Regenesis

by C.J. Cherryh

Cover image

Series: Cyteen #2
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: January 2009
ISBN: 0-7564-0592-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 682

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Regenesis is a direct sequel to Cyteen, picking up very shortly after the end of that book and featuring all of the same characters. It would be absolutely pointless to read this book without first reading Cyteen; all of the emotional resonance and world-building that make Regensis work are done there, and you will almost certainly know whether you want to read it after reading the first book. Besides, Cyteen is one of the best SF novels ever written and not the novel to skip.

Because this is such a direct sequel, it's impossible to provide a good description of Regenesis without spoiling at least characters and general plot developments from Cyteen. So stop reading here if you've not yet read the previous book.

I've had this book for a while, and re-read Cyteen in anticipation of reading it, but I've been nervous about it. One of the best parts of Cyteen is that Cherryh didn't belabor the ending, and I wasn't sure what part of the plot could be reasonably extended. Making me more nervous was the back-cover text that framed the novel as an investigation of who actually killed the first Ari, a question that was fairly firmly in the past by the end of Cyteen and that neither I nor the characters had much interest in answering. Cyteen was also a magical blend of sympathetic characters, taut tension, complex plotting, and wonderful catharsis, the sort of lightning in a bottle that can rarely be caught twice.

I need not have worried. If someone had told me that Regenesis was another 700 pages of my favorite section of Cyteen, I would have been dubious. But that's exactly what it is. And the characters only care about Ari's murderer because it comes up, fairly late in the novel, as a clue in another problem.

Ari, and Justin, are back in the safe laboratory environment of Reseune, safe now that politics are not trying to kill or control them. Yanni has taken over administration. There is a general truce, and even some deeper agreement. Everyone can take a breath and relax, albeit with the presence of Justin's father Jordan as an ongoing irritant and hostile factor. But broader Union politics are not as stable: there is an election in progress for the Defense councilor that may break the tenuous majority in favor of Reseune and the Science Directorate, Yanni is working out a compromise to gain more support by turning a terraforming project loose on a remote world, and Ari isn't sure she likes that Eversnow idea at all. Then, just as things seem to be turning Reseune's way, politics and interpersonal relationships abruptly deteriorate, tensions with Jordan sharply worsen, and there may be moles in Reseune's iron-clad security. Navigating the crisis while keeping her chosen family safe will once again tax all of Ari's abilities.

The third section of Cyteen, where Ari finally has the tools to take fate into her own hands and starts playing everyone off against each other, is one of my favorite sections of any book. If it was yours as well, Regenesis is another 700 pages of exactly that. As an extension and revisiting, it does lose a bit of immediacy and surprise from the original, and Regenesis is much less concerned with the larger questions of azi society, the nature of thought and personality, loyalty and authority, and the best model for the development of human civilization. It's somewhat less far-thinking and more of a political thriller. But it's a political thriller that recaptures much of the drama and tension of Cyteen and is full of exceptionally smart and paranoid people thinking through all angles of a problem, working fast on their feet, and successfully navigating tricky and treacherous political landscapes.

And, like Cyteen but unlike others of Cherryh's novels I've read, it's a novel about empowerment, about seizing control of one's surroundings and effectively using all of the capability and leverage at one's fingertips. That gives it a thrilling catharsis that's almost as good as Cyteen.

It's also, like its predecessor, a surprisingly authoritarian novel. I think it's in that, more than anything else in these books, that one sees the impact of the azi. Regenesis makes it clear that the story is set, not in a typical society, but inside a sort of corporation, with an essentially hierarchical governance structure. There are other SF novels set within corporations (Solitaire comes to mind), but normally they follow peons or at best mid-level personnel or field agents, or otherwise take the viewpoint of the employees or the exploited. When they follow the corporate leaders, the focus usually isn't down inside the organization, but out into the world, with the corporation as silent resources on which the protagonist can draw.

Regenesis is much more of a balance. It's about decisions of the future of humanity that characters feel they can make undemocratically (in part because they or their predecessors have effectively engineered the opinions of the democratic population), but it's also about how one manages a top-down organization. And, most vitally, how one secures it. Reseune is, as in the previous novel, a paranoid's suspicions come true; everyone is out to get everyone else, or at least might be, and the level of omnipresent security and threat forces a close parsing of alliances and motivations that elevates loyalty to the greatest virtue.

In Cyteen, we had long enough with Ari to see the basic shape of her personality and her slight divergences from her predecessor, but her actions are mostly driven by necessity. Regenesis gives us more of a picture of what she's like when her actions aren't forced, and here I think Cherryh manages a masterpiece of subtle characterization. Ari has diverged substantially from her predecessor without necessarily realizing it, but in ways that are firmly grounded in the differences she found or created between her life and the first Ari's. Specifically, she has friends, confidents, and a community, which combined with past trauma has made her fiercely, powerfully protective, and it's that protective instinct that weaves the plot together. It's probably the most significant way in which so much of the events of Cyteen and Regenesis are driven by people's varying reactions to trauma.

If you, like me, loved the last third of Cyteen, read this, because Regenesis is more of exactly that. Cherryh finds new politics, new challenges, and a new and original plot within the same world and with the same characters, but it has the same feel of maneuvering, analysis, and decisive action. You will, as with Cyteen have to be comfortable with pages of internal monologue from really smart people thinking through all sides of a problem. If you didn't like that in the previous book, avoid this one; if you loved it, here's the sequel you didn't know you were waiting for.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-12-21

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21