This is a space opera -style science fiction complete with many, many sentient alien species and romance between members of different species. If I’d found this book when I was in my teens, I probably would have loved it. Alas, today it’s not quite to my tastes.
Cherijo Grey Veil is a human doctor who has been born and raised on Earth which has forbidden entry to almost all aliens. The exceptions are pilots which are needed for trade with other planets and species. Her tyrannical father, and only parent, is a respected doctor who sent Cherijo to medical school and later set up her own practice.
Cherijo has found out something horrible about her father and has decided in essence to run away. She has volunteered to work for FreeClinic on a faraway planet habited by aliens. She packs her bags and her cat, finds a shuttle which leaves Earth quickly and soon lands on Kevarzangia Two. The place is a real culture shock to the young doctor who has never before met a real alien. She makes a few enemies and a few friends, and goes straight to work.
Apparently, all sentients are very much alike inside because Cherijo doesn’t need any special training. Instead she can start immediately operating on dozens of different aliens. Some are insect-like and some are reptilians. Some look like slugs.
Cherijo has to also battle prejudices both in aliens who don’t like or trust humans and in humans who think that other sentient beings shouldn’t be allowed to live. She starts to build friendships with some of the nurses and other doctors and especially with one handsome, blue-skinned male alien. Unfortunately, her boss hates her from the very start and she managed to insult one of the other doctors who starts to hate Cherijo and does his best to make her life miserable. Then there’s also a tall, dark Chief Linguist who seems to be unnervingly interested in Cherijo. In fact, the Linguist has strong telepathic abilities and has decided to use them on Cherijo, whether she wants to or not.
The setting is very much reminiscent of Star Trek and Star Wars and if you just want a fun romp in such a world, the book is quite enjoyable. I did have a few quibbles, though.
First off, it was absolutely wonderful to have a setting which had automatic translator devices and yet also had linguists. I though that finally someone realized that even if you have a language bank that had “perfect translations” of words in different languages (you know, languages where words don’t have different meanings based on the context, jargon, social setting, tone…) languages do change over time and so you’d have to have a horde of linguists frantically reprogramming the new and shifted words and meanings into the master translator program. But no! The Chief Linguist is there to just program the new languages into the main frame…
Secondly, I was a bit dubious of the idea that if you have studied human physiology, you could treat any and all species with just minor adjustments. Apparently, even the slugs are warm-blooded mammals…
Thirdly, I feel a bit put down by the fact that the aliens are just rather conservative Western humans in funny masks. There isn’t even one atheist among them.
Some laws were very peculiar. For instance, there are some quite powerful telepathic characters but apparently there aren’t any laws about when and on whom you can use the powers. There are some apparently quite stringent criteria on who does and who doesn’t merit being called a sentient with full rights. A few of them were told in the book and I found them to be quite weird because they have been clearly designed to keep slaves species slaves without a possibility of being declared sentient.
Lastly, the books had unfortunately one apparently long enduring genre romance triangle: a woman has to choose between a handsome, understanding, loving man and brooding, moping, violent asshole.
Cherijo herself is willful, abrasive, opinionated but also open to new experiences and people. She’s no victim or wilting flower despite the fact that all her life she has done what her father tells her and hasn’t even formed friendships with her fellow students. But here, in the frontier, she quickly grows a back bone and is very capable of looking after herself.
The ending wasn’t a cliffhanger but quite open.