Anvil of the World

Anvil of the World
Kage Baker

I came into this book woefully uninformed. The information I saw on Kage Baker led me to believe that her science fiction talks about Very Serious Things, and perhaps even contains A Message. Anvil of the World is fantasy, a genre that naturally lends itself to a certain amount of pompous rhetoric. I somehow managed to avoid reading even the dust jacket before starting, which happens sometimes, and I fully expected this to be a regular epic fantasy, complete with the usual weighty themes. My first clue that I was sorely mistaken probably should have come within the first paragraph, as Baker marches straight into deadpan comments about emphysema and festivals involving respiratory masks.

I am fairly dense however, and nothing tripped my humor meter. Even after all of the principles were introduced and numerous running gags started, I blundered along unawares. It wasn’t until late in the first story that I finally figured out what was going on. (The book is comprised of three sequential novellas.) By the time the second story got underway, I was prepared for the mayhem. Then in the third, Baker smoothly switches gears, going in a heavier direction that more closely matched my original expectations. This last change of pace doesn’t completely exclude the silliness though, so Anvil loses none of its charm.

This is not to say that the book is naught but a bag of har hars. Laughs are a major part of the experience, but hardly the only one, because Baker leaves a solid core of intelligence at the center of things. She has taken an assortment of fantasy cliches, mixed in a smattering of social commentary, then turned the Absurdity Dial up a few notches. Those who are into that sort of thing can chuckle at the steady supply of trope subversions (child of destiny, man with a dark past, capricious gods, etc.). People who want A Message can either stand and cheer or be offended, though it’s all delivered with wink and a few extra grains of salt. Those who want snappy dialogue are in for a treat.

Like most worthwhile fiction, Anvil has memorable and engaging characters, as well as quality world building. People thrown together more or less by chance at the beginning develop relationships with each other and, while I hate to say “the character grows,” they do react to their surroundings and evolve. As those relationships strengthen and the characters learn more about each other, the reader is pulled inexorably along; it would be a hard hearted person indeed who couldn’t find a soft spot for Mr. Smith, the former assassin, or Mrs. Smith, the wholly-unrelated-to-Mr. Smith chef. I haven’t even started on about the sexy nurse, though maybe it’s best that I don’t. (I will say that there are certain things Baker gets away with here that would be instantly more offensive in the hands of a male. It has a lot more to do with skill and timing, I think, but if a dude said some of the things Baker says, I would probably react with an “Ewwww” instead of a laugh. Something about a female gently mocking the Male Gaze works in the book.)

A few of my blogging friends have written glowing reviews of Anvil, bloggers I tend to agree with about a lot of bookish things. I’m sure there are people out there who didn’t like it, but there are also people out there who don’t like pie. When I tally up my books at the end of the year, I fully expect Anvil to make the Top Ten. It’s funny, which is nice, but it is intelligently funny. Behind the yuks are some expert trope manipulations and genuinely likable characters. The only sad part of it all is that the ending doesn’t lend itself to sequels. (I guess that doesn’t matter now, since there wouldn’t be any regardless, but still.) Baker has apparently written other books in the same world though, with some of the same characters, so I will have to seek those out. I want to know more about everyone and spend more time inside their lives. I tend to be a bit jaded and cynical anymore with my story consumption, but this is a book that melted my icy, shriveled heart.

Rating: Hoffenheim. This is a German club that went from deep in the lower divisions to contending for Bundesliga titles, after a hometown boy made good bought the team and turned them into winners. Yes, there is a certain element of buying championships involved, but this is still a heartwarming and lovable tale.

Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City

Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City
Dong Qizhang

Some time ago, I was listening to the Coode Street Podcast when their discussion turned to books in translation. Gary Wolfe mentioned in passing that Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City had been nominated for one or another award for its translation from Chinese. This was the first I had heard of the book and was surprised because Tor (I think) had just announced that it would release some other Chinese SF series, supposedly the first translation of any SF from the country. It turns out that Atlas is neither from China proper, nor is it really science fiction. Dong is from Hong Kong, which is technically part of China now but remains a special case, while is book owes much more to Borges, Calvino, and other magical realists. Also, this is a translation from Cantonese, not Mandarin, so while both are “Chinese,” they are very different animals.

