Book Reviews Guest Dare

Guest Dare: STARDOC by S. L. Viehl

Welcome to guest dare! For those new to the feature, our Guest Dare is a monthly endeavor in which we invite an unsuspecting victim to read a book totally outside of their comfort zone. You can read all previous Dare posts HERE.

This month’s daree is Abigail from the blog All Things Urban Fantasy . A few weeks ago she wrote a post about her favourite feature from other bloggers (well worth checking, by the way) and wouldn’t you know…our very own Guest Dare was one of them. It was too good an opportunity to pass, and dare her we did. Upon learning about her Sci-Fi phobia, we dared her to read the Sci Fi novel Stardoc.

Title: Stardoc

Author: S. L. Viehl

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Roc
Publication Date: January 2000
Paperback: 400 pages

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…


Stand alone or series: First in the Stardoc series (7 books total)

Why did we RECOMMEND this book: Thea read and really enjoyed Stardoc. It is in fact, one of our first reviews ever (#11, back when we counted our reviews)

Abigail’s Review:

I think I’ve read two—count them two—science fiction novels in my entire life: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card which my older brother relentlessly bullied me into trying (yes, it was good) and The Host by Stephenie Meyer because it was touted as science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction (again, it was good). But despite actually liking those two and really liking Sci-Fi TV and movies, I’ve avoided this genre in books like I avoid taking showers with my hairdryer. Enter the nefarious duo known as Ana and Thea aka The Book Smugglers.

They pounced on my Sci-Fi phobia and gave me a list of Sci-Fi books to choose from for this Guest Dare including Stardoc by S. L. Viehl. I’d read all of Viehl’s romances written under the name Gena Hale (think classic Linda Howard) and was told there was some romance in Stardoc so I thought it would be the least painful. Sadly I think this will be my first and last Viehl book.

Nearly the first half of Stardoc was everything I was dreading about reading science fiction: unpronounceable names, complicated technical jargon, endless pages describing alien life forms and other world topography. My eyes started crossing by the third chapter and I knew I was in for a long, and painful read. I may have been overly pessimistic at that point, because the second half was significantly better.

The story follows young Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil as she seizes an opportunity to escape her controlling father by fleeing to the planet Kevarzanga Two (K-2) where humans are the minority and hundreds of different alien species have migrated. Despite having no experience treating nonhumaniods, she accepts a position at the FreeClinic and quickly makes enemies with several of her new neighbors and colleagues. Yet, through determination and a big plot development, she becomes instrumental in battling a threat that could potentially end all life on K-2.

Because science fiction is often so bizarre and complicated, emotional depth and character connections often take a backseat to world building. his is definitely true in Stardoc. There was so much attention given to describing, for example, nurse T’Nliqinara, a massive preying mantis type alien, or the extensive Colonial Charter rules. And of course all the little annoying substitutions like ‘rotation’ instead of ‘day’. The only character I really empathized with, at least initially, was Alunthri, a Chakara (a giant, talking alien kitty cat) who is kept as a slave/pet by one of Cherijo’s neighbors.

Despite my admitted prejudice for this genre, and those shortcoming particular to Stardoc, it was an almost completely Sci-Fi free scene that bothered me the most. I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible here and just say that a character is essentially abducted by another character and raped. The victim is very clear throughout the assault that this in not consensual by pleading and begging the attacker to “Stop it!” and “You can’t, [name]. Don’t do this.” And yet, the author writes the betrayal of the victim’s own body halfway through the assault and shows the victim actually taking pleasure from it: “Small sounds of shock and involuntary pleasure spilled from my lips.” The rape scene is fairly graphic and goes on for several pages. I just can’t stomach the notion that somehow the victim really wanted to be raped and ultimately enjoyed it on a primal level. The victim called it rape during and after and I wish the author hadn’t tried to muddy the issue.

