Cyteen by CJ Cherryh: a review

This is an amazing, powerful, and difficult book–and perhaps not the best place to start reading C.J. Cherryh. But a masterpiece.

One of the things I’ve always valued about Cherryh’s books is her stubborn insistence that the story not know more about the events than her characters. Since her characters are always missing key facts–that’s a part of the human condition, after all–the stories often seem out of control in ways that other novelists simply don’t–probably can’t–manage.

Another strength is her ability to sympathetically present conflicting points of view. Her stories’ disagreements are honest; people really do disagree, and she goes to some length to show that conflict is often born of real differences in perception, some of which are irreconcilable. Fascinating stuff.

I originally read all these Earth/Alliance/Union novels when they were first published, and am rereading them now coincidentally as Cherryh releases another in the set. They’re a wonderful thing: Some are close-focused on an individual who’s trapped by circumstance, others follow decision-makers as they navigate treacherous shoals. The range of perspective is truly amazing. Each is well told, though some folks find the author’s stylistic quirks annoying.

That said, this one’s very different; it’s Union-side, for starters, and is essentially about how some high-level politics plays out in a culture where they can literally manufacture people. But, like every book in the set, there’s a perhaps-paranoid young man near the center of the action.

Not a fun read, and the first two hundred pages, though probably necessary, are not easy reading. But a fascinating story.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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