C. J. Cherryh Reread

They don’t just want a bright kid, they want her back: C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen

Cyteen is about cloning. It’s the definitive, ultimate book on the subject. The plot concerns the attempt to clone not just the body but the mind of Ariane Emory, a genius scientist and politically the most powerful person in Union.

Thematically it falls into the same space as Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil, which is also about the attempt to clone a powerful dead leader and recreate the events of his life. In Levin’s book the time is the present when the book was written, 1976, and the dead leader is Adolf Hitler. The interesting thing about this comparison is that Ariane Emory isn’t really all that much nicer than Hitler—she hasn’t committed genocide, but she has caused the birth of millions of programmed azi (clone slaves) whose mindsets are such that when they become part of the general population and have children they will bring them up in a way to shape the culture as Ari Emory wants it. Besides her macro-scale hubris and irresponsibility, on a personal scale she’s horrible. She has no boundaries.

Yet the charm of the book lies in seeing her again as a very bright child who doesn’t know why her life is being manipulated, growing up, having the events of her life shaped to shape her as the first Ariane was shaped, and eventually being given direct advice (recorded before death) by her predecessor. As well as both iterations of Ari, the book centers on the much more likeable Justin Warrick, who is also a clone of his “father,” whose life is manipulated to make him different, not the same.


The novel is set almost entirely in the research institute Reseune, on the planet Cyteen, with occasional trips to the capital, Novgorod. It covers twenty years of direct time and more than a hundred years of indirect time, the manipulation of planets and cultures, slavery, war, politics, and the effects on everything of the life-extending rejuv drug that means people routinely live roughly double their natural lifespans. This is a remarkably ambitious book that succeeds on every level. This is the kind of SF I like best, set on another planet, proceeding directly from us via a huge chunk of complex future history, with characters I care about and tackling the question of what it means to be human.


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