Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649

In her Alliance-Union novels Cherryh moves away from her early preoccupation with depicting alien psychologies through brilliant linguistic and anthropological creations, such as the mri of The Faded Sun (1978). Her 1989 novel Rimrunners, for example, deals solely with human members of merchant and Fleet crews. In Cyteen, a dense,...

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In her Alliance-Union novels Cherryh moves away from her early preoccupation with depicting alien psychologies through brilliant linguistic and anthropological creations, such as the mri of The Faded Sun (1978). Her 1989 novel Rimrunners, for example, deals solely with human members of merchant and Fleet crews. In Cyteen, a dense, complex investigation into the economic and social ramifications of startling discoveries in psychology and sociology, the "other" perspective is never quite alien and yet not entirely human. It belongs to the azi — artificially gestated, genetically-engineered humans that are indoctrinated from birth by specially designed types. The azi are the crux of Cyteen's interlocking themes.

Ruling the planet Cyteen are the born-men, or "CITs," who led a successful revolt against the planet Earth and founded their own nine-planet Union. They have established a grid of star stations that allows interstellar trade and promises enormous profit through expansion. The scientists of Cyteen's premier bioengineering complex — Reseune — have developed the azi in order to populate the expanding Union federation more efficiently.

When the novel opens in the year 2401, Cyteen's Expansionist Party is headed by Reseune's Ariane Emory, a "Special," or government-certified genius. She is a dominant, highly gifted, yet sadistic female protagonist. Emory's party is locked in conflict with the Centrists, who oppose expanding the Union's influence into uncharted galactic areas; they also oppose the azi that make this expansion possible.

Reseune has also pioneered other biotechnological advances, such as drug therapy, or "rejuv," which extends human and azi lifespans to an average 140 years, and psychogenesis, an enormously expensive and highly experimental process that can clone the dead.

By developing the relationship between Ariane Emory and young Ari (Ari II, who is cloned to replace Ari I after her assassination in 2404), Cherryh explores more generally the problem of the genius in society. Ariane Emory's powerful intellect far outstrips her contemporaries, but at the same time, it apparently deprives her of human compassion and corrupts her sense of sexual propriety. These negative traits make her the target for others' political antagonism and personal hatreds. Like Downbelow Station's (1981) Captain Signy Mallory, Emory has a well-known fondness for hurting men who are her subordinates. She sexually abuses Justin Warrick, a seventeen-year-old "parental replicate" of scientist Jordan Warrick. Jordan long ago refused Emory's sexual advances and now plots with the Centrists to depose her.

As more of Emory's mind is revealed to young Ari through her recorded journals, however, Cherryh clarifies the part of genius that transcends the ability of ordinary minds to grasp. Emory's implacable drive to launch another wave of expansion into the universe is based on the conviction that "sociogenesis" is the only way to ensure the continuation of the human race for the next million years. She has designed the azi and programmed their tapes to disperse genetic material to other planets in the same ratio as that of ancient Earth. It is a goal for which she makes ruthless sacrifices. By the end of Cyteen, her victim Justin Warrick realizes through young Ari that his seduction was part of the price that Emory was willing to pay to secure humanity's future.

Cherryh uses the azi to explore the theme that humanity needs other-than-human companionship. In previous novels, Cherryh's aliens teach humans patience and the value of life, for example, the mri of The Faded Sun, whose painfully short lifespan and blameless fidelity to their masters recall gallant dogs, and the felinoid hani of the Chanur novels, who are as clever and complex as the great cats they resemble. The azi, who are free of the innate flaw in CIT behavior (described as a schizoid hatred for the alter ego), help humans define their boundaries; and their long-suffering ability to conceal their reactions sheds light on the genius' need for equilibrium. As Ariane Emory tells Ari II, "Ordinary people will teach you the truest, most sane things in the world. Thank God for them."

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