Naturally-raised humans are not. This means humans can do things that azi can't, but the reverse is also true. The azi are not mindless slaves, nor are they mindlessly programmed, and several of the characters, both human and azi, find a lot of appeal in the core of certainty and deep self-knowledge of their own psychological rules that azis can have.
Cyteen is a book about emotions, and logic, and where they come from and how to balance them. About whether emotional pain and uncertainty is beneficial or damaging, and about how one's experiences make up and alter one's identity. This is also a book about politics, both institutional and personal. It opens with Ariane Emory, Councilor for Science for five decades and the head of the ruling Union Expansionist party. She's powerful, brilliant, dangerously good at reading people, and dangerously willing to manipulate and control people for her own ends.
What she wants, at the start of the book, is a project to attempt again to completely clone a Special the legal status given to the most brilliant minds of Union. It was attempted before and failed, but Ariane believes it's now possible, with a combination of tape, genetic engineering, and a controlled environment, to reproduce the brilliance of the original mind.
To give Union another lifespan of work by their most brilliant thinkers. Jordan Warrick, another scientist at Reseune, wants this too, but for his own reasons.
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He has had a long-standing professional and personal feud with Ariane Emory and wants to be transferred out from under her to the new research station that would be part of the project, and he wants to bring his son Justin and his companion azi Grant with them. Justin is a PR, a parental replicate, meaning he shares Jordan's genetic makeup but was not an attempt to reproduce the conditions of Jordan's rearing. Grant was raised as his brother.
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And both have, for reasons that are initially unclear, attracted the attention of Ariane, who may be using them as pawns. This is just the initial setup, and along with this should come a warning: the first pages set up a very complex and dangerous political situation and build the tension that will carry the rest of the book, and they do this by, largely, torturing Justin and Grant. The viewpoint jumps around a fair amount, but Justin and Grant are the primary protagonists for this first section of the book.
And while one feels sympathy for both of them, I have never, in my multiple readings of the book, particularly liked them. They're hard to like, as opposed to pity, during this setup, since they're in way, way over their heads, are constantly making mistakes, and are essentially having their lives destroyed.
Don't let this turn you off on the rest of the book; about pages in, Cyteen takes a dramatic shift of focus. A new set of protagonists will be introduced who are some of the most interesting, complex, and delightful protagonists in any SF novel ever written, and who are very much worth waiting for. While Justin definitely has his moments later on his life is so hard that his courage can be profoundly moving , it's not necessary to like him to love this book. That's one of the reasons why I so strongly dislike breaking it into three sections; that first section, which is mostly Justin and Grant, is not at all representative of the book.
I can't talk too much more about the plot without risking spoiling it, but it's a beautiful, taut, and complex story that is full of my favorite things in both settings and protagonists. Cyteen is a book about brilliant people who think on their feet, and Cherryh succeeds at showing this through what they do, which is rarely done as well as it is here.
It's a book about remembering one's friends and remembering one's enemies, and waiting for the most effective moment to act, but it also achieves some remarkable transformations. About pages in, you are likely to loathe almost everyone in Reseune; by the end of the book, you find yourself liking, or at least understanding, nearly everyone. This is extremely hard, and Cherryh pulls it off in most cases without even giving the people she's redeeming their own viewpoint sections.
Other than perhaps George R.
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Martin I've not seen another author do this as well. But, more than anything else, Cyteen is a book with the most wonderful feeling of catharsis. I think this is one of the reasons why I adore this book and have difficulties with some of Cherryh's other works.
She's always good at ramping up the tension and putting her characters in awful, untenable positions.
Less frequently does she provide the emotional payoff of turning the tables, where you get to watch a protagonist do everything you've been wanting to do for hundreds of pages, except even better and more delightfully than you would have come up with. Cyteen is one of the most emotionally satisfying books I've ever read. I could go on and on; there is just so much here that I love. Deep questions of ethics and self-control, presented in a way that one can see the consequences of both bad decisions and good ones and contrast them.
Possibly the best political negotiations in all of fiction. A wonderful look at friendship and loyalty from several directions. Two of the best semi-human protagonists I've seen, who one can see simultaneously as both wonderful friends and utterly non-human, who put nearly all of the androids in fiction to shame by being something trickier and more complex. A wonderful unfolding sense of power.
A computer that can somewhat anticipate problems and somewhat can't, that encapsulates much of what I love about semi-intelligent bases in science fiction. Cyteen has that rarest of properties of SF novels: both the characters and the technology meld in a wonderful combination where neither could exist without the other, where the character issues are illuminated by the technology and the technology supports the characters. You can click these links and be sent to a random series or a random author.
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