The halfway point, after the majority of the would building had been established, the main plot kicked in (think alien Outbreak) and the promised romance developed for Cherijo. The story moved along quickly and finally created some curiosity on my part as to how it would all end (not exactly a cliffhanger, but abruptly enough that I downloaded a sample of the next Stardoc novel to my Kindle). If your Sci-Fi phobic like me, Stardoc probably isn’t going to win you over to the genre. The best parts are like Grey’s Anatomy meets Star Trek, but there is a lot of heavy lifting to be done to get to those parts. I’ll probably venture out into this genre again in the future because I can see the appeal of the total otherness of these stories, but it won’t be with this series.

Thank you Abigail, and we are sorry the book didn’t work for you!

Next on the Guest Dare: We take a break from daring others and go back to daring EACH OTHER! Ana dares Thea to read a contemporary YA novel (probably a Jaclyn Moriarty one) and Thea dares Ana to read a Scifi novel (probably Ender’s Game) .

IT IS THE CLASH OF THE SMUGGLERS FOLKS! Stay tuned.

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15 Comments

  • willaful
    September 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I haven’t read this book, so I don’t know the author’s intent. (Well, actually, even if I had read it I wouldn’t know the author’s intent!) But anyway — it is not unknown for people who are raped have orgasm. Here’s a web page I just googled: http://hubpages.com/hub/OrgasmDuringRape

    Perhaps Viehl was trying to make a comment on the fact that even a person experiences pleasure during a rape, that does not make it any less a rape. (A fact which sometimes gets extremely cloudy in both romance novels and in SF.)

    I’m curious to read the entire scene now and see what my take on it is.

  • Abigail [All Things Urban Fantasy]
    September 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Thanks so much for having me. Stardoc may not have made me a sci-fi convert, but I did enjoy get pushed out of my paranormal comfort zone.

    And I hope you like Ender’s Game, Ana. I’ll be looking forward to your upcoming dare 🙂

  • Abigail [All Things Urban Fantasy]
    September 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Willaful – I’d never heard of that before, but based on the article you linked, it does seem to be more common than people realize. I wonder if that occurs more often in date rape situations as opposed to random assaults by complete strangers…?
    I do think that the author could have handled the rape scene in STARDOC differently if she was simply intending to shed light on this reaction. But I can’t help but think that, mitigating circumstances aside, that the whole scene ended up much too gray. I’d hate to think that a rape victim would read this scene and start to question that what happened to them wasn’t really a rape if it brought about a pleasurable response in some way.

    Has anyone else read this book? Am I way out in left field here?

  • Kayla
    September 22, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    This sounds uncomfortably similar to the forced seduction scenarios seen in some romance novels, where rape is portrayed as not-rape and the reader is left with the impression that the heroine wanted it despite her protests. I’m a fan of Lynn Viehl, another pseudonym for S.L. Viehl, so to find rape and the perpetuation of rape culture in one of her books is saddening. Thank you for this post.

    re: comments: While it is possible to experience physical pleasure during a rape, that pleasure does not justify unwanted sexual contact, and it should not be used to overshadow what actually happened. (No one said it should, but I wanted to be clear.)

    I should state up front that I haven’t read the book, but it sounds like–from Abigail’s analysis–that if the author did intend this as an attempt to shed light on rape, then their intentions did not align with the results, and the results are what matter. Even something intended to be positive can create confusion or cause hurt, especially if it’s a sensitive subject already clouded by misconception and societal bias. That said, while I would like to believe that this scene was intended to shed light on an admittedly complicated issue, rape culture permeates our society and our books to the point where in this particular case I am not so optimistic.

  • Maischeph
    September 22, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    I enjoyed this review! I can sympathize, as I feel the same way about sci fi as Abigail. It’s just too bad that the venture out into another genre didn’t turn out to be especially pleasant!

    I was going to mention the same thing about physical pleasure/rape, but I see others have already. It sounds like the scene must have been mishandled, because I feel if it was intended to spread awareness of what actual rape can be like, then the victim probably should experience further horror about her (or his) body betraying her (him). If it had been written that way (or was it?) it probably would have been that much more difficult to read.

  • Shaunesay
    September 22, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I really liked StarDoc, and Ender’s Game as well! I never really considered myself a Sci-Fi person (though I was never against it, just more fantasy), but have since found a few that I really do like. Good for you Abigail for giving it a try, even if it didn’t make you a convert! 😉

  • Thea
    September 22, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks for the comments, and to Abigail for taking on Stardoc! Although it is a shame this one didn’t work for you.

