CYTEEN is like a
freight train. Half way down the first page the freight train
hits you, and then you spend the rest of the book speeding along
at eighty miles per hour, trying to figure out which is more
exciting and terrifying: The pain from the impact, the rush of
the air, or the beautiful scenery streaking by. Then, as the
novel comes to an end, the train slams on its brakes and
youíre thrown against a wall from sheer momentum. Stumbling
away under the impact of so many disparate sensations, you come
to the realization that this was one of the greatest experiences
of your life. And like a madman on a rollercoaster, youíre
wondering how long you have to wait before getting another ride
off Cherryh twice before. When I was ten years old, I got
RIMRUNNER from the SFBC. I bounced off that very hard,
although Iím pretty sure now that it was a combination of
being too young and entering a series at the wrong point. But it
did leave a sour impression in my mind when it came to her, so I
didnít try her again until last year, when I picked up the
omnibus edition of THE FADED SUN trilogy. After getting about
twenty pages into that book, it got left at home when I went to
Las Vegas. While in Vegas I ended up getting involved in several
other books, and, as a result, THE FADED SUN ended up going back
onto the shelf.
Then CYTEEN came
to my attention. And Iím glad it did.
In media res, as
a term, seems an insufficient description of the deep end into
which Cherryh throws the reader at the beginning of CYTEEN.
little future history. Wham. Here are some characters. Wham.
Hereís some political intrigue. Wham. Hereís some character
For me, the
experience was like dog-paddling wildly in a typhoon. If I had
stopped paying attention and struggling, the novel would have
overwhelmed me. If I had allowed myself to be distracted from
the page, I think it would have become incomprehensible and Ė
shortly thereafter Ė boring.
Or, to put it
another way: Cherryh opens the book with a lot of sound and
fury. If you donít pay attention, then it will signify nothing
Ė and the opening will simply read as an interminable barrage.
But if youíre paying attention, you can see the clues being
dropped: This does signify something. Somethingís going on
here. What is it? What does that mean? And if youíre in that
mindset, then every little detail becomes crucial and
CYTEEN is a
political thriller. Itís a murder mystery. Itís a
generational epic. Itís a coming of age story. (Actually,
itís two coming of age stories. Possibly three.) Itís a
psychological novel. Itís a future history.
CYTEEN brings to
minds thoughts of DUNE, ENDERíS GAME, USE OF WEAPONS, A
DEEPNESS IN THE SKY, and the FOUNDATION TRILOGY.
demonstrates a remarkable breadth and depth. Cherryh has an
equal willingness to tackle the big ideas and explore the small
ones; to show her characters at the worst of times and at the
best of times.
CYTEEN is not an
easy book to read. And I mean that in a good way. This is a
novel which is going to ask you to do your part as the reader:
Its not going to hand you much of anything on a silver platter.
Its going to force you read between the lines, draw your own
conclusions, and interpret the narrative. If you donít, the
novel will simply read as a meaningless, turgid piece of
But if you give
it the careful reading it deserves, you will be rewarded with a
richness which is hard to describe.
By way of
example: I noticed at least five instances in which, if I had
missed or glossed a single sentence, my entire reading of the
work would have shifted profoundly. And as a result, of course,
that means that the book demands a re-reading.
CYTEEN is like a
jewel: When you read it, youíre looking at it from a unique
perspective. The smallest elements that stand out for you will
shape the way the novel presents itself to you. Someone else
reading the novel would notice a different set of details, and
their reading experience will shift as a result. CYTEEN presents
itself as a truly multi-faceted work Ė a work whose appearance
will change for the reader and the reading.
I simply cannot
marvel at this enough: Reading CYTEEN does not have the normal
effect of starting at one point (page one) and traveling to
another (the last page). Instead, you are immersed into a mental
web in which your picture of the novel as a whole is constantly
being revised: Something you see on page 10 will be reshaped by
something you see on page 310.
Even as I sat
down to write this review, I ended up glancing through the first
few pages. I was immediately pulled right back into the book,
and as I read just a handful of paragraphs I was amazed to
discover that new details were revealing themselves and, once
gain, my impressions of the entire novel were being transformed.
demonstrates an incredible gift for putting you inside the minds
of her characters. The novel is incredibly enriched by the depth
of her characterizations: Her POV characters are not there
merely to narrate events, they are there to respond to them in
both thought and deed.
The effect of
all this becomes a master stroke in this story, which is largely
about perception and personality. Reading CYTEEN is like
standing in an endless house of mirrors: You see nothing
directly, but reality is limitlessly reflected all about you.
more remarkable is the fact that every characterís perceptions
are completely legitimate Ė even when theyíre completely
inverted from one another. Youíll read Character #1 and think
youíve got everyone figured out. Then Cherryh will jump over
to Character #2, and youíll realize that not only did you not
have Character #2 figured outÖ you need to seriously
re-analyze your opinion of Character #1, too.
plenty of authors put me into the heads of multiple characters.
But only Cherryh has left me absolutely convinced that every
single point of view is legitimately the vision of a fully
CYTEEN is a
masterpiece. Its supreme mastery of form and character, matched
to a plot of epic proportions and psychological complexity, is
strength can be left to a simple testament: As I finish writing
these words, I am nearly overwhelmed with a desire to go back
and devour it again.
For additional comments on CYTEEN, which
include SPOILERS, click here.