book cover of Stardoc
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(The first book in the Stardoc series)
A novel by

Victoria Strauss -
Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil is fed up with her life on Earth and with her cold, domineering father, Dr. Joseph Grey Veil. So she takes the first off-planet medical job she can find: a post in the Trauma FreeClinic on Kevarzangia Two, a world colonized by 200 different alien species, where human beings are definitely in the minority. She has never treated an alien in her life, but she's a talented doctor, and figures she'll wing it.

Arriving on K-2, Cherijo finds that her scant knowledge of alien medicine is only the beginning of her problems. Her boss hates her, and other colleagues are mistrustful. She runs afoul of various local customs, in part because she's too impatient to follow the rules (much as she hates her arrogant father, she has a hefty share of his physician's ego). The colony's chief linguist -- a handsome but creepy human named Reever -- has an annoying habit of trying to invade her mind with his telepathic powers. And her father, furious at her precipitous departure, is doing everything he can short of kidnapping to get her back.

Despite these difficulties, Cherijo manages to surmount medical challenges and make friends. But just as she's beginning to feel at home on K-2, a mysterious epidemic strikes the colony. Desperately, Cherijo races against time to find a cure. But there are many forces arrayed against her: the hostility of the powers that be on Earth, the fear and anger of the bewildered colonists -- and a terrible secret in her own past, which the epidemic may force her to reveal.

If you're one of those people who likes real science in your science fiction, Stardoc is probably not for you. This is SF in the Star Trek vein, with universal translators, alien races that breathe the same air and eat the same food, and some vague discussion of "molecular structure modification" to explain space travel. But if you're willing to suspend your disbelief and enter into the spirit of the thing, Stardoc is a rousing good yarn, with plenty of plot twists, inventive scene-setting, and quirky characters to keep readers thoroughly entertained. The convincing medical details (drawn from Viehl's own trauma centre experience) help to ground the more fantastic aspects of alien physiognomy so that they don't seem totally off the wall, and Cherijo's tart first-person narration gives the story a nicely sarcastic bite.

Viehl takes on some serious themes, including the extreme xenophobia of Earth, which has led to the passage of restrictive species-ist laws, and the question of what exactly makes a being sentient. But mostly Stardoc is a fun adventure story, with an appealing heroine, a lot of action, a sly sense of humour, and wonders aplenty. A sequel is scheduled for July; I'll be looking forward to it.

Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil leaves Terra in a hurry, fleeing her overbearing father and some uncomfortable revelations about her origin. Landing on Kevarzangia2, a lush, Earthlike planet, she is swept immediately into her new job as a physician. She faces plenty of challengesthe obvious dislike of her chief, Dr. Mayer, the outright animosity of Phorap Rogan, an incompetent colleague, and the fact that she must treat aliens of all descriptions when her only experience has been with humans. Overcoming all these obstacles, Cherijo manages to fall in love with the blueskinned, whiteeyed Jorenian, forestall an epidemic, tangle with a mindreading linguist, lose her lover, and create a diplomatic rift between the Jorenians and the League. Viehl's plotting is swift and skillful, and the scenes in the trauma unit are especially riveting and well written. Characterization is more problematic. Dr. Cherijo is subject to frequent, irritating tantrums; her Jorenian lover, clearly an interstellar Mr. Nice Guy, never comes to life; and her horrid father bears a definite resemblance to an updated version of Simon LeGree. Most questionable, however, is a scene in which Cherijo is raped by Duncan Reever, the linguist who is possessed by a foreign entity at the time of the attack. The implication is clear that despite the fact that this is forced, unwanted sex, the good doctor really wants it underneath all her protests. Surely a perpetuation of the "women really want it" myth is not a good thing to aim at the adolescents who will comprise the majority of the audience for this book. Despite this rather serious flaw, the book is involving, with enough solid supporting characters to maintain plot complexityandinterest. Readers of this first installment will anxiously await the promised sequel. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Penguin, Ages 16 to Adult, 394p, $6.99 pb. Reviewer: Ann Welton

Genre: Science Fiction

Praise for this book

"Don't miss this one." - Catherine Coulter

"Continuously surprising." - Anne McCaffrey

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