    RE: the rape scene – I’m glad that someone has pointed out the uncomfortable truth that there is the possibility of orgasm during rape. It happens. Does that mean it wasn’t a rape? Certainly NOT. I think that in Stardoc (I read this book a while back) that Cherijo is adamant about calling herself a victim both before and after the rape, acknowledging that it was in fact rape. I don’t think this was a case of rape culture pervading the subtext – if anything, Cherijo, as a physician, is very conscious of this. FWIW. (Although my memory IS foggy and I don’t have the book with me to check, so take with a huge spoonful of salt)

  • Kayla
    September 22, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    re: Thea

    If that is the case, then that certainly changes the context. I think I’m going to read the book for myself sometime in the next few weeks; I’ll be sure to check back here again once I do.

  • LLL Reviews
    September 22, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Very interesting review. I am always on the lookout for scifi titles that are more on the mild scifi and heavy on the other elements.

    As for the first comment in regards to the rape scene I’ve actually read a similar article and am loosely familiar with it. But i agree that it would be very hard to stomach.

    =) I love the feature!

  • Rebecca @ Dirty Sexy Books
    September 23, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Hi Abigail,
    Oh bummer, this sounded like the wrong book to foist on someone who isn’t sure if they like sci-fi in the first place. A rape scene!?! That’s a big turnoff for so many readers under any circumstances, so that doesn’t make it a good rec for a skittish reader in an unfamiliar genre. I hope you won’t let this scare you off sci-fi for life though. There are so many wonderful stories out there…

  • Thea
    September 23, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Rebecca – Just to clarify, we give each guest victim on the dare a CHOICE of books. For Abigail, we gave her a range of SciFi titles including Stardoc because it is much “softer” SF (less about astrophysics or space opera, more romance oriented without being straightup SFR). Ana and I aren’t sitting in some tower maniacally trying to foist the most uncomfortable choices on our dare-ees.

    And, as always, the dare-ee has the choice to pick their own book should they not like our suggestions.

    But yes, I do agree with you that there are MANY other wonderful stories out there in the science fiction genre. It’s unfortunate that this one didn’t work out for Abigail, but I’m glad she gave it a shot!

  • Abigail [All Things Urban Fantasy]
    September 23, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I definitely plan to try more Sci-Fi in the future. And I have liked Viehl in her other incarnations & will likely continue to read her books, though probably not this series. I did recently pick up a copy of Ann Aguirre’s GRIMSPACE, which I’ve heard really good reviews of by other non-scifi fans.

    Ana & Thea, you were great about giving me several titles to choose from:

    The Inferior by Peadar O’Guilin (YAish, fast paced, low-tech SF)
    The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (just because it’s seminal )
    Stardoc by S.L. Viehl (it’s like…E.R. meets Star Trek hahahaha which means, physics do not apply. BUT there is romance)
    Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (vorkosigan books, but with cordelia as the protagonist. also easy to read, science makes sense, great characters) – (also, free online!)
    Raft by Stephen Baxter (because that’s Thea new author crush)

    I did enjoy aspects of STARDOC and I can see the appeal for Sci-Fi fans. It just wasn’t for me, but like I said, I’m still glad I tried it. If anything, my usual vamps & weres will be all the more appealing by comparison 🙂

  • MaryK
    September 23, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Oh, you should absolutely read Cordelia’s Honor. It’s basically a Romance novel set in space. 8)

  • Mrs. DeRaps
    September 24, 2010 at 4:19 am

    This is such a great idea…I know that I sometimes push myself out of my comfort zone and find it to be a pleasurable experience. Sometimes it’s not. But it’s still okay.

  • willaful
    September 28, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I got the book from the library and read just the rape scene. I have to agree with you, Abigail… the actual intent of the scene seems very unclear to me.

    *SPOILER*

    From what I gather, the rapist is possessed in some way and not acting of his own violition, so perhaps that’s intended to make it make sense or make it okay. But the whole thing is inconsistent and confusing.

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