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Regenesis by C. J. Cherryh

Published by DAW Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

When C. J. Cherryh published Cyteen, it was a major landmark in science fiction, and in the development of the Alliance-Union Universe. Up to that point, Cyteen and Union society had been seen in glimpses, most of them through disapproving eyes. Alliance regarded the practice of creating azi, cloned humans raised by tape-teaching methods, as an abomination, a gross violation of human dignity. Although some Alliance citizens regarded azi as less than human and others saw them as innocent victims of a monstrous system, all Alliance POV characters abhorred what azi represented.

As a result, getting to see the Union leadership as people rather than as Enemies was a huge shift. Most obviously, we see a more nuanced view of the role of azi in Union society. No, they are not slaves in the classical sense, and the more blatant forms of abuse are strictly prohibited -- a Supervisor is not even permitted to raise his voice with an azi under his tutelage, and one major character is threatened with the loss of his Alpha Supervisor license if he cannot learn control over his frequent emotional outbursts. However, the lot of the azi is not all sunshine and fluffy bunnies. Their protected status still leaves them vulnerable to more subtle forms of exploitation by those able to game the system -- or people operating on an Agenda, who believe that their Cause justifies whatever means they use to attain their ends.

However triumphant Cyteen may have been as a work of science fiction, it still left some very interesting threads dangling. Although Ari Two had successfully come into her own, defeating her uncles Giraud and Denys Nye, she still had a multitude of enemies, and she was still young and inexperienced enough that she would need many years of apprenticeship under competent, trustworthy teachers before she would be able to fully take over the leadership role her Senior had held. Moreover, Ari Senior's murder was still an unsolved crime. The government pinned the blame on Jordan Warrick, but everybody in the know could tell he was a convenient scapegoat, someone expendable they could exile in order to create the illusion of a closed case and prevent awkward questions from being asked, questions that might uncover trails leading far higher in the hierarchy of Reseune Labs.

Thus fans spent the next two decades speculating about those unanswered questions and wondering when there would be a sequel. Various people posted carefully reasoned examinations of the clues in Cyteen, drawing different conclusions about the identity of the most probable culprit in the murder of Ari Senior. But those were just speculations -- if there ever was a sequel, the author would have the last say, and it was quite possible that she would feel obligated to come up with a different answer, one that would come as a complete surprise. As time went by, rumors emerged that yes, the author was indeed working on a sequel, which only increased the eagerness of speculation.

When the publisher announced that yes, there was a sequel, and gave a definite publishing date, I found myself at once both excited and apprehensive. On one hand, I'd enjoyed Cyteen when I originally read it, right after it came out. On the other, the intervening years meant a lot of time to build up anticipation, to create expectations that would be difficult if not impossible to meet. I certainly didn't want it to be like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, or the various Dune follow-ons, both of which disappointed to the point of tarnishing my remembered enjoyment of much-beloved originals.

However, when I actually sat down to read Regenesis, I was happily surprised. Other than a few bits of retconning to deal with the problem of Science Marches On and Tech Marches On (particularly the introduction of nanotechnology, which hadn't even been a blip on the horizon back in the 1980's, and updating the computer and telecom technologies so they don't seem pitifully dated compared to what exists right here and now in the Primary World), it really seems to be consistent with the original novel even as it opens new ground.

The story picks up shortly after the conclusion of Cyteen, as Ari Two begins to survey her new realm. Of course she's not officially in charge -- Yanni Schwartz, whom she trusts as a mentor and who is widely respected by other senior figures in government and administration, is holding the top spot. But Ari now will be listened to when she requests that something be done, and she is taking on projects of importance. Chiefmost of them is the preparation necessary for the creation of her own successor. After her close call in the climax of Cyteen, she has been disabused of any adolescent illusions of invulnerability, and she's all too well aware that she's only won a battle in a very long war with many enemies. So she's preparing a group of files to guide her successor through adolescence, much as Ari One left a group of files upon which she's been able to draw for wisdom, and which continue to reveal material to her as her maturity and experience with Base One expands.

