A stand alone SF book.
Much to my delight the Finnish library system has four Cherryh books: Cyteen, Downbelow Station, Foreigner, and a fantasy (I think it’s Angel with the Sword).
Publication year: 1988
Page count: 680
Publisher: New English Library
The story has several parts which have chapters. The parts are divided by reports or interviews which are, essentially, info dumps about various parts of the universe and the people in it. Luckily, I found them fascinating. The book starts with a description of how humanity spread to the stars first with slower than light vessels and eventually with faster than light crafts. Humanity split into various countries and when distant Earth tried to govern them, there was war.
Cyteen is a colonized planet and the center of commerce for the Union. The planet itself isn’t very hospitable but there are domed cities and space stations where the humans live. At the center of Cyteen is Reseune, a science center which provides all the azi clones. Azis are genetically modified human clones and essentially the worker/slave class. Reseune owns them all and rents them out to others as farmers, soldiers, or anything which is needed. They can also be killed without any repercussions.
Ariane Emory is the old woman who owns Reseune and is also the head of the Cyteen’s Council of Nine. She’s already over hundred and twenty years old. She has a lot of political enemies and is involved with a lot of scheming. The book starts with Cyteen’s ruling body, the Council of Nine gathering and a few of Emory’s enemies are trying to gather dirt about her. They contact Jordan Warrick who is working for Emory but is unhappy with his lot.
When Emory is murdered, the elite people in Reseune and Cyteen are thrown into chaos. Emory has made plans, though, and the administrators follow them: to secretly create a replicate of Emory; a being who isn’t just a clone but whose mind and experiences will be made to match as closely as possible with Emory’s life. They are hoping that they can replicate Emory completely. Emory was a brilliant scientist, a genius and one of the few Specials in existence. Specials are valued so much that the government gives them special privileges.
One of the scientist in Reseune, and a Special, Jordan Warrick, is forced to confess to the murder of Emory. Because he’s a Special, he can’t be convicted or even questioned properly, so instead he’s confined to another city while his “sons”, clone duplicate Justin and azi Grant, are kept in Reseune under close scrutiny. Justin is the secondary POV character in the book. The primary POV is Ariane Emory II when she growing up.
I found this book a fascinating read: here is a society which has been changed because of technological advances. Workers, the azi, are grown for specific needs and bred in tanks. At least some citizens are also bred in tanks and a citizen can have a clone made of himself or herself. Most of the families we see here have significantly older parents and are single parent families. (Of course, we don’t seem much people outside the elite.) Rejuvanative technology has significantly altered life. While it has made lifespans longer, it has made people less fragile in old age. It’s said that people on rejuv don’t have much medical cares until the last couple of years. Except for the side effects of the drug itself. There’s a brief discussion about how this has changed family structures and work life when people can keep on working when they’re 120 years old.
As a mystery reader I was a bit surprised when nobody bothered to find out who had killed Emory. Considering the paranoid atmosphere in Reseune, and the whole book, I would have thought that would be a high priority. Instead, Giraurd Nye, Emory’s number two, brokers a deal with Jordan and forces Jordan to confess publicly to a murder he didn’t do.
I’m not entirely sure that I believe that Nye did everything he could to replicate Emory’s childhood. For one thing, it seemed that the technology was somewhat different (the rejuvenatory technology is especially mentioned as being inferior then) and Cyteen seemed to have been a much smaller place, a frontier. While in Ari’s time it’s a bustling hub of trade and government. Surely, that would have brought quite a lot of differences. I’m also highly skeptical about how different the Emories’ mothers’ fates where. Emory’s mother died when she was seven and so Nye decided to simply send away Ari’s mother. For a long time Ari fantasied how her mother would send for her and surely there would have been totally different feelings of abandonment for Ari. Unless here the administration is seen as inevitable and unopposable as death. Emory’s original parents where scientists but I don’t know if they were as wealthy as Ari’s mother. Also, two azi clones were given to Emory when she was eight, Catlin and Florian. They were killed after Emory died. Ari is also given the replicas of the two azi clones.
I found the dynamic between Justin and Grant to be a mirror image of what we’re told of the “normal” human/azi relationship and what Ari has with her nurse azi Nelly. Nelly has been conditioned to take care of infants and babies. She’s gentle and gets nervous easily so Ari has to tone down her own emotional displays so that Nelly won’t get nervous. Ari can’t shout at her or scold her, and when she grows up, Nelly doesn’t quite know what to do with her. In contrast, Justin is a nervous man and relies on Grant to be his emotional rock. Grant is the one who is cool and calm and collected, and he also often calms down Justin and gives him sanity checks when Justin is at his most paranoid. Of course, they both have a right to be angry about how they have been treated. Because of his experience with Emory, Justin is sexually a wreck and can’t even touch other humans, except Grant.
The azi I found to be interesting and creepy. They are clones, bred in a tank and trained by caretakers; most of them have never had a family. (Grant is an exception to this). They’re trained from very young to do the jobs they’ve literally bred to do. If that means that the azi is assigned to a human, then the azi has been conditioned to love and obey that human, called a Supervisor. It seems that often that human and azi become lovers, and that I found creepy; the azi doesn’t have a choice about it. The conditioning seems to be based on rewards and encouragement. However, the azi working in Security, such as Catlin and Florian, are trained pretty brutally since they just three years old. They don’t have a childhood at all which is sad. There seems to be a group of free humans who are called Abolitionists who want to free the azi. Of course, because of the psychological conditioning and because the azi apparently need the “tape” when they are upset, that’s unlikely to happen.
Little Ari is the main POV character. She’s quite a precocious little girl but of course, she’s very bright and often more intelligent that the adults around her. She learns how to manipulate them quite early. But she doesn’t have any real friends and because Emory’s maman died when she as seven, Ari’s mother is suddenly sent away when she’s seven, too, which was enormously cruel thing to do. She has to grow up fast and she learns not to trust people when she’s very young. The older Emory was given two security azi when she was eight, and Ari gets her replicas of Catlin and Florian, too. The two azi seem to be her only real friends and because Ari is their Supervisor, they have no choice but to obey her every word. That’s a lot of power and responsibility to an eight year old. Luckily, Ari takes her duty seriously.
The plot follows Ari from when she’s very young to adulthood and beyond. She isn’t told about her special standing at first. At the same time, Justin and Grant are trying to do their jobs and live quietly, hoping that one day they can be reunited with their father Jordan. Unfortunately, the administration is very suspicious of them. There are other POV characters but most of them are seen only briefly. There’s a lot of scheming and plotting, a lot. Pretty much everything seems to have political repercussions. The other focus is are the “tapes” which are used to condition the azi to their life and skills. There’s a lot of talk about how complex they can be and how they will affect the next generation.
The themes of the book is power and its use, and who you can trust. Sadly, the answer to the latter seems to be only those who have been conditioned to love you. The first Emory has recorded lessons for young Ari about a lot of thing and we seem some of them. Ari also wonders how much she can be herself and distinct from her predecessor.
The book starts slowly and rather confusingly throwing the reader right in the middle of politics. I had the disadvantage that I haven’t read any other books set in this world so there might be some back story to the politics which I’m missing.
There are a lot of characters in the book and pretty much all of them seem to be miserable even if they are rich and powerful. The atmosphere is very dark and paranoid.