Author: S.L. Viehl
Review Number: 11
Genre: Science Fiction
Stand alone or series: First in the Stardoc series (7 books total, with more in the works)
Summary: (from us.penguingroup.com)
Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil leaves Earth and accepts a position as a physician at Kevarzanga-2’s FreeClinic. Her surgical skills are desperately needed on a hostile frontier world with over 200 sentient species–and her understanding of alien physiology is nothing short of miraculous. But the truth behind her expertise is a secret which, if discovered, could have disastrous consequences between human and alien relations…
Why did I read the book: It had pretty solid reviews all around, and when I chanced upon it in my local bookstore, I decided to give it a shot.
This is one of those books you finish, and immediately haul your ass back to the bookstore to find volume 2 (and 3, and so on). I absolutely loved this book.
Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil is a brilliant, talented human surgeon. The story begins with her scouring the city slums for a pilot that will get her off Terra (Earth)—she is running from something, although the audience doesn’t know quite what it is she’s running from yet. Kind of reminiscent of A New Hope, Cherijo searches bars and taverns for a shuttle that will take her where she wants to go, and won’t ask questions. She finds her own personal Han Solo (minus the good looks) in an off-worlder pilot named Dhreen, who has his own bucket of bolts to fly her out to Kevarzanga-2 (aka K2), where she has put in for a position as a doctor in the colony’s free clinic. Cherijo arrives at the K2 clinic and thinks she has finally escaped the oppressive shadow of her father, Dr. Joseph Grey Veil. Unfortunately, things are never that easy. Immediately, Cherijo is at a disadvantage on K2—Terrans (humans) only make up less than 1% of the population, and she has never operated on nor studied non-Terran beings before. In an understaffed hospital filled with aliens of all sorts, this is problematic. Cherijo rises to the myriad challenges presented before her, and while she does make mistakes, she does her job with flair and a cool confidence. Along the way she has to deal with her nasty father trying to bring her home, coming to grips with a dark secret about her past, co-workers that despise and try to sabotage her, hostage crises, an epidemic of a deadly contagion that has no known origin or cure, and falling in love.
Think of it as House meets Star Trek meets Gattaca meets General Hospital.
In an insanely addictive, GOOD way.
Cherijo is a pretty cool chick. She’s smart and completely dedicated to her job. She’s a hothead and bossy and domineering, but she also is sensitive and frankly naïve. And the poor girl goes through a LOT. The strongest part of this book to me was in Ms. Viehl’s detailed and (I’m assuming) accurate medical practice descriptions. Faced with alien anatomy, communication problems and information gaps, Cherijo methodically goes about using common sense and her own Terran medical knowledge to operate on her patients. When the deadly outbreak of unknown origins grips K2 and threatens to wipe out the entire population, Cherijo’s feelings of pained guilt and desperation to find a cure are touching—I was on the edge of my seat, willing her to figure it out.
Ms. Viehl does a wonderful job of creating a large scale story with multiple characters and interwoven plotlines, and still manages to give everything good depth and complexity. Having now read books 2 and 3, I can assure you that even the smallest, most off-hand encounters have major repercussions in the future. It’s really quite impressive.
For you romance junkies out there, this book has a touching, tragic love story. Cherijo falls in love with a Jorenian (a tall, blue, sexy alien) named Kao Torin—a species that mates for life. At the same time, oddball Terran (and psychic) translator Duncan Reever won’t leave Cherijo alone, and they form a kind of love-hate relationship. I don’t want to spoil anyone, so I will leave it barebones like this. I know, I’m a shameless tease. (Psst, romance fans—there is sex!)
A word on the “science”—this isn’t hard science fiction. It plays fast and loose with rules, and the book takes a lot of liberties and happy coincidences concerning alien species. Interstellar travel isn’t really explained in any detail (there’s some vague notions about molecules being separated, and then restructured—not all unlike the Starship Enterprise’s transporter beams), all the aliens breathe the same air that humans do, eat similar foods, have appendages or evolutionary traits that they really don’t need (besides the fact that they look cool) …but I don’t hold this against Ms. Viehl. On the contrary, this book is more along the lines of Star Trek or Star Wars—favoring the story over any scientific technicalities. While hard science fiction is fun (albeit somewhat exhausting to read—see Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos), Stardoc also manages to satisfy without all the jargon and particle physics. Good old fashioned “that could never REALLY happen but who cares I like it anyways” fun.
Notable quotes/parts: One of my favorite parts of the book is when Cherijo is held at shotgun and forced to deliver Hsktskt babies. The Hsktskt are reptilian, mercenary aliens that are merciless and deadly—and they don’t live on K2. Since there is little data on the species, the translating devices that everyone wears on the planet can’t pick up what the Hsktskt want; and naturally everyone is in a panic because the larger mercenary is pointing a gun at everyone, dragging along his comrade that is obviously in pain. Cherijo, with her no-nonsense approach to saving her patients faces down the barrel of the shotgun, tells the angry Hsktskt to back off, and figures out that the smaller alien is in labor…and then proceeds to deliver a number of lizard-like babies (which are deadly at birth too, to complicate matters further). It’s a pretty cool chapter.
Additional Thoughts: While the book might start out feeling like a more light-hearted romp into space, I should probably forewarn you that this is not really accurate. There is pain in this book, and Cherijo goes through a lot. A LOT. I was nearly in tears at the end. There is one scene in particular that seemingly comes out of nowhere and feels icky…but please trust me when I say everything happens for a reason. One thing I really appreciated about this book (and moreso in book 2) is how difficult emotions can be, and I like it when authors aren’t afraid to complicate things.
I feel like Yoda. That paragraph is ridiculously cryptic, but I don’t want to spoil anyone. See, you shall, after reading the book.
Verdict: Definitely a keeper. Buy it! I am loving the saga, and can’t wait to check out Ms. Viehl’s other work.
Rating: 7 Very Good
Reading next: Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce