Cyteen

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Jorpho
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Cyteen

Postby Jorpho » Fri Jun 05, 2009 4:07 am UTC

I first saw the Cyteen books when I was very young, and never quite got around to reading them until now. (By some odd coincidence, the sequel apparently came out in January.) I'm about a hundred and fifty pages in at this point, and my thought is: how exactly did this win a Hugo?

Cherryh throws the reader into a world with barely any hint of what exactly is going on, and starts right off the bat with the kind of bizarre Xanatos Gambit the likes of which I haven't seen outside of Death Note. I'm a bit reminded of Brave New World in the sense that it involves rampant cloning and some weird sex, but BNW was substantially more entertaining.

Just tell me: it does pick up eventually, right?

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PAstrychef
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Re: Cyteen

Postby PAstrychef » Mon Jun 08, 2009 3:48 pm UTC

The thing to remember is that these are part of a much larger story-cycle that includes Downbelow Station and 40,000 in Ghenna among others. So lots of the background on the Union and it's cloning methods is in other places.
But this is typical of Cherryh's style-you get to figure stuff out at the same time the characters do. Lately she's put so much internal (to the characters) info in that it can take 50 pages for one 2 minute meeting to be made clear, and even then you're aren't sure what just happened. I finished both Cyteen and Regeneisis, but they weren't "race through as fast as you can" books.
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Re: Cyteen

Postby Jorpho » Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:33 am UTC

Oh thank $deity it's finally over.

This trilogy was TERRIBLE. How did it get published? How did it win the Hugo?! It ranks far beneath The Difference Engine and The Rise of Endymion as far as the worst science fiction I have ever read goes. I can hardly even begin to describe the sheer awfulness. At times I am left with the distinct impression that the author herself was leaving out words at random in her haste to get the thing over with.

Perhaps its sole redeeming quality are some bits in the middle part that are vaguely reminiscent of Ender's Game, with the whole maturing-young-genius angle. Except that Ender's Game was so very, very much better.

There's not even a decent plot arc. At the end, people are dead, but nothing is resolved, and the whole thing just seems like one big pointless exercise. The plot summaries on the backs of the books are all brazen lies.

Someone please explain to me how it is possible to enjoy this thing. Please.

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Re: Cyteen

Postby rmsgrey » Thu Jan 02, 2014 5:55 pm UTC

I don't know about how to enjoy it, but I do. I'm on something like my third copy...

Yes, it requires you to actually use your brain to understand the setting and situation, but once you do, it's like watching a Chess game between Grand-Masters or reading an elegant mathematical proof, but with relatable characters...

The stakes are colossal - Ariane Emory is in a position to shape the future of the human race - her research and her work may make the difference between extinction and a galactic federation - but she's dying and the short-term political consequences of her death risk derailing her work. Instead (and we never find out exactly what happened, and nor does it really matter - none of the people directly involved actually cares about the truth) she dies under suspicious circumstances, thereby neutralising at least two immediate threats to her legacy, and setting in motion her quasi-reincarnation.

Ari II, growing up, inherits as much of Ariane's power as could be preserved, and her work, and the support she needs for that work - Justin. Together, if they can keep Union from falling apart, and keep power in Ari's hands, they have the potential to save humanity...

Meanwhile, the pathological elements of the social genome try to eliminate Ari, because she's a threat to them gaining power, and an obstacle to them wielding it.

Simples.

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Re: Cyteen

Postby Jorpho » Fri Jan 03, 2014 5:21 am UTC

I appreciate your offering of your opinion.
rmsgrey wrote:but with relatable characters...
I cannot begin to understand how these characters might be called "relatable", except maybe in brief instances.

The stakes are colossal - Ariane Emory is in a position to shape the future of the human race - her research and her work may make the difference between extinction and a galactic federation
I completely failed to twig to this. In fact, I had the vague impression that in Cherryh's universe, interplanetary relationships were not much of a factor.

Ari II, growing up, inherits as much of Ariane's power as could be preserved, and her work, and the support she needs for that work - Justin.
Nor could I quite figure out what Justin was doing most of the time, except maybe brooding.

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Re: Cyteen

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Jan 03, 2014 2:38 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:I appreciate your offering of your opinion.

You're welcome
rmsgrey wrote:but with relatable characters...
I cannot begin to understand how these characters might be called "relatable", except maybe in brief instances.

I relate to them, therefore I find them relatable - I'm not in their field - if I were a Special, I'd be in maths/computers/logic - but I can relate to their thought processes
The stakes are colossal - Ariane Emory is in a position to shape the future of the human race - her research and her work may make the difference between extinction and a galactic federation
I completely failed to twig to this. In fact, I had the vague impression that in Cherryh's universe, interplanetary relationships were not much of a factor.

Inter-planetary, not so much - at the start of Cyteen, there are three widely known more-or-less habitable planets - Earth, Cyteen, and Downbelow - with Gehenna also around but only known to a few. A war has only fairly recently ended - between Union (dominated by Cyteen) and Earth, with the formation of the Merchanter Alliance, made up of the space-faring merchant families and several of the surviving space stations, with what passes for a capital at Pell Station, orbiting Downbelow. The war (the Company War) was an attempt by Earth to re-assert control over its scattered colonies - particularly the breakaway Union - who had become accustomed to ignoring the increasingly out-of-touch orders from Earth back when all travel was sublight - the invention of FTL meant Earth could send out orders more rapidly, but still equally cluelessly. One of the main points of difference between the Alliance and the Union is the Union's extensive use of Azi (Artificial Zygotes - genetically engineered clones "raised" by constant brainwashing) to expand its population rapidly.

It's that use of Azi that is both Emory's opportunity to shape humanity - they make up a large chunk of space-faring humanity's total population, and all of them are programmed by Reseune - and the responsibility she bears: Ari's conversations with Justin about there being a Worm in humanity - a mix of attitudes and beliefs that, if allowed to evolve naturally, will, with high probability, lead to self-destructive wars. The tricky part is that, while she can try to patch the problem by flooding the population with suitable mindsets inherited from Azi parents and grandparents, she doesn't know whether the counter-Worm she's deliberately introducing will have destructive effects of its own. That's why the Gehenna colony is significant to her work - with its shorter generations and Azi-descended population, it can serve as an early-warning for problems in later generations when there might still be time to do something about it...
Ari II, growing up, inherits as much of Ariane's power as could be preserved, and her work, and the support she needs for that work - Justin.
Nor could I quite figure out what Justin was doing most of the time, except maybe brooding.

Jordan Warrick had the aptitudes and potential Ariane needed in order to complement her own, but a personality more inclined to murder her than to support her. She steered him into the creation of Justin - a clone, with the same potential, but raised in a different environment, and with a different relationship with Ariane, who would have been what she needed, thanks, in part, to the placement of Grant with the Warricks. Shortly before Ariane's death, she staged an Intervention on the teenage Justin, guiding him onto the path she needed him to follow. Then she dies, and, in the course of the investigation, Giraud Nye deliberately damaged Justin's psyche, in order to neutralise him as a further threat. Skip forward, and Ari, knowing what Ariane did to Justin, and with some idea of why, didn't exactly finish what Ariane started, but did heal what Giraud did and did allow him to become the support she needs. Justin's work on wide-field long-term integrations and multi-generational propagation of mindsets is what makes him vital to Ariane and Ari's work, while, on a more mundane level, he also happens to be politically astute enough and observant enough that, when it comes down to it, he's got Ari's back in the capital, to the extent of saving her life from an assassination attempt... He's also, along with Ari, one of the main viewpoint characters.
Last edited by rmsgrey on Mon Nov 20, 2017 7:34 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Jorpho
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Re: Cyteen

Postby Jorpho » Sat Jan 04, 2014 3:50 am UTC

To be quite clear, I did make through the entirety of the sodding story without purposefully skipping anything.

rmsgrey wrote:Inter-planetary, not so much - at the start of Cyteen, there are three widely known more-or-less habitable planets - Earth, Cyteen, and Downbelow - with Gehenna also around but only known to a few. A war has only fairly recently ended [...]
Yes, but most of this is all discussed in the first ten pages or less and then subsequently dispensed with entirely. Or so it seems.

It's that use of Azi that is both Emory's opportunity to shape humanity - they make up a large chunk of space-faring humanity's total population, and all of them are programmed by Reseune - and the responsibility she bears: Ari's conversations with Justin about there being a Worm in humanity - a mix of attitudes and beliefs that, if allowed to evolve naturally, will, with high probability, lead to self-destructive wars. The tricky part is that, while she can try to patch the problem by flooding the population with suitable mindsets inherited from Azi parents and grandparents, she doesn't know whether the counter-Worm she's deliberately introducing will have destructive effects of its own.
This came up on the back cover of the third volume (for I read the three-volume version) and I was decidedly unimpressed that, while being an intriguing idea, it barely factors into the story in the slightest. I'm not even sure the word "Worm" came up more than once or twice.

Jordan Warrick had the aptitudes and potential Ariane needed in order to complement her own, but a personality more inclined to murder her than to support her.
[...] Then she dies, and, in the course of the investigation, Giraud Nye deliberately damaged Justin's psyche, in order to neutralise him as a further threat.
[...] Skip forward, and Ari, knowing what Ariane did to Justin, and with some idea of why, didn't exactly finish what Ariane started, but did heal what Giraud did and did allow him to become the support she needs.
Are these things that are explicitly discussed, or are they just ever-so-subtly implied?

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Re: Cyteen

Postby PAstrychef » Sat Jan 04, 2014 1:18 pm UTC

One thing about these books is that they present the Union's view of cloning and "tape-learning" as both viable and desirable. In the other books about this universe those are both shown as bad ideas, at the least icky and at the worst a combo of slavery and GMO gone wild. For Ari to begin to see that Azi and brainwashing are problematic is probably the point of the whole exercise. Mind you, that could have been done in far fewer pages...
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Re: Cyteen

Postby rmsgrey » Sun Jan 05, 2014 7:10 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:Jordan Warrick had the aptitudes and potential Ariane needed in order to complement her own, but a personality more inclined to murder her than to support her.
[...] Then she dies, and, in the course of the investigation, Giraud Nye deliberately damaged Justin's psyche, in order to neutralise him as a further threat.
[...] Skip forward, and Ari, knowing what Ariane did to Justin, and with some idea of why, didn't exactly finish what Ariane started, but did heal what Giraud did and did allow him to become the support she needs.
Are these things that are explicitly discussed, or are they just ever-so-subtly implied?

