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Re: Cyteen etc. (was Re: Ellison)

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  • tghsaw
    ... hardly ... personalities of ... cast of ... Give me science fiction writers every time over techno-thriller authors. Since my day job deals with
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2003
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      > Date: 02 Feb 2003 23:59:36 -0800
      > 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" the
      personalities of
      > > the clones; she explains enough to get the story going, gives us her
      cast 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've
      > 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.

      As far as I know, Foreigner is the only one of her "universes" that I
      haven't visited. I may have to try that one.

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