You've asked about power.

That's a magic word, sweet. Are you alone?

AE2: Yes.

Pg 613

I was literally rubbing my palms together and laughing maniacally after reading this. It was one of those moments when you stop reading in the middle of a page and resituate yourself and just take a couple deep breaths, because you know shit is gonna get REAL.

I'm not really going to opine on her treatment of power or any of her themes though, other than to say that whatever your opinion of her prose, characters or her worldview, it is delivered in a way that is nuanced to the extreme. Her treatment of themes like slavery, genetics or space colonization and so many others, topics of unimaginable scope, become incredibly personal and tangible in Cyteen. It is a book that is psychologically strenuous, philosophically draining and yet, an absolutely beautiful thing to behold.


Wow, you know what? I wasn't thinking of it this way while reading it, but now that I've written this review, I think Cyteen might be right up there with U.K. LeGuin's Hugo winner, The Left Hand of Darkness for me. That should say a lot.

Honestly, the first 150-or-so pages are a little slow out of the gate. I can see why a lot of people struggle to finish it. Beyond that point, Cyteen is incredibly rewarding and dramatic and just great. You might want to make sure you are physically and emotionally prepared for this book before you dive in, but once you do, like LeGuin's Hugo masterpieces, Cyteen is something of a master-class in SF literature.