April 21, 2003

40,000 in Gehenna
by C.J. Cherryh

I am selective about the sci-fi I read. It's not a genre I know my way around in and I've read some that struck me as, well, just silly. But lo, my son has now grown to the age where he is reading adult fiction and spends most of his free time with his nose stuck in sci-fi novels. Robert A. Heinlein is his current passion. Plus, summer is coming and he's too young to drive which means he'll be spending long hours out here at the farm. I need to have some authors lined up to throw his way when he gets bored and we're browsing the library shelves.

And then Will talks about how good Cherryh is. I usually concur with Will. Not always; it's highly unlikely that I will ever make it thru the entire Patrick O'Brian "Jack Aubrey" series though I did give the first one a go. But usually Will is spot on. So when I saw Cyteen on the shelf at the local Large Chain Bookstore, it was a sale, right then and there.

If you want a good plot summary, go to our C.J. Cherryh page and read Will's. He nails it well. I read it in a weekend and wanted more so I stopped and picked up a few more at the used bookstore on the way home. 40,000 in Gehenna was there and I opened it thinking it would be more of the same. Wrong. Nothing like it. Initially, I was disappointed but as the book progressed, it grew on me.

Gehenna is the name of the planet where 40,000 born-men and clones are left in an experiment in sociogenesis. The clones are programmed to reproduce and farm; the born-men are there to administer the society and fulfill the upper-level functions required. And it goes wrong when sentient life is discovered in the form of huge lizard-like critters that build mounds and tunnels in swirl patterns. The book is about the evolution of the society from one that is structured by off-world standards to one that has adapted to the environment and has become viable in its own right. And then the off-planet men come back to check up on how things are going. And things start going wrong. It's a theme that's been done before. What fascinated me were the lizards, called calibans. They create the patterns in the dirt and change the way people communicate. They provide the forms that shape the society. They create the power structure in the society. I wish she had made the novel longer and fleshed it out more. Cyteen detailed everything but we only get a taste in 40,000 in Gehenna. And that taste left me wanting more.

Posted by Deb English at April 21, 2003 04:49 PM