Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cyteen (Book)

Psychogenesis. Sociogenesis. Nature vs. Nurture. A little girl growing up too fast. Post traumatic stress disorder.

The 1989 Hugo Award winning novel, Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh is a well written science fiction novel that has left me deep in thought. While many science fiction novels explore physics or alien biology, Cyteen explores psychology—particularly educational psychology—and sociology. Interlaced with all the science is intrigue, politics, and some very touching moments. Cherryh does a good job of creating emotion in her reader.

Briefly, after the death of Ari, a very powerful woman, the company she headed, Reseune, not only creates a genetic clone, but also attempts to make a replicate that is psychologically and intellectually almost identical. Using detailed records, the replicate is raised in a way that parallels the original, including losing her mother at the same age. Another major character in the story is a young man, Justin, who was abused by the original Ari and now is dealing with the young replicate as she grows up. He has a lifelong companion/adopted brother, Grant, who is an azi.

Also an intricate part of the storyline is Reseune, a scientific company that is involved in such activities as creating azi, clones of humans and animals, and tapes. Azi are humans whose genes have been manipulated.  In addition the azi are given tapes— sophisticated learning programs that utilize neurochemistry—beginning a few hours after birth. Most often azi are created to fulfill a particular purpose in society, such as military. The azi are not considered to be full adults, except in a few instances of old azi. Reseune also creates replicates for people who want a clone of themselves or a child they have lost. Although these children undergo many of the same processes as the azi—including gestation in womb tanks, they are not given tapes until they are preschool age, like most children. The azi tend to be very stable thinkers. The non-azi tend to be flux thinkers.

The psychology and sociology in the book were fascinating to me. Cherryh shows how both the tapes and life events affect the characters, particularly original and replicate Ari, Justin and Grant. Cherryh discusses and illustrates how the hormone-flux system affects learning and personality. She also illustrates how tapes and real life events affect large populations and subsequent generations. Heavy stuff at times!

I thoroughly enjoyed Cyteen. Of all the Hugo winners I have read so far, it has given me the most to think about. On the down side, it is long, almost 700 pages, which could have easily been over 1,000 if the book had been typeset differently. I also feel like I need to give a warning. I found some of the content disturbing though necessary for the plot. In some people who have been psychologically or sexually abused, I would be concerned that some of the scenes could trigger some psychological issues. I am sure there are plenty of other books that carry the same concern, but I rarely encounter this in the types of books that I usually read.

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