Regenesis - C.J. Cherryh Regenesis – 2.5-6 stars.

Two words: too long.

At least for me. Let’s step back and provide a little background: I like C.J. Cherryh. The first book of hers I read was Downbelow Station and it blew me away. On my list of favorite SF novels, at least four Cherryhs would make the cut: Downbelow Station, The Pride of Chanur (et al.), Gate of Ivrel (et al.), and Paladin. But she and I don’t always connect. With the exception of Morgaine and Vanye, I’ve never found her fantasy all that compelling. I managed to get through the first two Foreigner novels before I gave up on them. And the rest of her works are hit-or-miss affairs: Serpent’s Reach, pretty good; Cuckoo’s Egg, not so good.

Chiefly, there are two reasons I continue to return to Cherryh even though I don’t always enjoy a particular novel. The first is that when she creates a character that resonates with me, it’s a powerful resonance. Cases in point are Norway’s captain Signy Mallory from Downbelow (Sigourney Weaver would be perfect in the movie version), Pyanfar Chanur from Pride, Morgaine and Vanye from Ivrel, or Taizu and Saukendar from Paladin. The second reason is the believably complex worlds and people she creates for all of her work. Union/Alliance is one of the best future histories out there, and the various worlds Morgaine finds herself in are satisfyingly fleshed out. A strength of the Chanur novels is the truly alien motivations of the disparate races of the Compact (especially the kif). One of the current novel’s particular strengths is how the psychology of the Union’s azi impacts the course of the novel; major events revolve around how they react differently from born-men. And, while it doesn’t always work, I generally like Cherryh’s clipped, rat-a-tat prose style.

So what’s “wrong” with Regenesis?

First: I didn’t respond to any of the characters. It was a problem with the first book, Cyteen. I didn’t find Ariane Emory, in either of her incarnations, a particularly interesting person. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen the type before and Cherryh hasn’t been able to differentiate her enough for me. The other main character in this book, Justin Warrick, is fairly colorless and unmemorable and his storyline never went anywhere for me. Consequently, there were long stretches in the novel that dragged (it’s never a good sign when you keep leafing ahead to see where the current chapter ends). There’s little character development. Both Ari’s and Justin’s motivations and personalities were well established in Cyteen, and there’s little compensation in terms of plot or danger in their lives, or in simple, straight-out action. What narrative there is takes place in the characters’ heads or on a computer screen. Things only pick up in the last 100-150 pages.

Second: In Regenesis, Cherryh is inordinately fascinated with the minutiae of political intrigue, or the domesticities of setting up a household staff. It is a truism of creative-writing classes that it’s better to show than to tell but there’s a balance to be maintained and sometimes it is just better to tell us that something’s happened – like describing in excruciating detail the ins and outs of tracking down the conspiracy that killed the original Ariane. I’m reminded here of Glen Cook who also writes about political intrigues and the complex machinations of the powerful. He usually pulls off similar things with much more economy – he gives you enough info to grasp the “what” and “how” but not so much that it’s like watching a videotape of a police investigation without a fast-forward option. (And it’s a skill Cherryh’s capable of; witness Downbelow Station or the Chanur series for Cherryh at her best.)

As a result, it takes far too long (400 pages) to get to a point where the plot starts moving. If this were my first Cherryh novel, I might have given up around page 200. I seriously contemplated it.

When it does get moving, though, Cherryh’s strengths as a writer shine through, the pace is brisk and all the pieces fall together.

If you’re a Cherryh fan, you’ll probably enjoy it well enough; I did. If you liked Cyteen more than I did, you’ll probably enjoy Regenesis just as much (and more than I could). If you’re considering this as your first Cherryh novel, I’d reconsider. Start with one of the four books I’ve mentioned above.