When bestselling and award-winning SFF author C.J. Cherryh was named the 32nd SFWA Damon Knight Grand Master last year, I knew I had to read and review something she had written. Most of the author's fans consider Downbelow Station and Cyteen to be her best novels to date. Both have won the Hugo Award for best novel and both appear on basically every single "Best science fiction books of all time" lists out there.

I elected to go for Downbelow Station first because, even though it's part of the Alliance-Union series, the novel reads like a stand-alone. My only concern was that it might not have aged well. Originally published in 1981, the book was now 35 years old. And unlike fantasy, older scifi titles often tend to lose a lot of their luster as time goes by. Not so with Downbelow Station, I was pleasantly surprised. True, some of the technology was a bit obsolete. But it could stand on its own and give most recent space opera books a run for their money. All in all, in terms of plot and characterization, it was an excellent read!

Still, a lot of Cherryh fans opined that Cyteen was a better, more ambitious story. And it is. From the very beginning you realize that this is going to be something special. Cyteen is definitely one of the very best science fiction novels I have ever read. And yet, the closer I got to the end, the more it became evident that the author couldn't possibly close the show adequately with that dwindling pagecount. Problem is, Cyteen ends in an abrupt fashion and offers no resolution whatsoever. Little did I know then that the story continues in Regenesis, the direct sequel to Cyteen. I was shocked to discover that it took C. J. Cherryh twenty-one years to write that book! Imagine waiting for over two decades to find out how what is considered one of the best science fiction novels ever written ends. Makes you realize that George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss are not that bad, right? This lack of a genuine ending prevented Cyteen from getting a perfect score, but there was no denying that the book remained an incredible read. And like Downbelow Station, though it was twenty-nine years old, Cyteen stood head and shoulders above most scifi titles still in print today.

Which now brings us to Regenesis. Considering that this is the sequel to Cherryh's masterpiece, expectations were lofty indeed. Trouble is, probably due to the fact that it took so long for the author to write this novel, she was unable to recapture the magic that made Cyteen such a memorable read. Indeed, Regenesis often acts as a somewhat political epilogue riddled with info-dumps which begins right where its predecessor ended. Unfortunately, it appears that it is little more than a transition work meant to bridge the gap between Cyteen and whatever fate has in store for Ariane Emory II and Reseune and the world of Cyteen's position in the greater scheme of things as far as the Union is concerned. And though Regenesis does provide its share of answers, it's obvious that readers will have to wait for the next volume to finally get all the answers they were expecting. Here's to hoping that we won't have to wait for another two decades for whatever comes next for these characters.

Here's the blurb:

The long-awaited sequel to the Hugo award-winning novels Cyteen and Downbelow Station.

The direct sequel to Cyteen, Regenesis continues the story of Ariane Emory, Personal Replicate, the genetic clone of one of the greatest scientists humanity has ever produced, and of her search for the murderer of her progenitor-the original Ariane Emory. Murder, politics, deception, and genetic and psychological manipulation combine against a backdrop of interstellar human factions at odds to confront questions that have remained unanswered for two decades…

Who killed the original Ariane Emory?

And can her Personal Replicate avoid the same fate?

Like Downbelow Station and Cyteen, Regenesis is set in the Alliance-Union universe. For years and years, space was explored by the Earth Company, a private corporation which became extremely wealthy and powerful. What is known as the Beyond began with space stations orbiting the stars nearest Earth. And those early stations were emotionally and politically dependent on the Earth Company. A number of star systems were found to lack planets suitable for colonization, so space stations were built in orbit instead, each of them a stepping-stone for further space exploration. Then, Pell's World was discovered to be habitable and Pell Station was built. This newly discovered planet altered the power balance of the Beyond forever, as Earth was no longer the anchor that kept this incredibly vast empire together. And Pell was just the first living planet. Then came Cyteen and others, and a new society grew in the farther reaches of space. Earth's importance continued to fade and the Earth Company's profits continued to diminish as the economic focus of space turned outward. When Earth began to lose control of its more distant stations and worlds, the Earth Company Fleet was sent to enforce its will in the Beyond. This led to a prolonged war with the breakaway Union, based at Cyteen. Caught between the two factions are the stationers and the merchanters who crew the freighters that maintain interstellar trade between planets and stations. This conflict came to be known as the Company War.

