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S.L. Viehl
Roc Books, 394 pages

S.L. Viehl
S.L. Viehl was raised and educated in south Florida, where she now lives with her husband and two children. A U.S.A.F. veteran, her medical experience was gained in both military and civilian trauma centres. Stardoc is her first novel.

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A review by Victoria Strauss

Space opera and medical melodrama mix with a dash of romance in this engaging novel by debut author S.L. Viehl.

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.

Copyright © 2000 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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