Tue
Nov 18 2008 2:59pm

Who Killed Ariane Emory? C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen

In 1988, C.J. Cherryh published her best book so far, Cyteen. I’m not the only person to think it’s wonderful (though I may be the only person who has had to ration re-reads and who thinks it’s the second best book in the world) as it won the Hugo. If you’re not claustrophobic and you like SF, I commend it to your attention.

Cyteen is about cloning, slavery, psychology and psychogenesis— mind cloning. It’s set on the planet Cyteen in the twenty-fifth century, in Cherryh’s Union-Alliance universe. Ariane Emory is an incredibly powerful politician and a genius scientist. She’s murdered—it says this on the back cover, and the first time I read it I spent the entire first part of the book longing for someone, anyone, to murder her. I’d have killed her myself. Then they clone her and attempt to get her personality back. The genius of the book is how it manages to get your sympathy for this incredibly unsympathetic person, and what makes it totally fascinating is the society, on the one hand so utopian, on the other, so awful.

I’m planning to re-read all the Union-Alliance books in internal chronological order and write about them here, in preparation for the direct Cyteen sequel, Regenesis, which is due out on January 6th. I did not just re-read Cyteen in advance of this sensible plan. I just happened to look at the Regenesis Amazon page (to check that I still had to wait until January for it) and saw that they have some actual information about the book. In Regenesis, apparently, we will discover once and for all who killed Ariane Emory!

Of course I want to know. But before anyone gets the chance to know for sure, I want to rehearse the possibilities one last time. Many of these suggestions are not mine but come from conversations I have had about Cyteen in the last twenty years, many of them on rec.arts.sf.written.

It isn’t Jordan. The information on the TranSlate combined with the door times clears him—he leaves through the security door at the same time she makes a note to interrupt his outgoing access. He could have been in the room when she made that note, but he couldn’t have been in the room, killed her and fixed the plumbing all within 60 seconds.

It could be suicide. She knew she was dying, at the end of the Rejuv, and she could have taken this opportunity to die and get her enemies at the same time. If she did this, she got Caitlin to help, which would be why Caitlin is so ready to die herself. I don’t believe this, because I know her too well. She’s in the middle of things. She’s always in the middle of things, and she always would be. She believed things couldn’t go on without her so much she’s having herself replicated, yet she’d die early? I don’t think so. She’s in the middle of that Intervention on Justin, she hadn’t finished with Base 1, she wanted hands on time with the Project—I can’t believe it.

It couldn’t have been Giraud, because we see her dead body from his point of view. Giraud knew Jordan was there and had every reason to time the death that way, more than Ari did herself. Hhe didn’t want Justin as a power at Reseune. But he’s cleared by his in-POV testimony.

It could have been Denys. Considering what Denys did later, it makes complete sense that it should have been. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence though. If it was Denys, it must have been done through Seely. (“Uncle Denys can’t run. But Seely can.”)

Then there’s my favourite suspect: Abban. There isn’t any evidence as such. But he has the same motives as Giraud, and we’ve never see his POV. His later actions with the bomb are consistent with this, and the conversation he has with Giraud on the night of the election about assassinating people who stop the system working and then letting it work again is strongly suggestive. The truly cool thing about it is that Abban is azi, and one of Cyteen’s themes is how invisible yet significant the azi are. Nobody considers them as potential murderers, just like in Gosford Park. It would be poetically neat if it were Abban, for his own reasons, without informing Giraud. This would be very like Cherryh.

We’ll see soon, if you call January soon. Meanwhile, any more theories, or any criticism of these theories?

This article is part of C. J. Cherryh Reread: ‹ previous | index | next ›
28 comments
Lisa Costello
1. radiantlisa
Oh, now I'll have to go back and re-read Cyteen - it's been too long since I read it to make any sensible judgment. And what a treat to have *more* Cyteen coming ...
Stephanie Leary
2. sleary
I'm very carefully not looking at the spoilery section. If one has never read Cherryh and is looking to rectify the situation, is Cyteen the right place to start on the Union-Alliance series?
joelfinkle
3. joelfinkle
What's amazing about Cyteen is that it ties tiny threads from a half-dozen or more books: The disaster that is "40,000 in Gehenna," the economic and policial need for Azi brought up in several other U-A books, the state of the U-A war, etc. etc.

It's really the lynchpin that holds what are otherwise very distantly separated books together.
Matthew Brown
4. morven
sleary: I think you could read Cyteen quite well having not read any other Cherryh. It might be a little slower going, but I think you could.

