8273Re: Cyteen etc. (was Re: Ellison)
- Feb 3, 2003
> Date: 02 Feb 2003 23:59:36 -0800hardly
> From: Max Rible <slothman@...>
> Subject: Re: Ellison
> > _Cyteen_ for example is a
> > wonderful example, and one of my favorite novels; Cherryh explains
> > anything about the technology of cloning or of "taping" thepersonalities of
> > the clones; she explains enough to get the story going, gives us hercast of
> > characters, and sets _them_ going.Give me science fiction writers every time over "techno-thriller" authors.
Since my "day job" deals with genetics, I try to keep up with at least some
of the novels that use it in the story--and if that's where the public is
getting their information, no wonder there are so many misconceptions!
Follett's (sp?) _The Third Twin_ was a "New York Times best seller" that
ended up as a TV miniseries (why am I not surprised??). It uses cloning
with such ridiculous outcomes that just growing up with my identical-twin
sisters would have been enough background to make it unbelievable. And the
university-based research in the book--even that done by the "good"
researcher who uncovers the plot to take over the world with clones (of
course)--would never have gotten past the worst IRB! Some of the human
subject research she was doing was similar to what my department does, and
the lack of confidentiality/informed consent standards was egregious (oh,
that's a word I don't get to use very often!); I described it to our head
genetic counselor and the two of us LOL about it--but it could explain why
some people are reluctant to become involved in our research, if that's
where they've gotten their conceptions of it! The author of another one (I
thankfully don't remember the name of the author or the book) had evidently
gone to great lengths to get the process and chemicals used for DNA
sequencing *exactly* correct, but also evidently had no idea of even the
basics of how DNA *works*. I read one Robin Cook novel (_The Fifth
Chromosome_?) that basically got things right, and used some of the current
knowledge in a creative way (involving the histocompatibility complex: don't
worry, even though it's *fascinating*, I won't get into it here 8-) )--but
that one I would almost classify as science fiction rather than
techno-thriller because it took the current knowledge into a "what if"
scenario beyond it.
But I'm getting off track, as I wanted to say something *positive*. After I
read one of those books, I want to go out and hug a science fiction writer!
In general, even those who produce what could be called the
"green"/biological equivalent of hard sci-fi use the science as a
jumping-off point for their stories rather than as an end in itself. Nancy
Kress's _Beggars in Spain_ series is a good example. As with Cherryh, she
doesn't show the technology behind the genetic manipulation in her world,
but she makes it plausible--and available to those who can afford it, which
IMHO is a lot more likely than a government conspiracy. While I don't agree
with her projections of the societal outcomes by the end of the series
(somehow, even if I didn't "have to" have a job, I think I'd still want to
learn how to read!), it's an interesting and thought-provoking trip--and I
wasn't distracted by really bad science.
It was the mention of _Cyteen_ that made me jump in here. Absolutely one of
my favorite books, and not just for the reason already discussed (although
that's certainly one of them--we also get just enough of the "hormones vs.
genes" debate to make it an interesting part of the story without being
distracting). The characters are wonderfully drawn, and complex enough that
I didn't always know what they'd do--but their actions would end up fitting
them. Although I certainly wouldn't put it on the same level as _LotR_, I
think there are a couple of similarities between them--with _Cyteen_ having
the qualities on a much lower level. First, it's one of the few books I've
revisited just because I wanted to be around the characters again. Second,
it's one of the few books that I've found to have the quality of being
perfectly comprehensible on a first reading, but yet on a second and third
reading (that's all the further I've gone, so far) has still given me
"ah-hah" moments of, "There's a plot connection I didn't notice before,"
or, "That tells me something about the character that I'd missed the first
time through." That's the kind of book that gets my undying affection, and
it also says to me that the writer didn't take the easy way through the
That was the first book by Cherryh I ever read, and it did lead me to sample
most of her universes [remember when "Define the universe and give three
examples" used to be a joke?]. Her _Fortress_ series is one of the *very*
few Medieval-European-style fantasies I've read (having been spoiled by
Tolkien, as some other people have), and I started it for the simple reason
that she wrote it. I kept reading it because I liked it--it certainly
wasn't perfect (while I did like the characters, I thought some of them
seemed a bit too "contemporary" for the world they were in). And throughout
the series she does with her magic what good sci-fi writers do with their
science--doesn't completely explain it, but shows us enough of it to let us
understand the story and to give the reader the feeling that it could be
real. I especially liked that it seems exactly *right* that three distinct
types of supernatural power (to avoid getting into her definitions of the
various types here) could interact in the "gray space" without us having to
know just why or how (and also without knowing quite what the gray space
itself is). And after four books there's enough mystery left about the main
protagonist's origins that I actually hope for a follow-up: something I
wouldn't say about too many books, let alone series.
The last part of the fourth book does suffer from the one characteristic
I've seen in each of Cherryh's stories that I've read, whether science
fiction or fantasy--the ending is very rushed. In some books, like
_Cyteen_, she makes this work pretty well. In others, like the end of the
_Fortress_ series, things seem to fall out of place a bit (IMHO). My
biggest disappointment was that the concept of the gray space, which I loved
through the first 3.95 books, becomes a way-too-convenient "transporter
device" to move characters quickly around the map. I would have liked to
have told her that I wouldn't have minded spending a bit more time getting
them where they needed to go, in order to have the ending less jarring and
more in synch with the tone of the rest of the series.
> Cherryh does a really good job of making her aliens alien; I'veAs far as I know, Foreigner is the only one of her "universes" that I
> greatly enjoyed her Chanur and Foreigner universes. And the knnn
> can out-enigma the Vorlons and the Arisians together, with their
> tentacles tied in knots.
haven't visited. I may have to try that one.