What am I to make of it? This is a difficult book to parse. It can be taken as SF because the main character is an archaeologist from some unspecified point in the future, though the narrator’s identity isn’t really the point. There are also a couple of references to possible alien invasions and video games, but there are also references to World War II and geographic theory, so it’s hard to pin down a trope and say, “This is it! Genre clarity at last!” The book is structured like an academic text, complete with a theoretical framework and a threatened bibliography. The archaeologist purports to offer a possible narrative of the city of Hong Kong (“Victoria,” according to these scientists), as pieced together from a strange assortment of maps that researchers have dug up hither and yon. Underlying all is a completely different theme, about which we will speak later.

There are two kinds of people who will immediately take to Atlas: academics and lovers of Hong Kong. I admit to the former, but have no claim to the latter. I have read a few books about Hong Kong, looked at photos of Victoria Harbor, eaten Hong Kong’s food, and talked to people who hail from the city, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. (I’d like to visit some day, but who knows when that might happen.) Those who are neither of the above may have some trouble getting through this one. I will admit to being amused by the academic parts, especially the periodic silliness in the theory chapter, but am lost at sea once talk turns to local specifics. Many of the stories are interesting, some funny, some pointed, and I have no idea which ones he made up and which are historical. He does get in a well-deserved dig at the Japanese, who are apparently still trying to dodge war responsibility in Dong’s distant future.

Lurking in the background is a meditation on the nature of reconstruction, of the impossibility to reassemble the past from whatever remains we can find in the present. Victoria is never quite Hong Kong, despite the archaeologists’ best efforts. They can never really know what it was, just as we can never genuinely replicate our own pasts. The narrator realizes this of course, but presses ahead anyway, just as we have no choice but to live in the moment as we try to hang on as best we can to our memories. Dong may be suggesting that his solution to this melancholy problem is to maintain a stiff, but sardonic, upper lip about it all. He embraces the absurdities and uncertainties while bowing to the inevitability of time.

In the end though, this book isn’t about pedantic thematics, it’s about Hong Kong. I’m not sure I’d call it a love letter to the city as much as an in-joke to his fellows. I’m guessing that a third or so of the book went whooshing over my head, while long time residents chuckled heartily. This aspect makes it particularly difficult to distill into a recommendation, since the exact target audience is so small. Plenty of other people fall in the fringes of the appeal, so they will have to decide for themselves if this is something they want to read. A great many will find that even the short reading time required (it is under 200 pages) is far more than they want to give the book, likely throwing it across the room part way through The Grand Unified Theory of Maps. I liked it well enough, but it wasn’t a page-turner and it didn’t change my life. Still, I’ll probably someday be happy to say, “Oh yes, Dong’s Atlas. I’ve read that.”

The Mongoliad: Books Two and Three

The Mongoliad: Books Two and Three
Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, et al

A review of the first volume of The Mongoliad over at Dab of Darkness reminded me that I have yet to write about either of the other books in the series. I talked about Book One here, giving some introduction and background, but didn’t talk as much about the story. It was hard to say much at the time, and even harder to put Book Two on the psychiatrist’s couch, because this isn’t a proper trilogy really, just a very long serial published in three parts. Now that all three books are out in the wild, it’s much easier to take stock of the story. There won’t necessarily be spoilers in this post, but little of it will make any sense unless one has, at the very least, given my first summary a glance.

The volumes under the microscope today follow the same three stories from the first book, but add one more. The originals focus chiefly on the Shield Brethren, a Templar-esque order in Northern Europe, and the Mongols at the Khan’s court. We follow one group of Shield Brethren in a hopeless quest across Asia to assassinate the Khan and another trying to cause havoc on the front lines closer to home. In Karakorum, the brave Mongol warrior Gansukh tries to drag the Khan out of an alcohol-induced haze. New to the story is a semi-related bit in Rome surrounding the election of a new Pope, tied primarily to the other storylines through the Binders, a secret society of women that span the known world as messengers.