Cyteen is in my very short list of favorite books of all time. I'd recommend it to anyone.
Jo Walton
5. bluejo
Sleary: Yes, I think you can read it without having read any of the rest, in the same way you could read a historical novel set in seventeenth century England without having read others set in fourteenth century France. The books stand alone, but they are part of a coherent history.
Declan Ryan
6. decco999
For anyone who hasn't yet experienced any of CJ Cherryh's books and are tempted to read "Cyteen", be prepared to spend many long hours hooked on the rest of her published works. She is by far my favourite fiction author and is one of the very few fantasy writers that I will indulge. "Cyteen" - a masterpiece; "Downbelow Station" - likewise; "The Foreigner Series" - an ongoing compulsive read. Her web site is well worth a look if you need a list of her works.
treebee72 _
7. treebee72
Sleary @2 - it was years ago, but Cyteen was the first Cherryh book I read and I found it very enjoyable as a stand alone novel. I actually still haven't read any of the Union-Alliance books. Really need to fix that...
joelfinkle
8. dana22
Thank you so much for writing about this and reawakening, all at once my intense, love for these books, and indeed the entire "Downbelow Station" universe in all its glory. I got nuthin' on your theories, but I am over here clapping and waiting impatiently for the new one, as well.
Matthew Brown
9. morven
I'm going to have to reread Cyteen for January now, too. Damn ;)

There are a few books in the Union-Alliance series that aren't as good, but most of them are worth it, although few have the scope of Cyteen.

I'd also recommend the Chanur series; and the Morgaine ones, though be aware that they read as fantasy (they are, technically, science fiction, since everything has a technological explanation).
Kate Nepveu
10. katenepveu
the second best book in the world

I suspect I know the first, but I have to ask anyway . . .

Is it known why the 20-year wait for the sequel? Was it not planned from the start, or was it just a difficult book to write?
Matt Austern
11. austern
There are hints that both the Chanur and the Morgaine books are part of the Union/Alliance series, aren't there?
J Dalziel
12. BunnyM
austern @11, From what I recall the Chanur books do all but come out and explicitly state they are part of the Union/Alliance universe.

I really need to re-read all of the U-A and Chanur books now, preferably in order this time.
Iain Scott
13. iopgod
IIRC the very first chapter of Morgaine has a series of memos written by Union (or possibly Alliance) officals... but that is the only connection!
Jo Walton
14. bluejo
Kate: Yes, you know.

BunnyM: The Chanur books are definitely part of the U-A universe. When Tully tells Pyanfar about his people, he says they have three Compacts, and he is from Earth, which the other two are pushing. And in Cyteen Ariane muses that Earth has run into some xenophobic aliens on the other side of space.

Iopgod: There's a huge chronology on Cherryh's web page that links all the things that are in that universe, and Morgaine is right at the end. The Mri books and Serpent's Reach are also in it, and Port Eternity... I have a theory about PE, thich is that it is an Alliance story about Union, and hence has all the details wrong. In Rimrunners Bet says that there are stories about ships that get lost, and I think it's one of them. One of the other stories she mentions is lost ships wailing at the edge of comm -- which of course as we know and she doesn't isn't lost ships, but knnnn.
joelfinkle
15. Nanki
Jo, you're not alone. Like you, I used to have to ration my rereads on both Cyteen and (especially) the Chanur books. They're the only books that I've ever had to do that with. What an amazing author CJ is.

But unlike Kate, I *don't* know what your number 1 book in the world is. Can you give us a clue?
Jo Walton
16. bluejo
Nanki: It's The Lord of the Rings, obviously. :-)
joelfinkle
17. Nuala
So one question that was obsessing me as I recently re-read the edition pictured above. Is Cyteen about Ari 2 or is it about Justin and Grant? The cover and blurb suggest it's about Justin and Grant but I always think of it as Ari 2's story.

Also, azi are really creepy - vat grown people that sometimes can become cits but seem to be subtly and not so subtly discouraged from doing so. I've bounced off all other Cherryh I've tried to read so I don't know if that view of them would change if I read more.
charlene barina
18. charlener0
Hmm...what is the chronological order, anyway? I wouldn't mind doing a re-read in that way to make sure I hit everything too. Link somewhere?
Jo Walton
19. bluejo
Charlener: Chronological order and point of view, from memory:

Heavy Time Hellburner -- read in order, as they are direct sequels with the same characters. Beginning of War. Set in Earth system, though not on Earth, at the time Mazian's fleet is being commissioned.

Downbelow Station War, Treaty of Pell, formation of Alliance. Alliance.

Merchanter's Luck Immediately post-War. Merchanter/Alliance/Union.

Rimrunners Immediately post-War. Mazianni/Alliance.

Tripoint. Generation post-war. Merchanter/Union.

Finity's End Generation post-war. Merchanter/Alliance.

The Pride of Chanur, Chanur's Venture, The Kif Strike Back, Chanur's Homecoming, Chanur's Legacy Alien POV.

Cyteen Generation post-war. Union.

Regenesis Direct sequel to Cyteen so Union, post war ongoing.

Forty Thousand in Gehenna. War, hundreds of years cut off, generation post war, generations afterwards. Union (sort of).

Much later: Mri War books

Serpent's Reach

So much later it might as well not be connected at all
Chronicles of Morgaine
Jo Walton
20. bluejo
Nuala: Cyteen is about psychogenesis, getting the person you want out of the geneset. It's therefore about Ari 2 and Justin and Grant, who are all examples of that.