In addition, she's beginning the process of cloning the people her successor will need during the formative years of life. But it's a process fraught with difficulty, because many of these key people were also people who traumatized her in significant ways. In particular, she agonizes over recreating the Nye brothers, because she simultaneously knows just how deeply flawed both men were, and how important those very flaws may well have been to building her strengths. If she doesn't recreate one, or only recreates Giraud without the even more deeply flawed Denys to look after, would she create an interpersonal dynamic that will leave the future Ari Three with fatal weaknesses in her psyche, unable to assume the position she will ultimately inherit? At the same time, Ari Two dislikes the thought of putting an innocent child through the dysfunctional childhood Giraud experienced, and equally dislikes the idea of loosing another Denys upon her world in a situation where he might not have had the restraints that limited the original's ability to do harm.

Meanwhile, Justin Warrick is struggling to come into his own as a psycheset designer as his father returns to Reseune from almost two decades of exile at Planys. In addition to laying plans for the creation of her successor, Ari has also been trying to mitigate some of the harm done by the manipulations involved in the creation of herself. In particular, she's been trying to bring back people who were unjustly exiled, particularly people who were removed from her life at points corresponding to the disruption of key relationships in Ari Senior's life that were formative to her character. But there are also the people who were exiled simply because they were being inconvenient or disruptive, and most of all there was the rush to judgment that left Jordan Warrick with the blame for Ari Senior's murder.

Except Jordan's return to Reseune is anything but happy. Not only are his skills decades out of date, making it difficult to get jobs at his level even if the security issues can be overcome, but he's also carrying an enormous burden of bitterness and anger. Mostly toward Ari Two, but also toward the entire administrative apparatus of Reseune, and to some extent at the world in general. A resentment he can't blatantly display toward the actual targets, lest it be treated as proof positive of his guilt, so he's dumping it onto Justin. No matter how hard Justin tries to improve the relationship, it almost seems like Jordan's determined to mess it up. Even Jordan's attempts to reconcile always go awry one way or another. But Justin refuses to give up on his father, especially as he realizes that Jordan's allowed his anger to distort his relationship with his Alpha azi companion Paul, to the point that Paul hasn't gotten necessary psychological treatments for ages. A problem Justin feels morally obligated as an Alpha-qualified Supervisor to rectify, yet because he is not Paul's Supervisor, he is constrained in what measures he can take to carry out that moral obligation.

One of the really nice things about this book is the way social changes here in the Primary World in the two decades since the publication of Cyteen has made it possible to bring the relationships of these two pairs of characters out of the closet. When I originally read Cyteen back in the late 80's, I took it for granted that Justin and Grant related as brothers, completely platonically, and Jordan and Paul's relationship was purely business, boss and factotum. It was only when someone else pointed it out that I saw the hints of two gay relationships. Now it can be acknowledged openly. It never becomes crude or salacious, but we clearly see each of these two pairs interacting as couples. Justin and Grant are a comfortable couple, their relationship like a well-worn slipper that fits so well, while Jordan and Paul are a dysfunctional couple, with Jordan's self-obsession constantly tearing at Paul's mind even as Paul desperately tries to keep everything on an even keel.

And as both of the principal characters are wrestling with their personal relationships and the obligations those entail, the various political factions continue their elaborate and deadly dance of advantage and disadvantage. It starts simply, with the death of an old man who may well have been in rejuv failure anyway, so it's hard to say conclusively that it was murder. But the next death is clearly an act of destruction, and the paper trail leads back to a "hollow man," a sort of paper person that is sometimes used as an alibi or cover identity for an extremist organization. Except the obvious culprits may not be the right ones, and yet again, there are political factions that would really prefer a rush to judgment to blame a convenient target in order to prevent awkward questions that could reveal evidence trails that go into truly awkward places.

The various conspiracies finally come together for a violent confrontation at the same level of intensity as the ending of Cyteen. Once again, Florian and Catlin get to use their special bodyguard skills to proactively protect their Principal, and when the threats are defeated, there's a major reshuffling of the power structure of Cyteen, and of Union as a whole.

And yes, the mystery of Ari Senior's murder is indeed solved. However, the solution made me want to go back and give Cyteen another thorough reading to see if the character in question was indeed present from the beginning and portrayed in such a way as to make the situation plausible, even if only in retrospect.

And quite honestly, I would like to see at least one more novel about Ari Two and her life as she takes on significant political authority. Even if the major threads have all been satisfactorily resolved and I could live without another book about Ari and her friends, I still have that itch to know more about her life. Which is probably a good sign for the book -- it leaves the reader (or at least this reader) wanting more, rather than tired of the story and glad it's over.

Review posted April 30, 2011.

Buy Regenesis from Amazon.com

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