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Literature / Cyteen

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Cyteen is a 1988 science fiction novel by C. J. Cherryh set in the Alliance/Union universe. Cyteen is the capital of Union, a interstellar society based on human cloning, genetic engineering and technologies in psychology that verge onto mind control. Engineered humans called 'azi' (an acronym of 'artificial zygote insemination') are enslaved and certain geniuses who are certified as "Specials" are essentially above law. The novel chronicles the life of Ariane (Ari) Emory II and Justin Warrick, both clones (PR) of Specials, and Grant, an azi based on the genome of another Special and the companion and later lover of Justin. A winner of both Hugo and Lucas awards. Has a sequel Regenesis.

This book provides examples of:

  • A Child Shall Lead Them: By the end of Regenesis, Ari II has ended up as Acting Head of Reseune Security twice, and due to Catherine Lao's deathbed designation of her as Proxy, ends the book as Councilor of Information, although she makes Justin her Proxy as soon as possible. And she's only just turned 18. Justin half-sarcastically, half-nervously refers to this situation as "a Children's Crusade".
  • Acting Your Intellectual Age: Notably averted, with incredibly gifted children using their gifts like, well, children, often to a truly disturbing degree. Catlin and Florian, being trained killers, get this the most, like when Catlin casually shows Ari II how to break somebody's neck (with Florian risking his quite literal neck as the assistant) as a cute trick.
  • Action Girl: Catlin, designed from the ground up to be deadly and trained to be Ari's bodyguard since childhood (Catlin I was also this, but she's not around long enough to demonstrate, the way Catlin II is). In fact, it's Catlin who kills Denys Nye.
  • Ambiguously Bi: After a youthful fling with the double-timing Stef Dietrich, Maddy Strassen never has a CIT romantic partner again, but she does have an Alpha azi companion, Samara (with the exception of the Nyes and Director Hicks, every CIT/Alpha pairing is also a sexual and/or romantic relationship).
  • Ambiguous Syntax: Played for Drama. Catherine Lao's designation of Ari Emory as her Proxy on her deathbed—she doesn't say which Ari before she flatlines, so it's unclear whether she really meant the barely-18 living Ari, or lost her sense of time and forgot Ari I is dead. Since they're in the middle of a pending constitutional crisis, Yanni decides to go with the first interpretation.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Although the Union in general is a somewhat liberal society (if you can overlook slavery and several other issues), many seem to think so in Reseune. Ari II's reassurance to Justin about his new office in Regenesis isn't that no one will be bugging it, but that only she will be bugging it.
  • Brainy Brunette: Older and younger Ari are both super-geniuses whose dark hair is often mentioned.
  • Child Soldier: Catlin and Florian, as well as all other azi kids that will join Security.
  • Cloning Blues: Being a PR or azi could lead to angst sometimes, but in general different characters have different attitudes towards this issue. The social and psychological effect of human cloning is one of the major themes of this story.
    • Played straight in the past. There was an attempt to replicate the woman who invented FTL, Estelle Bok, but they were trying too hard to make Estelle II exactly like Estelle I without sufficient data, which just made her miserable and stressed, to the point she eventually basically killed herself (by refusing to take her rejuv drugs on schedule, which meant she died at 90, young by Cyteen standards). Ari I learns from this mistake.
  • Coming of Age Story: For Justin and Ari II, in different ways.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Ari I takes her coffee white—a huge extravagance when there aren't cows or coffee plants on Cyteen—and shows off by serving real orange juice to her guests.
  • Consummate Liar: Almost every citizen character is one, often coincides with Living Lie Detector, hence they spend quite a lot of time trying to outsmart each other.
  • Dead Man Writing: Ari I created Base 1 for Ari II, full of instructions for her successor that are locked by Ari II's age and skill level.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Ari II knows darn well what the reporters will think is cute and does it on purpose, sometimes even practicing in front of a mirror.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: To most characters, making and using azi is perfectly normal, and to them the Abolitionists seem like fringe radicals—even though the position of "clone slave labor is wrong" isn't actually that radical. This is particularly obvious in the sections about Florian and Catlin as children, in which they view learning to kill at the ripe old age of six as just life and even fun. (An eight-year-old Florian is proud of his work with a fake grenade.)
  • Divided for Publication: Cyteen was published in mass-market paperback form as three novels, although it was released in hardback and trade paperback form as a single work.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Averted. While it's eventually revealed that Ari I was running an intervention on Justin that ultimately benefited him, the fact she did this while also drugging and sexually assaulting him is never shown as anything less than traumatizing and awful. (The fact Reseune acts to keep it quiet is more an indictment of the current administration than anything else.)
  • Dystopia: Generally averted, though YMMV. Some aspects of the Union society may seem horrible to today's moral standards, yet some issues might be justified by the Company War that happened a few decades earlier, and many people are working for social reforms. Probably the most dystopian aspect is that Specials, like Ari, have an incredible amount of power and influence and are almost impossible to check.
  • Failed Future Forecast: Ari I mentions an "Eastern Bloc" once in one of her speeches.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The jump drive.
  • Fictional Political Party: The Centralists and Expansionists.
  • Flashback Echo: Justin suffers from this after his rape by Ari I. He gets better.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Played straight in most azi for they are conditioned from birth and generally treated well on the surface. Inverted by Grant—Alpha azi are so smart that they are constantly changing their own "programming", and so he soon figures out that he's not free and that's not a good thing. Even then, he doesn't mind Justin holding his Contract and doesn't want to be a CIT; what he objects to is Reseune's control.
  • Heroic BSoD: Early in the first book, Grant is so traumatized by being kidnapped and interrogated and re-kidnapped and then interrogated again, all while being kept away from Justin, that he goes completely null (something which azi are capable of doing safely for short bursts, but is bad in the long term) and stops believing anything is real. He doesn't snap out of it until he gets Justin back.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: It is mentioned in passing that rejuvenation drugs have a side effect of making the user sterile.