What I think it's really about is an examination of the ethics of doing that, assuming that you can. Justin goes all the way from utterly horrified to ("the same as I need you") prepared to do it. Ari 2 goes all the way from being sure she'd never do this to someone to "the most important thing is getting me back". And I think as a reader you have to ask yourself what you'd do.

There are half a ton of SF novels about cloning and Cyteen goes beyond all of them, takes for granted a whole lot of things and goes on to some really interesting issues. Azi are people, they're programmed, and they're programmed to be slaves. She uses US slave teminology about them, House and Yard azi, and talks about them getting their papers and becoming citizens, and treating them like children and always having a supervisor who tells them what to do -- and then she shows us all those programmers turning out "well designed people" and Ari I's plans to integrate them into society... and then it's all undermined because we know they're not happy and well designed, we know right from the beginning (in Grant's POV) they whisper about freedom if they're very very good.

Reading the other books won't help you about azi, they're mostly from the Alliance side. There are azi in Downbelow Station but they won't make you feel any better about them.
Russ Gray
21. nimdok
I think Cyteen was the first C J Cherryh book I read. And I agree, it is near the top of my list of best books ever.

The book is huge, complex, and deep. It addresses issues that have been around at least since the 1600s, such as whether slavery is morally justifiable if the slaves are well-treated and happy; whether it is permissible to conduct experiments on human subjects; how much of a person's self is created by nature and how much by nurture; and many more. It's very ambivalent on these questions, which I think is one of its strong points.

I hope Cyteen II is as good.
M R
22. Techslave
Cyteen is a favorite of mind. CJ Cherryh's writing is awesome. Her Fortress series is beautiful, as well as being some of her relatively infrequent non-science fiction work.

Your analysis of Cyteen's exploration of concepts is pretty spot on, bluejo. It definitely unfolds with excellent twists both mental and technological. It even benefits greatly from a re-read or three, which is a sign of something great. Not only is slavery explored, but also the implications of power and control in a slave-owning society as well as the cultural rift between the azi and the cit. Another interesting concept is the Specials, whose immunity from prosecution as being 'too important' to risk their genius against moral, political and legal concerns is very interesting. To me, it all ties into the central theme of identity. The links out to other stories and the importance of Gehenna is intriguing, with its references to 'worm' mental programming is a great link between the two works.


I have an especially warm spot in my heart for her ability to tell stories from all sides of her universe where each and every time you come into sympathy with viewpoints and cultures which were depicted in a much different light than in the other books.

I can't wait to see what comes with the new book, and what unfolds. 20 years is a long time - but some stories are not written until they have grown.
larry shirk
23. lorenzo
bluejo (comment 20): Serpent's Reach has a lot of stuff about azi - how they deal with new situations, think about themselves, 'grow' into fully functioning people...

It also talks about 'storing' them between job assignments.

Since this was written in 1980, it represents early thinking from CJ Cherryh about the whole idea of 'programming' people, the 'microcode' or basics bits making up the fabric of our psyche, and whether we can alter our own basic bits (can someone permanently overcome their upbringing or do their parents' ideas pop up in them 20 years later?).
individ ewe-al
24. individ-ewe-al
Nimdok, I agree that it's about the morality of slavery in part, but what struck me about it was the question from Plato: why don't good fathers have good sons, and can virtue be taught?

bluejo, why would you disrecommend it to claustrophobic people? I don't recall any scenes that were particularly scary from that perspective.
Jo Walton
25. bluejo
Individ-ewe-al: I tend to find all of the Alliance-Union universe very claustrophobic. It's not that there are necessarily any small cupboards -- though sometimes there are, there's one in Rimrunners -- as that it's just all psychologically very enclosed, and Cyteen in particular has Justin very stuck at Reseune, and the storm tunnels, and all of that.
joelfinkle
26. Elliott Mason
I'm afraid the entire first section of Cyteen is still uselessly tedious to me. I never managed to read the book at all until a friend suggested I start with the birth (?) of Ari II, and from there on out, I love the book. I then went back to read the first part, and it still made no sense to me -- even knowing what happened in the rest of the book. It's pointless internecine uber-detailed politics involving a mass of characters I'm never really introduced to or given any reason to care about, and I don't think it accentuates the book at all.
MC Pye
27. Mez
Techslave: “Cyteen is a favorite of mind”  is a great truth-thru-typo!
joelfinkle
28. mmikeda
bluejo@19

There's also the Merovingen books which take place on a former Alliance/Union colony. There's a chronology for a number of events in the Alliance/Union universe in the initial Merovingen novel (Angel With A Sword).

Also Brothers of Earth (far future although the beginning of the war is mentioned in the AWAS chronology, civil war within the Alliance). And a quick check of Cherryh's site says that Hunter of Worlds is also in the far future of the Alliance/Union universe.

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