Like Cyteen, Regenesis occurs decades following its end. Unlike its predecessor, this one is less hard science fiction and more space opera. Cyteen is home to the research facility of Reseune, which holds the monopoly on all research and development of human cloning. The Union boosts its population and its army with genetically engineered and psychologically conditioned human clones. These azi, as the clones are known, are seen as an abomination by Earth and the Alliance. This is another dense and brilliant work that explores the concepts of free will, identity, and personality, as well as the ethics surrounding human cloning, genetic manipulation, social conditioning, and the psychological and emotional repercussions associated with these things. As was the case with Cyteen, it is well nigh impossible to put a distinct label on this book. It's a richly detailed and complex novel that is not always easy to read. Cyteen was an amazing science fiction psychological thriller/political murder mystery hybrid, while Regenesis leans rather heavily on the political murder mystery side. Which wouldn't be much of a problem if it was more of a self-contained tale, the one that fans have been eagerly awaiting for many long years.

Regenesis continues to follow the evolution of Ariane Emory's clone. Like her predecessor, she is brilliant and has grown up to become a cunning and manipulative young adult. But unforeseen events caused by political powers will push her into a corner and she'll soon realize that more than her life and the fate of Reseune hang in the balance. Indeed, the political future of the entire Union is at stake. Once again, there are several POV characters, chief among them young Ariane Emory, Jordan Warrick, Justin and Grant, Florian and Catlin, and Yanni Schwartz. Witnessing the progression of the relationship between Justin and Ari was interesting. The emotional and psychological anguish experienced by Justin in the presence of the child who would become the woman who raped him was particularly well-done in the previous installment and it was nice to see how trust is gradually growing between the two. The estranged relationship between Jordan Warrick and his son and its negative repercussions on everyone around them play an important role throughout Regenesis. Justin must finally come into his own and put his foot down to put his father back in his place.

As a hard science fiction title, Cyteen was definitely a cerebral read. The complexity of the science involved compounded by the convoluted plotlines and a century-spanning timeline forced you to concentrate and work more than a little. But the payoff was well worth the effort. Cyteen was a stunning, ambitious, and thought-provoking novel. A genius at the time of her death, rejuv treatments extended Ariane Emory's lifespan and allowed her to live for more than a century. And yet, there are hints that her life's work could not be completed in a single lifetime, and that perhaps this devious woman had planned for everything that would occur and may have messed with Justin and Grant's minds so they could help her pursue her quest for knowledge once her clone reached adulthood. This story was not over, not by a longshot. With Regenesis, readers were promised revelations unveiling secrets behind all those unanswered questions. Unfortunately, those answers are few and far between. Regenesis is indeed the sequel to Cyteen, but it doesn't move the story forward a whole lot. Sadly, there is very little progression as far as the plot is concerned. As I mentioned earlier, Regenesis is more of a transition work rather than a continuation of the storylines that began in Cyteen. I'm afraid that what fans have been waiting for for more than twenty years will have to wait for the next volume. Indeed, the more you read on, the more you understand that some sort of political coup is being staged, one that could change the fate of the Union for years to come. And that's what Regenesis is all about. It takes a long time for things to finally make sense, however, as readers keep hoping for those answers they were promised.

Like its predecessor, Regenesis is another extremely slow-moving novel at times. The fact that it's more of a political murder mystery wouldn't be a problem per se if revelations and explanations were not provided through the use of massive info-dumps. Disguised as dinner dates, meetings, etc, these info-dumps mostly take the form of long discussions where the characters sit down and talk about their problems and spoon-feed readers with what they need to know. And when I say long, I mean the better part of entire chapters spent following the conversations of two or more protagonists. As a result, the pace is miserable for the better part of the novel. When the proverbial shit finally hits the fan and the coup is being staged, the rhythm quickly picks up and everything changes. The endgame and the finale are gripping, and Cherryh closes the show with style and aplomb.

Which definitely makes you eager to find out what happens next. Problem is, God knows when the next volume in the Alliance-Union series focusing on Ariane Emory will be written. As things stand, there are no news pertaining to when that forthcoming sequel could see the light. In the end, Regenesis adds very little to all the concepts and characters that were introduced in Cyteen. The political intrigue made for an interesting read and a compelling ending, but there is no denying that this is not a worthy sequel to a work that is universally considered to be one of the very best science fiction novels of all time.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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