So this is a long dense 700 pages. What I mean by this is that even though it’s about the same length of the last novel I read, there’s so much more book here. It’s not even that there’s a lot of plot, because for being a hard sci-fi that takes place in a remote science lab on a colonized planet far away from Earth, and still reeling from the fallout of an intergalactic war, there’s very little action or adventure going on here. Mostly this novel is about genetics, heritage, scientific authority and sovereignty, politics, and cloning.
There are similarities (but not really influence) to other contemporaneous novels. There’s some Ender’s Game here, there’s some Robert Heinlein here, there’s some Lois McMaster Bujold here, and there’s still plenty of the failings and trappings of imagination of the late 1980s. For one, the novel can barely conceive of the not only exponential growth of computing power, but also has blase we’ve kind of been about it. So while the advances in cloning and genetics are monumental and gigantic, the computers seem severely limited here.
So the story is that away from Earth, and decades after a disastrous war among various factions of the outreaching colonies, the planet Cyteen and its various ecumenical elements exits in a fragile but otherwise stable political entity. One of those factions, a private and sovereign science research facility, is headed up by “specials”–geniuses too important to be allowed to die. Ariane Emory, the head of the lab begins an abusive relationship with a young research fellow, and clone of her colleague. This leads to a series of disasters, including her death and eventual rebirth in a new being one generation removed. The rest of the novel is about the development of this cloned, but fully vested, replacement. It’s hard sci fi that’s not particularly gimmicky, even if it felt that way typing it out. It’s heavy heavy heavy into the ethical and social implications of the lab, but the world-building is legit, and background radiation rather than the whole point. Instead of being a conceit, the setting simply is.
(Photo by Patti Perret)