I’ll give some opinions on the books here, before moving into a deeper look at random bits and bobs. I enjoyed the first volume well enough, but it wasn’t essential reading. Fun, but it didn’t grab me by the lips and yank. Things pick up in the second book, and by the third, the story rushes on like a heavy cavalry charge. The extensive world building and OCD level attention to detail is the main offender here, I think, as it takes 5-600 pages just to get everything out in the open. Once the (slowly hardening) foundation has been laid, the characters can prance across without getting bogged down in the wet cement of historical accuracy. In other words, Book Three is a great deal more fun than Book One. Not that this is unexpected when Neal Stephenson is at the helm. While The Mongoliad is understandably diluted stuff, his influence looms large over the whole affair. The Number Two name on the cover, Greg Bear, is also no stranger to leisurely narrative, so no reader should be surprised that we’re dealing with some serious plot inertia here.

In terms of story, I found the three initial arcs to be most compelling. I don’t know why exactly the Pope thing got tacked on, since it has only a passing relation to the central characters. It was interesting reading, to be sure, but the authors could just as easily cut the whole thing out, released it as a separate book, and nobody would have noticed its absence. The Mongols and the Shield Brethren, on the other hand, come together in a most satisfying way. Not so satisfying that sequels are impossible, and indeed things are set up for plenty more stories, but there is closure. It was worth it, at the end, to have plowed through so many pages.

Several aspects of the story have provoked further thought. I don’t know a whole lot about this particular time period, so I spent much of the book trying to figure out what is historical and what is fiction. I am guessing that the Shield Brethren are an original creation, as well as the Binders. Of course they are two of the most interesting, what with the hinted pagan origins of the Brethren and the possibilities of a secretive clan of far wandering women. On the other hand, the Brethren may very well be one of a multitude of militant orders that existed at the time. I have a hard time imaging how the Binders would have kept their people straight. I assume that most of the major events, like the battles at Mohi and Kiev, or the conflicts surrounding the papal election, are more or less as portrayed, though anything involving the Khan is probably pure conjecture. All the while I am building these assumptions, I am reminded of Umberto Eco’s afterword to The Name of the Rose. Therein he confides that in all the letters he receives about the book, the plot points people accuse him of fabricating are the most accurate, while the things we all assume to be true are pure fiction.

The whole of the third book left me wondering about magic in this world as well. The Khan’s Spirit Banner may or may not have magical properties. Knights may receive divine guidance, or they may be hallucinating. The Holy Grail may or may not exist, and might have special powers. The authors are coy about it all, making me wonder what direction future books will go in.

I was mildly skeptical when I finished the first book, wondering if The Mongoliad would rise above the world building and slow burning narrative. It was fun, to be sure, but I withheld full judgment on the overall quality. It was clear by the end of the second book that things would pick up and surprises were in store. The last book hurtled on like a horde of Mongols riding a maglev train, leaving roughly as much devastation in their wake as one would expect. Good times. The whole thing will require patience, but is definitely worth it for those interested in a Hard SF take on historical fiction. There is plenty of room in this sandbox to play; I am intensely curious to see where things go next.

Update: Stefan is right in the comments to request an elaboration of the “Hard SF” bit. I talked about this a little in my first review, but probably didn’t explain it well there either. What I am referring to is the attention given to accuracy and the way things work in the story. (Stephenson does this with The Baroque Cycle and has spoken in interviews about having an SF mindset when pursuing historical fiction.) The most obvious example of this is the sword fighting, where weapons, their uses, and the results thereof are awarded the lavish detail usually reserved for FTL drives or Dyson Spheres. The Papal Conclave is another reflection of this, as the authors spend as much time illuminating the machinations (historically accurate, according to Stefan’s research) as they do moving the story forward. One could sweep this all up into the dustpan labelled “World Building,” but I think it’s more of a nuts and bolts thing than drawing some maps and making up a few dynasties. I wonder if this makes any sense, or is just me pulling rhetorical devices out of a top hat.

Mobile Suit Gundam (Novel)

Mobile Suit Gundam (Novels)
Tomino Yoshiyuki

Some time ago, I watched and reviewed the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam in my quest to experience the foundations of Japanese science fiction. I enjoyed it well enough, but expected future installments to wow me more. At the time, I was unaware that a novelization of the first series had made its way into English, though I knew that many books and manga existed in Japan. Lo and behold, Del Rey released a translation of the three original novels in 1990; they quickly went out of print. (I have no idea why Del Rey thought this was a good idea, what with anime’s utter lack of mainstream popularity at the time and the financial difficulty of licensing the Gundam franchise.) Stone Bridge Press released an updated translation in 2004 as a single volume and the series has stayed in print this time around.

