Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Skyward (Book 3 of 4)
Genre: Science fiction, young adult
Published: 23rd November 2021 by Gollancz (UK) and Delacorte Press (US)
No surprises, Cytonic was a superb read filled with brilliantly creative worldbuilding and compelling characterisation that I’ve always expected, and received, from Sanderson.
It all started with a novella that he wrote and submitted to a magazine way back before he was even published. That piece of work received an honourable mention at the Writers of the Future contest in 2003, and after substantial re-editing in 2008 won first place in the UPC Science Fiction Award in Spain, and was published in the Oct/Nov 2008 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. However, for the most of the past decade, most readers have only known Sanderson as a bestselling fantasy author as aside from a few short stories, he had not really written a science fiction series. That is, not until Skyward came about – and it was just as fantastic as his fantasy writing. The fact that it’s YA took away nothing from his ability to spin the most incredibly engaging stories set in the most imaginative settings.
“But… stories say something. About us, and about where we came from. They’re a reminder that we have a past, a history. And a future.”
That story which begun the science fiction marvel that we’ve been reading for the past few years, Defending Elysium, has officially been made canon with the e-book re-released as a Cytoverse novella. I’ve read that the first time right after Skyward, the first book of this YA series, and again after I finished this latest volume, Cytonic as the narrative connectivity was made even more apparent.
“Every path we walk changes us.”
As this is book three of four in the series, we’ve moved into major spoiler territory as far as plotlines are concerned. I’ll be staying away from that, of course, and as such my review will be relatively brief. Let’s just say that I’m once again in awe of Sanderson’s power of imagination. Cytonic took off immediately from the last time we saw Spensa in the sequel, Starsight, where she escaped from the Superiority to land herself into a potentially even more dangerous environment. An environment that defies the convention of physics as we know it and which may result in Spensa completing losing her sense of self and identity. There’s little that I could mention about this place except that it’s utterly unique and fascinating. The central storyline here involved Spensa’s exploration through this realm in her quest to learn of its creation and in the meantime encountered the people who’ve settled there.
“All people must accept that we have the potential to do terrible things. It is part of seeing our place in the universe, our heritage, and our nature. But in that acceptance we gain strength, for potential can be refused. Any hero who could have been a monster is more heroic for the choice he or she made to walk another road.”
What made this series such an incredible young adult narrative are themes that are so relevant for a young lady like Spensa, who’s finding and establishing her identity. She first started out as an angry teenager with a huge chip on her shoulder (understandably given the circumstances) but has since grown into a much more rounded character from one book to the next – each taking her through new and different experiences to develop her character arc in ways that never felt repetitive. The more she encountered other people who are not just the humans on Detritus, the more she learns to see and appreciate differences as well as similarities.
“Learn to accept that sometimes what you feel isn’t invalid, but that it doesn’t mean that you have to act according to those feelings either.”
I’m impressed that even though we never get to learn about these side characters in depth, somehow Sanderson manages to make me like and care about them. There’s an empathetic element in the way he draws out these multi-species interaction that highlights that the end of the day, all of them are the same in that they feel emotions, and memories are important to maintaining an identity and the connection to loved ones. These and the ability to embrace change are very significant themes in this story and it was incorporated into the narrative effortlessly. Oh, how could I forget – it’s not only multi-species we’re talking about there, because we have M-Bot, the lovable and super talkative AI who is sort of… evolving in his level of sapience.
“Among the first lessons a warrior must learn is the knowledge that his immediate enemy – the person he must kill – is just trying to survive. Soldiers are alike, no matter their side.”
A lot of questions were answered in this book, and typical of Sanderson, it also resulted in more questions asked. While it is not absolutely mandatory to read the Skyward Flight novellas, Sunreach and ReDawn, before this book, it certainly helped to more make sense of a few scenes which transpired here. In fact, the ending of Cytonic only made me even more excited to read the next novella in the series, Evershore.