Well, this novel certainly was surprising. Like _Downbelow Station_, the previous book I read by CJ Cherryh, this one starts with a vulnerable young man being sexually tortured by a 100+ year old harridan with immense political/military power. Ok, I thought, apparently that is Cherryh's thing. Kind of an odd authorial fingerprint, but hey, the 60's were kind of crazy. But then other oddities started to mount up. Tons of yaoi theming? Detailed and believable psychological modeling? Wait a minute... CJ Cherryh is a woman! And its true, wikipedia confirmed it. Solving that mystery, and the other mysteries in the text, made the first 250 pages of this book a 5-star delight.
This enjoyable first half of the novel is basically Dollhouse done right. It covers a political intrigue in the Union, a group of separatist planets which relied on birth tanks and automated psychological programming to supply soldiers for their war of independence. Now that the war is over, these programmed people ("azi") are the back bone of their society, and Reseune Labs is where the magic all happens. The main characters are primarily scientists at the labs, and the action has to do with their intrigues as they try to bribe, threaten, blackmail, subvert, and murder each other. This is enjoyable! And while I feel Cherryh incorrectly models how some of these technologies would play out and be used, if you assume they would be employed as she says, the characterization and detail of what it would be like to live in such a world are top notch. At its best it is as if someone had written a real, honest to god literary novel in a world with mindwipes, skill-tapes, and perfectly devoted azi slaves.
And then there is the second half of the book, which at 350 pages is a very large half. Nothing new happens in this half. The same tensions/blackmail which animated the first half are endlessly rehashed. There aren't any significant plot developments, and we wade through chapters of made up psycho-science (fun game, count how many times she uses the word "flux" on a page. Note, *do not* try to make this into a drinking game). It's like she wrote the first part and then called Robert Jordan to ghost write the remainder. And finally, the whimpered ending that we've been expecting for the last 350 pages.
In summary, parents, please keep your teenagers away from Cherryh.