Stardoc (SL Viehl)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The first book in a ten book series, Stardoc is split between the everyday medical practice on an alien planet and the overarching plot.  Unfortunately, the overarching plot is not very good, while the medical practice is fascinating.  The characters follow this same divide: the protagonist and her love interests are forgettable while the supporting cast, disposable characters, and even the environments are very intriguing.  Severe pacing issues arise, as we are frequently pulled out of the exciting medical practice to address some tedious plot point in the main storyline  There is some non-consensual sex in the book, so readers who are sensitive to such things should steer clear.  Overall, I have to recommend this book just based on the fact that a blend of an excellent sci-fi medical drama and an unexceptional love story/space adventure is absolutely unique — well worth experiencing once.

Greater Detail:
Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil is a brilliant surgeon with a dark secret who must flee Earth to find safety beyond her father’s reach.  She ends up practicing medicine at a free clinic on a frontier world known as K-2.  As one of only a few humans on the planet, she must set aside traditional human xenophobia to treat the vast variety of exotic residents.  When love and an imminent threat to the entire colony arise, Dr. Grey Veil must fight to save the colony and preserve her secret.

The characterization of Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil is probably the weakest point of the book and leads to the weakness of the overarching story.  She is the stereotype of a weak, poorly written female protagonist.  She has no discernible personality, and her only distinguishing characteristics are that she gets angrily violent like a small child, she is short, and she likes her cat.  She has no impetus of her own; things just happen around her and she is swept along with the tide.  This works in the sections where she only has to be a doctor, as she can be the naive outsider giving us a look into the strange and complicated world around he,r but when she is required to act in interpersonal relationships, she seems hollow and empty.  Her romantic involvements are implausible and awkward, and the sex scenes are short, but disturbing rather than stimulating

K-2 is masterfully depicted as a rough colony world that actually seems believable.  It seems like a vibrant community that actually has a purpose while still being rough enough that an understaffed hospital seems plausible.  To have a shadow of a protagonist and her equally weak romantic entanglements floating through a rich environment like this is a terrible shame.  This has to be the first time I’ve ever read something and wished that the protagonist’s grand space adventure would end so she could get back to her 9 to 5 job.  It’s clear that the book is supposed to the beginning of a long series, and perhaps the weak characters and plot are required components, but this book is definitely shortchanged in the process.  The final quarter of the book appears to be entirely composed of set up for the sequel, and this is of course damaging to the overall flow of the story.

The technology and medical terminology are quite good.  There were one or two instances where someone very familiar with actual medicine or its terminology will cringe a little, but that is to be expected in any medical drama, and, overall, great pains have been made to ensure medical authenticity.  Combined with the great amounts of imagination in the medical cases and patients, the whole medical aspect of the book is very enjoyable.

Overall, I felt the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, and I would recommend this book even with its flaws.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
Stardoc has a unique blend of elements that make it hard to recommend similar authors.

For the stranger-in-a-strange-land fascination with exposure to aliens component, I would choose Alan Dean Foster’s Lost and Found, a novel about a man abducted by aliens who must regain his freedom by collaborating with a fun melange of alien life forms.

John Scalzi’s The Last Colony provides much of the fun frontier feel and challenge of Stardoc, but it’s much more militarily oriented, and it’s a sequel to the Old Man’s War series so readers might want to read those first.

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