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S.L. Viehl
Roc Books, 407 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. She has written two other novels in the Stardoc series: Stardoc and Beyond Varallan.

S.L. Viehl Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Stardoc

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

S.L. Viehl's popular Stardoc series continues in this third installment.

In the cliffhanger ending of the previous book, genetic construct Dr. Cherijo Torin betrayed the fleet of the Allied League of Worlds (which was sent to capture her by her creator, Joseph Gray Veil, who will stop at nothing to get his ultimate test subject back) into the hands of the brutal Hsktskt Faction, in order to save her adopted homeworld of Joren. But she was betrayed in return, by her husband, telepath Duncan Reever, who turned out to be in league with the Hsktskt. Now Cherijo is a Hsktskt slave -- worse, she's Reever's slave. Along with the remains of the League strike force, she's en route to Catopsa, the Hsktskt slave depot, where they're all to be sold.

The militaristic Hsktskt, who don't waste resources, recognize Cherijo's surgical skills, and put her in charge of the ship's medical unit. It's a tough job, made even tougher by the hatred of her fellow slaves, Reever's attempts to dominate her, and the callous brutality of her captors, at least one of whom has conceived a psychotic hatred for her. Things don't get any easier on Catopsa, where a mysterious alien freedom fighter, a sadistic Hsktskt medical researcher, and some very peculiar alien lifeforms are added to the mix. Through it all Cherijo struggles to remain impartial and fulfill her mission as a surgeon -- and, if she can, save her fellow captives from the Hsktskt.

Viehl starts the action off with a bang, and doesn't let up for the entire length of the book. Plot twists abound, and there's plenty of the interesting medical detail and inventively differentiated alien species that readers of the series have come to expect. The novel's title is apt, for Cherijo must withstand a lot of abuse over the course of the story, including multiple attempts on her life and some pretty gruesome torture from her Hsktskt captors -- all of which she survives handily, thanks in part to her indomitable feistiness, but also to the artificial immune system engineered by her creator.

Unfortunately, at this point, the novelty of the series has begun to pall. Stardoc was fresh, amusing, and touching, but three books on, the basic formula hasn't changed -- and it's starting to feel repetitive. Cherijo, nicely nuanced in the first book, has become a one-note character, smart-mouthed and defiant even in situations where it's stupid for her to behave that way, so superhumanly resistant to adversity, both physical and mental, that the life-or-death crises in which she constantly finds herself don't produce any real suspense. Many of the dizzying plot reversals have an arbitrary feel, and the Scarlet Pimpernel-style ending simply isn't well-enough anchored within the narrative to make dramatic sense. As for Cherijo's relationship to Reever, which is supposed to be the romantic centre of the novel, it makes no sense at all.

Nevertheless, established fans of the series will most likely enjoy Endurance, and look forward to the fourth volume, Shockball, due in November 2001.

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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