  • Incompatible Orientation: This was one of the reasons—although certainly the least of them—that Ari I and Jordan Warrick didn't work out.
  • Infodump: Some chapters are excerpts from in-universe textbooks, explaining things like the different political factions and planets, or from scientific texts describing different classes of azi, and so on.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Ari II is a little jerk before she grows out of it, particularly to a cousin she doesn't like (greatest hits include threatening to have Florian stab Amy, although in Ari's defense she has just cottoned on to all her CIT friends getting Reassigned to Antarctica).
  • Lost Colony: Gehenna, although they lost it on purpose. The Alliance finding Gehenna again, and realizing that Union must have seeded the colony to stop them getting the planet, kicks off a political furor that forces Reseune to go public with Ari II sooner than they wanted to.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Ari's two security azi. Florian is sensitive, outgoing, and a Friend to All Living Things, while Catlin is colder and more militaristic. Catlin also specialises in fighting, while Florian is better at setting and disarming traps.
  • Mercy Kill: The original Catlin and Florian were killed ("terminated", in Reseune-speak) after Ari I's murder, supposedly because Ari I left instructions that upon her death they were to follow her. Given the Deliberate Values Dissonance of Cyteen, everyone sees it at this, since Catlin and Florian were completely emotionally destroyed by the loss in a way only azi can be and it would have been nigh-impossible to reassign them in a way that made them happy. (This is, in fact, Reseune's general policy for azi whose psychsets get too messed up and can't be fixed to Reseune's satisfaction.)
  • The Mole: Much of Regenesis hinges on realizing a hostile Defense faction has one inside Reseune and trying to figure out who it is. It's the Director of Security's companion azi, Kyle AK; while Defense still held his contract, they applied unauthorized tape, which Giraud missed when Reseune reclaimed him. The military's brainwashing has been forcing him to feed them information and work against Reseune for years.
  • Mr. Exposition: The first Ariane Emory acts as Ms. Exposition for the second, via pre-prepared programs on Base One left for her successor. In Regenesis, the second Ariane Emory begins leaving records for her successor in a similar manner.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Justin occasionally refers to Grant as his brother, and they both refer to Jordan as their father, but they're also a couple (as a line from Ari, pondering her crush on Justin, establishes). Yanni points out to Justin that he's got his relationship with Grant all tangled up, but otherwise no one seems to consider this too strange.
  • Older Than They Look: With the help of Rejuv, people can live past 130 and still appear forty, and consequently keep control of family businesses and live to see their great-grandchildren grow up. The only Union citizens who really look old (apart from possible hair color changes) are those in rejuv failure.
  • Parental Favoritism: In Regenesis, part of the backstory of Giraud and Denys Nye is that their mother wanted to raise a genius, and pressured Giraud, the eldest, to perform as a child; although he was bright, he wasn't up to that level, and was The Unfavorite. Denys, on the other hand, was a genius and was coddled. Denys grew up introverted and antisocial, depending utterly on Giraud to handle interaction with other people.
  • Parental Neglect: Ari I's mother Olga Emory. Jane is chosen to act as Ari II's guardian because she raised her biological daughter in a similar manner. Ironically, by the time she gets custody of Ari II, she realizes she was wrong to parent that way and doesn't want to repeat it, but she has to. Capped off by her getting Reassigned to Antarctica (see below) and never answering Ari II's letters.
  • Rape as Drama: Most of the plot hinges on Ari I drugging and raping the young Justin early in the story, giving him deep-going trauma in the process.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Ari I's mother died when she was seven, meaning that Ari II's mother, for the experiment's integrity, must also be removed from her life at that age. Since actually killing Jane Strassen would be a little much, they instead promote her to director of Reseune's Fargone facility (which, as the name implies, is on the ass-end of Union space). Also happens to anyone Ari II gets too friendly with in the beginning, for the same reason.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Ari II of course, but also Justin Warrick too, because he's a duplicate of Jordan manipulated to be more suitable for Ari's plan.
  • Sexual Extortion: The thing Ari I does to 17-year old Justin. Later it is revealed that her main goal probably is freeing Justin from his father's control, but that it's also tangled up in her maladaptive need to have her partners always be subordinate to her.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Grant has only ever been interested in Justin; this appears to often be the case with companion azi (probably influenced by the fact that you need a special license to get that personal with an Alpha).
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: It is revealed near the end of the book that Jordan never wanted a son and Ari pressured him into cloning himself because she wanted Jordan's talent but not his personality.
  • The Talk: Happens when Ari II is twelve. Given through Ari I's recorded message. A few months later she decides to try it with Florian.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Ari II wants to do this with Justin, the latter freaks out (due to his former experiences with Ari I) and refuses.
  • Teen Genius: The majority of the cast is one or has been one.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Jordan Warrick is not happy when Ari II asks for his help fixing a particularly tangled psychset problem in the second book. The fact it's an emergency and that she really does need him, specifically, convinces him to help—but it doesn't convince him to like her.
  • Truly Single Parent: All clones are like this.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Abolitionist terrorists. In their view, they're just trying to end an abhorrent practice—but the ones we actually see kidnap Grant, and despite promising they're going to help him, they interrogate him under tape, which is just a hair away from torture. (Let's just say there's a really good reason it's illegal to do that to Specials.)
  • Xenofiction: Large segments of Cyteen are from the POV of the rather alien "azi", humans whose psychology is artificially constructed.
  • Young Entrepreneur: Ari and Amy's guppy business.

Alternative Title(s): Regenesis