Book Review: Cyteen (#1-3)

CyteenRead for: FemSciFiFans August ’14 Group Selection

Rating: 4/5

This is my first experience with Cherryh, and while I can see why people describe her work as “dry”, I did enjoy this trilogy. Ariane Emory is the crazy smart female protagonist, though we only just get to know her when she dies and then we learn all about Ariane from the beginning again as her clone is groomed into the “new” Ariane. It’s an interesting concept, creating a type of immortality for Ariane in having her live her life over and over again in one form or another. The “new” Ariane does have some differences from her predecessor, though her guardians have tried their damnedest to replicate Ariane’s life by controlling the environment of the new Ariane and attempting to recreate the same events that the first Ariane experienced so the second Ariane will develop into the same person, or as close to as possible. Whoosh.

This was a very subtle feminist science fiction in that the message of feminism wasn’t obvious in any way, you had to look for it and interpret it yourself. The things about this novel that made it “feminist” to me were that Ariane was a strong political figure, and also that her gender was never mentioned as a negative or a draw back in any way. In fact, gender in general wasn’t presented in any specific way; the characters were all equal (both in terms of gender and in sexuality) and that was just the way life was. No controversy over Ariane being a woman who held a tremendous amount of power, and no disparaging comments or anything of the sort related to being female. I found this a very appealing concept. As for Ariane as a character, I thought she was strongly developed and very intelligent – which obviously threatened others but not because she was a smart woman, rather just because she was a smart and also dangerous human being. The treatment of Justin’s same sex relationship was also interesting, the controversy not being that he was partnered with a man but that he was partnered with someone who was considered to be a lower class that he was. I thought it was great that the same sex relationship was included without being forced and without becoming an element in the spotlight. The story revolved around the relationship in a way that made it feel natural, and I prefer when same sex relationships are presented this way rather than in a HEY HEY LOOK AT THIS type of way.

The ending I found pretty ambiguous. Things just sort of ended… I learned after the fact that Cherryh returned to Cyteen 20 years later and wrote a fourth installment, which is on my to-read pile. I’m very curious to see how she went back and explained (or didn’t!) the things that were left unsaid. Overall a great science fiction story on cloning and human ethics.

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