It's been a while since I last reread it, but:

At one point Ari accesses some of Ariane's notes on the Warricks and comes across a shorthand notation explaining the decision to foster Grant with the Warricks - I forget the exact detail, but it was along the lines of Justin requiring support in the face of his father's dominant personality, so Grant being supplied as a bulwark.

There is more than one mention of a "botched block" or similar phrase talking about what Giraud did to Justin, and mention of how it would have been out of character for Giraud to be clumsy in such matters.

There is a scene where Ari runs an Intervention on Justin, after which he loosens up and starts showing initiative - like dancing with her at a party - and one of the Nyes challenges her about the risk she's taking - which she deflects by pointing out that she does have Ariane's notes on what she intended for Justin.

PAstrychef wrote:One thing about these books is that they present the Union's view of cloning and "tape-learning" as both viable and desirable. In the other books about this universe those are both shown as bad ideas, at the least icky and at the worst a combo of slavery and GMO gone wild. For Ari to begin to see that Azi and brainwashing are problematic is probably the point of the whole exercise. Mind you, that could have been done in far fewer pages...


One of the introductory chunks for one of the chapters is Ariane Emory I giving an interview in which she points out that Reseune's official policy has always been that Azi are a temporary measure, and agreeing that she entirely supports the Abolitionists (long-term) stated goals while, obviously, disagreeing with their methods.

In the wider universe, tape-learning is presented as neither good nor bad, but a powerful tool. Alliance progresses from being highly-suspicious of Union-produced Tape (in much the same way as 1950s US was suspicious of anything coming out of the USSR) to Tape being just another thing out there - vetted entertainment Tape experienced with a light dose of Kat being perfectly acceptable; unscreened Tape, or Tape taken with a teaching-dose of Kat, being potentially dangerous; and there being horror stories and urban legends about brainwashing Tape circulating.

Attitudes toward Tape are parallel to those toward any new technology - some people embrace it and all the new possibilities it opens up; other people imagine all the ways it will destroy the world; and a generation or two later, it's just an unremarkable part of everyday life, and both sides have been proven wrong...

If anything, part of Cyteen's role is to change Azi from the Union Bogeymen who defeated the Company Fleet and threaten to either overrun or infiltrate the Alliance to something much more sympathetic...

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Re: Cyteen

Postby Urza » Wed Jul 12, 2017 2:13 pm UTC

Holy crap I just finished Cyteen and bejesus this author can't even finish her 680 page book. There is literally no damned ending. No part of what I will generously call the plot gets wrapped up. The only character in the whole book who can be said to have developed is Ari2, and even that seems completely forced and unsubstantiated. Instead we get a random plot twist with no point and no emotional impact that was apparently originated by a character with no motive who then gets killed for no reason....

I'm sorry but how did this even get published, let alone how did it get a Hugo?

Maybe, maybe, Regenesis will make it all worth reading, but that was published 20 years later, how did anyone in the 80s believe this was a finished work?

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Re: Cyteen

Postby rmsgrey » Mon Nov 20, 2017 10:21 pm UTC

Urza wrote:Holy crap I just finished Cyteen and bejesus this author can't even finish her 680 page book. There is literally no damned ending. No part of what I will generously call the plot gets wrapped up. The only character in the whole book who can be said to have developed is Ari2, and even that seems completely forced and unsubstantiated. Instead we get a random plot twist with no point and no emotional impact that was apparently originated by a character with no motive who then gets killed for no reason....

I'm sorry but how did this even get published, let alone how did it get a Hugo?

Maybe, maybe, Regenesis will make it all worth reading, but that was published 20 years later, how did anyone in the 80s believe this was a finished work?


Okay, it doesn't spell everything out, but most things get resolved - Who killed Ariane Emory? It doesn't matter. Jordan took the fall, but there's at least one other plausible possibility. Will Ari grow up to be another Ariane Emory? Yes. Not identical, but close enough to take up where she left off. Will Ari inherit Reseune, or will it get taken away from from her? She inherits, despite special interests both within Reseune and in Novgorod trying to prevent it. Will Justin become his own man? Kind of - he finds a place for himself, though how much is his choice and how much is his circumstances and other people's plans is in question.

But the book isn't about the story - that's not why it won awards. It's about slavery and identity and what it's like as a genius growing up surrounded by geniuses and about humanity's self-destructive tendencies and whether we can figure out a solution before it's too late and about the politics of dealing with the conflict between the short-sighted and the long-sighted view. It's having things there that you could write another book analysing that gets the awards.

This doesn't say everything I'd want to say, and I'm not sure I'd say everything it does say, but I agree with everything it says, and it says it better than I would: https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/reviews/books/0-446-67127-4.html


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