I’m re-reading Cyteen by CJ Cherryh. I’m sure I talked about it before, but just to reiterate – it’s the book that basically cemented my own writing style. I read Cyteen when I was 19 and finished the whole trilogy in a week (read about 100 pages a day; I was enthralled). It made me go “wow I didn’t know there are English sci-fi books that are like this!” English because there are many, many Chinese books like this, although not sci-fi, where it’s sort of an ensemble cast and it’s a giant web of deceit and personal relationships. (This was back in early 2000s, long before Game of Thrones was a mainstream thing.) Anyway, I’ve decided to re-read it, see if it holds up now I’m no longer a wide-eyed teenager being exposed to new things. It…does and doesn’t at the same time?
It doesn’t because I’ve matured as a writer, so I can recognize pacing issues, and that the dialogue is a bit repetitive, and how her prose is kind of bland and succinct. Now nothing wrong with succinct prose – hell I should learn some of that for myself, god knows how long-winded I can be – but the story is so long and complicated that the oversimplified descriptions doesn’t really keep me engaged. Her books are not action-oriented tales, so a lot of the conflict is psychological and internal. It’s boring to keep reading “they can’t trust anyone” over and over expressed in similar ways, you know? Some parts drag on too long in the worst way. Those aren’t boring, nope, those are anxiety-inducing and panicky. You feel like you’re just pacing around in circles, pumped full of fear, and it doesn’t end. I mean, I guess the writing succeeds in that you feel the full extend of panic, but it’s just so draining. You can read how this character is panicking and the relief doesn’t come for another 100 pages. So by page 80 you’re like okay enough is enough I can’t take this constant anxiety time to skip ahead good lord. Unlike Downbelow Station, which is just as anxiety inducing but moves at a good pace so it actually keeps you super engaged, Cyteen just makes you want to put the book down and never pick it up back again without taking some Xanax.
I’m only halfway through right now, butI think I finished all the parts I remember from before (the brilliant parts). Apparently all the interesting stuff happened in the first third, which I guess is the first book (it’s an omnibus). I feel like the first benefited from setting up the world and the people, so you are naturally interested because they’re so alien and unfamiliar. And the people themselves are quite fascinating. But by book 2 and 3 she should’ve stopped setting up, so to speak, and get more plot points in, but they don’t. Well, I don’t know what the 3rd book does because I’m not there yet, but book 2 is definitely sloggy. Now I just want to move on so I can read the actual sequel Regenesis. That desire prompted the trip through the Union side of the Alliance-Union universe in the first place.
(Watch this bite me in the butt when I write my own trilogy, and all the readers’d ever remember is the first one. I’m crossing my fingers that this won’t be the case.)