Some background for the anime impaired: Gundam is the premiere franchise in the Giant Fighting Robot genre. The first series aired in 1979 (followed shortly by the novelization reviewed here) and the expanded Gundam universe rivals Star Wars or Star Trek, both in size and influence. Tomino Yoshiyuki, Gundam’s creator, began the series in a bid to escape some of the sillier conventions of giant robot anime. These include, but are not limited to, simplistic tales of good and evil, random kids falling into robot cockpits and just happening to be genius pilots, and wholly implausible robots doing stuff that would make an engineer’s head explode. Gundam cannot completely escape the gravity well of cliché, but it does make an honest attempt.

I wonder if this was part of the motivation to write the novels. The anime, while unquestionably dark and mature for its target demographic, makes certain concessions. The book makes none, beyond the inclusion of wholly implausible robotic creations. (I’m sorry, but no amount of detail and planning will ever make 600m tall humanoid fighting machines anything but fantasy.) The world building and setup are identical, but by the second quarter of the books, the plot has diverged completely from the anime. Among the non-spoilery changes: Amuro Rei is a pilot in the Federation, not some whiny punk who stumbles into a conveniently open Gundam, Brite is squawky and insecure, and the civilian refugees are not idiotically forced to remain on a warship heading into combat. (No more scenes of children yelling, “WoooooOOOOOOOaaaaaah,” while the ship makes high-g combat maneuvers that should be turning them into smears of tomato paste on the walls.) The changes are almost universally for the better. Also, the book focuses much more on New Types, with the robots fading more into the background. I found this interesting, as it changes the focus and meaning of the story.

Some things are not awesome, both thematic and technical. Tomino clearly has issues with women. I forgive (barely) the cringe-inducing “relationships,” because I have seen real life Japanese courtship in action. It is not pretty. This doesn’t mean I want to read about 20 year olds acting like it’s 7th grade all over again, but I can at least see where they’re coming from. However, there is an undercurrent of, if not misogyny, at least an obvious discomfort with The Ladies. I think I’ll leave the heavy analysis to someone else, but it was something that occasionally rankled. He was trying, I think, but it’s awfully hard to not be a jerk sometimes. Beyond this, I can tell that Tomino is not primarily an author. Things can be a bit choppy, with sudden info dumping interrupting the flow of action, or random side trips into philosophy. He is a natural storyteller though, and this generally covers a multitude of technical faults.

We’ll wrap up this review with some reasons why people should read Mobile Suit Gundam. (Fans are going to read the book anyway, so the challenge here is to pitch it to readers more likely to be skeptical of Giant Fighting Robots.) The most obvious reason is to experience a canonical piece of Japanese science fiction. There is a lot of SF out there that we never see in English, so when something major like Gundam is translated, serious readers owe it to themselves to take a look. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, attacking Japanese SF without acknowledging Gundam is like looking at American SF without Star Wars. It’s not the most literary, award-winning stuff out there, but you can’t toss rice ball in Tokyo without hitting a Gundam fan. It’s a bit of fiction that has transcended the genre and become part of the cultural background noise of one of the biggest entertainment exporters in the world.

I also recommend Mobile Suit Gundam because it holds up well as SF. (I make no promises for other novels or manga in the universe.) The future history is convincing and compelling. Tomino keeps everything in Earth orbit, with much of humanity now living in “Sides,” or artificial habitats located at various Lagrange points. The war between Zeon, a Third Reich re-imagining based on one of the Sides, and the Earthbound Federation is plausible, with enough internal politics to feed the ever-shifting morality of the sequels. The characters are interesting, if a bit broad, and with enough possibilities that Tomino can use them as archetypes in future stories. Much of the story is wrapped up in the ethical quandary of war: what are we to do when the default human response is violence, despite our collective desire to rise such base instincts? The Japanese are hardly unique in examining this question, but their warlike past and nominally pacifist present give them an oblique take on the subject not often seen in Western fiction.

There is also a moment, more in the anime than the books, that seems a dead ringer for a scene in The Legion of Space, when a Nazi-esque speech and crowd response on Zeon mirrors almost exactly a similar moment in the Purple Hall. I wonder if Tomino read Jack Williamson and other pulp writers in translation, or if this is pure coincidence.

