Friday, October 08, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 59

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

by C. J. Cherryh

Cyteen: The BetrayalI was somewhat familiar with author C. J. Cherryh from some of her short stories in the Thieves' World fantasy anthologies, but I had never ready any of her longer works when I noticed this particular science fiction novel among those pictured in a catalog for the Science Fiction Book Club back in the 1980s.

To this day, going on close to thirty years later, I still don't why I ordered this novel. Maybe I wanted to read more from the author. Perhaps I liked the cover image with the baby. I just don't know.

But, as sometimes happens, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I started reading. The writing and the plot and the characters were downright amazing, and I always enjoy picking up an unfamiliar work from a (relatively) unfamiliar author and find out it's something great.

This was one such time.

It would be quite difficult to examine the plot in such a limited space as this posting, mainly because there's so much background material that would have to be included, but I'll try to simplify things. Basically, in a few hundred years on the planet Cyteen (which has been colonized by humans) a member of a group of "official" geniuses is murdered. For good or ill, she is then cloned, and much of the middle story includes this child's upbringing, which is rather unusual in many ways because those in charge of rearing the child want her to be as near exactly the same as her predecessor as possible, to the point of including childhood traumas on this child that her predecessor also suffered. When the clone is of age, she discovers her predecessor was involved in a secret project to restructure society in hopes of stopping society from crumbling from within. The clone decides to follow through with the project.

Oh boy. Okay, I left out a ton of stuff, and there's all kinds of back story and government and corporate information that I intentionally left out because it would be meaningless to the casual reader. But let it be said, this is one of the most interesting science fiction novels I have ever read.

As a writer, what did it teach me? More than anything, it showed me how complex ideas could be worked into complex plots and still work well. I cherish this novel for that, especially considering much of modern science fiction is either "soft" science fiction or military science fiction. I have no problems with soft or military science fiction, but it seems that's about all that's being written today. Cyteen went beyond all that and became something special, at least for me.

If you are interested and go searching for Cyteen, in paperback the novel has been split into three separate books.  I had the hardcover, keeping it all in on book.

Up next: Armor

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