December Books 1) Cyteen

1) Cyteen by CJ Cherryh

Jeepers, it’s incredible that this won the Hugo award in 1989. The competition was not so impressive, of course: Red Prophet, by Orson Scott Card, has its merits but isn’t science fiction; Falling Free is not Lois McMaster Bujold’s best (though oddly enough it did win the Nebula that year; I haven’t read Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling, and while I have read the other nominee, Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson, I can’t remember a single thing about the plot, which indeed is my complaint about most William Gibson novels starting with Neuromancer (I’ve read that book at least five times and still have no idea what happens).

Anyway, after cudgelling myself through the first 250 pages, it actually started to pick up, taken as a Bildungsroman of young Ari Emory, clone and heir of a fiendish political manipulator. This carried my interest quite well for another 400 pages and then at the end it all fell apart again; I have no idea what happened at the climax. Cherryh’s style is very dense; she doesn’t believe in telling you much about the background or setting. I have one more book of hers on the “to read” shelf but I think it may linger there for a while.

The one interesting thing I picked up is that Lois McMaster Bujold’s take on the social norms regarding clones and genetically engineered people seems to be at least in part a reaction to Cherryh’s much more brutal (and I think unrealistic) take on this issue. Some of Bujold’s best stuff is written directly around the question – think Mirror Dance and Brothers in Arms, obviously, but also the Taura stories, Falling Free and Ethan of Athos – and much of the rest of her work has it in the background. I find myself much more satisfied with Bujold’s treatment of it than Cherryh’s.

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