(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Cyteen is one of the central texts in C. J. Cherryh’s sprawling future history, in which the former colonies of Earth become the political rivals of Alliance and Union. At 680 pages, it is also one of the longest. It lays out the foundations of that rivalry on Union’s home planet. Other works that are central to this future history include Serpent’s Reach (1980), Downbelow Station (1981), Merchanter’s Luck (1982), and Rimrunners (1989). Like Downbelow Station, Cyteen was voted a Hugo Award for best novel of the year, and in 1989, it was republished as three volumes: The Betrayal, The Rebirth, and The Vindication.

As John Clute has noted in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993), the Alliance-Union rivalry gives Cherryh a flexible but powerful structural focus for her future history. Such a focus offers a much-needed center for a writer whose plots are dense with tangled political machinations and conflicting motivations. Paradoxically, even a novel with the heft of Cyteen can seem too cramped for the psychological, social, and political action that Cherryh pours into its pages.

At the heart of Cyteen is an intersecting double plot: the project to replicate Ariane Emory and the effort to restore Justin Warrick’s disrupted research potential. Through the former, Cherryh invokes fundamental questions about the...

(The entire section is 531 words.)