When Ariane Emory (the first), head of Reseune genetic facilities, is murdered by Jordon Warrick, the next generation at Reseune has their shackles weakened just enough that they might be able to make a difference. Ariane Emory (the second), a replicate of Ariane Emory (the first), grows up in a tightly controlled environment with the hope that she will be just like her predecessor, but things don't work exactly as they hoped, she's starting where Ariane 1 left off, with the skill, instincts, and knowledge, but with the determination to improve upon the legacy of Ariane 1. In particular Ariane 2 wants to make sure that Justin Warrick, Jordon's son and Ariane 1's victim, has the opportunity to achieve his potential and realize his dreams...under her benevolent leadership, of course. When politics don't stop and wait for Ariane 2 to grow up, she must walk a fine line between controlling and being controlled.
In some ways Cyteen is the story of the murder of Ariane Emory, as the cover promises, but it is also much more than that. It is more the story of the ripples in the lives of a handful of people as her death creates a large empty space in the world. It's a story about power: The power that elder's have over youngers; that leaders have over successors; that mentally flexible people have over mentally rigid people; the power that love both gives and takes away.
If all of that sounds like it is complicated and wide-ranging, you'd be correct. It isn't that this couldn't be boiled down to a Hollywood movie plot, it's more that Cherryh builds a level of intrigue and detail that would be ill-served when boiled down.
I highly recommend this book for those that enjoy the complications of space operas, but wish they had a smaller cast.
This is my second Ballard novel and I think that he was caught on a theme and was compelled to write a novel around it. In Crash he obsessed over technology and perversion. In The Drowned World he obsesses over reversions to primordial states--the planet reverting to prehistoric jungle, mankind reverting to pre-civilized social norms, a person reverting from adulthood to the womb. Where I found the repetition of words in Crash to enhance the story, I didn't connect with it in The Drowned World.
None of this is to say that I didn't find the book enjoyable, just that Ballard was less skillful in his relentless pursuit of theme and it took away the impact that comes with feeling what a novel is about rather than it telling you what it is about.
To be fair, this was his first novel. I wouldn't recommend it to someone looking for their next summer read or great classic, but placed in context, it contains the seeds of things I liked in Crash and builds on the skill honed through writing short fiction.
He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realisation; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinthe and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike. The more his mother preached a more than Puritan abstinence the more did his father expand into a more than pagan latitude; and by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism.-loc536 of 2666