There are plenty of holes to poke in Mobile Suit Gundam, as one would expect for a novelization like this. It’s not perfect, and not even canonical in some crucial points, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In fact, I enjoyed it more than the original anime, though I have been advised that later series are much better. It inspired me to pick up my occasional viewing of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and perhaps read further into the novels. I think it’s definitely worth checking out for those not already initiated into the joys of the Giant Fighting Robot.

Random Book Survey

I saw this on Lynn’s Book Blog and decided to fill it out here too. Nothing profound or revolutionary, but entertaining.

  1. Favorite childhood book? Lord of the Rings, I guess. I enjoyed David Eddings and Dragonlance a bit more than I care to admit as well.
  2. What are you reading right now? Kamigari by Yamada Masaki. I’m in between English books at the moment, not sure what to start next.
  3. What books do you have on request at the library? Archform Beauty by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  4. Bad book habit? None that I can think of. I regret that I buy used or borrow from the library, rather than directly supporting the authors, but my children need shoes and food.
  5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Nothing for me at the moment.
  6. Do you have an e-reader? Yes, the cheapest Kindle I could find.
  7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? One at a time, though I usually have a Japanese book that I’m chipping away at in the background.
  8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? My habits in terms of consumption have not, but the way I read certainly has changed. I am more careful now of the relationships between my current book and the genre as a whole, and am always thinking of an angle for a post.
  9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)? Hmmm. Probably Bloodstar by Ian Douglas. It wasn’t bad, but gave me no reason to continue the series. My tolerance for Military SF appears to have diminished lately.
  10. Favorite book you’ve read this year? Totally incapable of picking one. Check back at the end of the year, when I call out 10-15 favorites.
  11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? Almost never, I guess, but my comfort zone is pretty wide.
  12. What is your reading comfort zone? SFF of course, historical fiction, spy novels, mainstream literature, history, political science, technology, economics.
  13. Can you read on the bus? Every day. It’s the only book reading time I have.
  14. Favorite place to read? Anywhere works, though I don’t read much off of the bus.
  15. What is your policy on book lending? Fine by me, though I don’t loan or borrow much.
  16. Do you ever dog-ear books? No. I use the interlibrary loan slips for bookmarks.
  17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? No.
  18. Not even with text books? Generally not.
  19. What is your favorite language to read in? English, but I work at Japanese as well.
  20. What makes you love a book? Like pornography, I can’t define it, but know it when I see it.
  21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? Anything I particularly like, to someone who seems interested.
  22. Favorite genre? Science Fiction. (Hard SF if I have to pick a subgenre.)
  23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)? Uhhh…. I have no answer for this. By definition, if I wished to read more of something, I would be reading more.
  24. Favorite Biography? Q, the Quincy Jones autobiography, but I don’t read many of these.
  25. Have you ever ready a self help book? Not that I know of.
  26. Favorite cookbook? Would have to break this down by region, since I regularly use about ten.
  27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction no non-fiction)? 3.11: Disaster Response and Political Change in Japan by Richard Samuels. Inspirational might not be the right word, but this is the most important book I’ve read. (Here, for interested parties.)

Cyteen

Cyteen
CJ Cherryh

I was looking through the Two Dudes archives the other day and realized that we haven’t a single CJ Cherryh review up. Considering both the author’s stature in SFF and the number of volumes consumed by both Dudes, this is a travesty. In a way though, I’m not surprised. Cherryh’s books are dense and challenging, hard enough to read, let alone turn into a pithy, 1000 word blog post. In fact, Cyteen took me more than a year to read. I started it during a particularly busy and trying time in real life, enough that I couldn’t devote the kind of energy required for a huge tome like Cyteen, then pecked away at it here and there before finally settling in for the last 300 pages. I honestly don’t know how Cherryh puts out the volume of work that she does. It’s hard enough for me to just read one of her books, let alone write something that intense and psychological. Maybe they’ve gotten lighter recently.

