Cyteen is a science fiction novel by author C.J. Cherryh. At first glance, before I was familiar with Cherryh, I thought it must be some cheezy cyberpunk derivative; I figured "Cyteen" was short for "cybernetic teenager".

Fortunately, I read the book anyway and discovered that Cyteen is merely the name of the planet on which the story takes place.

Cyteen was published in 1988 and won the 1989 Hugo Award. It is set in the same universe as Downbelow Station, another of her Hugo Award winners, and a whole slew of other books which tell smaller stories within the same framework. This in itself is something I like about Cherryh and the way her mind works: You can read Downbelow Station and Cyteen and get a big picture of this fictional universe, which involves the diaspora of the human race to space stations, and the resulting fracturing and wars... or you can pick up a shorter novel like Hellburner and read a fast-paced story about one crew of one experimental rider-ship, in one branch of the military on ONE side of the war.

But I digress.

Cyteen deals with a planet on the far side of the station-based trade route from Earth. Many of Earth's best scientific minds have out-migrated and ended up on Cyteen, and set up Reseune, a science facility that primarily turns out genetically tailored people (soldiers, workers, etc) as well as "psych tapes" used for training and various levels of psychological intervention. The current administrator of Reseune is a brilliant, manipulative scientist and politician named Ariane Emory. A skilled psych expert and sociologist, she can intuitively push just about anyone's buttons. She also has some slightly eccentric tendencies, especially when it comes to sexual preferences.

When an aging Emory dies under mysterious circumstances, an ambitious project is launched, one that she helped set up before her death: To not only create a clone of Emory, but to replicate her upbringing as closely as possible and re-create her entire personality - including her genius intellect and ability to acquire, hold, and wield the considerable power of Reseune and Cyteen.

The bulk of the novel deals with the clone of Ariane Emory, from childhood onward, as she slowly becomes aware of herself and what she is, and most importantly, what has been done to her - and why. She realizes early on that she has enemies within Reseune, who want to control her and the power she wields as the legal successor to Emory.

The subtle political battles and power grabs among a scientific enclave full of psych operators make for some of the best "feints within feints" reading since Frank Herbert's Dune. C.J. Cherryh is also known for her incredible talent for creating books full of distinct and amazingly real characters, believable dialogue, and excellent pacing, all of which are fully utilized in Cyteen.

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