Cyteen is part of the Alliance-Union universe and, together with Downbelow Station, anchors the early part of the future history. These two are both Hugo winners and widely acknowledged classics; I have now read them both and agree with the conventional wisdom. While most of the Alliance-Union books are technically stand-alone, Cyteen is probably easier going after reading Downbelow Station, as some names and events are referenced. Neither are light reading, but none of the eight (I think) Cherryh books I have read were. Something about her style is claustrophobic, possibly because of the tightly limited third-person she maintains, usually with deeply messed up characters. Cyteen is no exception – the plot, such as it is, might best be described as “some really traumatized and/or weird people grow up.” But by the time any reader makes his or her way to Cyteen, (s)he likely knows what is coming, and also knows that the rewards are there for those who dig in.

The book is less a story than a history. There is no three act narrative arc, tightly plotted action, or anything that lends itself to Cliff’s Notes or Reader’s Digest. Instead, Cherryh follows a set of winding and intersecting paths taken by prominent figures at Reseune, the scientific and political capital of the Union that is located on the titular planet Cyteen. The reader is tossed into the deep end from the start, with the opening act consisting entirely of complex political infighting in a government about which almost no information is given. Things march on from there without respite, with clones, politics, escapes, degrading abuse, murder, more politics, guppy breeding, terrorists, and even more politics, for good measure. Much is unexplained, leaving it to the reader to infer from context, rely on other knowledge of the Alliance-Union universe, and read between the lines. The characters don’t explain anything that would be obvious to themselves and they present information in ways that protect or favor their positions. If the reader doesn’t engage, that reader will be left behind. Not everyone enjoys this sort of thing.

Somehow, despite being written in the early 1980s, Cyteen addresses issues that are still ahead of our time. While the thematic material is more or less timeless, things like equality, individuality, and redemption, Cherryh’s world building places them one step beyond the debates that everyone else participates in. The Union has already answered questions that we ask now and in our near future SF about cloning and mind conditioning, becoming a society that is recognizable, but clearly different on a fundamental level from anything we know now. This is part of Cherryh’s genius – the contours provided in the book give us just enough to see how Union functions, but leave enough hidden to keep it alien and unnerving.

Union is, if I may make a foray back into political science, a representative democracy. This much we can relate to, but the differences are the foundation of the story. The political axis is necessarily different from our own, but explained clearly. (The drivers of the debates are plots of other stories, notably 40,000 in Gehenna, forming a coherent future history.) The whole of society is markedly different from our own, reflecting in some ways a generalized and simplified Ancient China. There is a strict caste system, with a vast underclass of clones, or azis. (The clones are a result of policies instituted during the Company Wars, again described in other books.) The “real” people own their azis, but have a vaguely Confucian set of responsibilities towards them. Much of the society is a strict meritocracy, especially when the Science faction of the government is ascendant, with azis and humans attaining rank and power through their abilities. I imagine that other parts of Union are different, but we see Science in the book, and Science is all about competence. I rather doubt that Cherryh had China in mind when she created this society, but it is a possible reference point for the Confucian meritocracy in place.

With this system laid out, Cherryh probes the people that live in it and uses them to ask questions. She politely refrains from grinding axes, but certainly encourages thought. Equality and human rights run like a steady undercurrent throughout, with characters debating with each other, usually abstractly, over what life azis should be entitled to. There is an entire back story, barely hinted at, that deserves its own book; one character seems to have some master plan of raising the azis’ status over coming decades. Nature versus nurture arguments also get a look, as do questions of personal responsibility and redemption. It is left to the readers to decide if Ari Part Two deserves our sympathy, or if we have just spent 600 trade paperback pages with someone who is destined to be jerkwad.

A final surprise of Cyteen is how well it ages. The only technological bits that really stand out are the lack of mobile devices and the frequent references to “taking tape.” “Tape” is the subconscious training that everyone receives and is probably not an actual cassette tape; still the phrase feels weird to us digital types. These two aside, everything still feels cutting edge. The ethical questions are relevant, the politics and media resonate, and the regular guys checking into the office and logging eight hour days feel just like us, even if they happen to be designing special clone training programs. I was also surprised to see openly homosexual relations in a book from this era; not that it is unprecedented, but that is was so matter of fact. There is one aspect that dates the book: the characters are all unmodified, un-enhanced, analog humans. No crazy human variants or uploaded personalities here.

Coming up for air again, let’s go ahead and put Cyteen on the list of books every serious SF reader should know. Cherryh is a must read author anyway and this is one of the defining books of her most well-known series. The only question left for me is whether I go straight to the direct sequel, or if I stick with published order for these. I have no answer yet.