S.L. Viehl,
Eternity Row
(Roc, 2002)

Eternity Row is a horrible place.

It's a relief that most of S.L.Viehl's novel is spent on the much more pleasant starship Sunlace, with Dr. Cherijo Torin and her assorted inhuman crew.

Though Eternity Row is only part of a series, Stardoc, it never feels incomplete. A new reader can join the ship without being confused and an old reader won't be annoyed at the brief reminiscences. The interaction among the ship's crew, human or otherwise, feels just right for people of different cultures and worlds who have still spent most of their time in close proximity to each other. Only the descriptions of the aliens leave something to be desired, and it can be confusing for the reader when a new species arrives and, with no warning, begins using more limbs than could be expected. I kept wishing that Viehl had seen fit to include a quick description of common races in an appendix somewhere.

Cherijo is wonderfully sympathetic. The alien behaviors that confuse and frustrate her leave the reader just as bewildered; her relationship with her husband Duncan is as sweet, frustrating and fragile as any real marriage. The only flaw with this well-rounded character is that she seems a little too well-adjusted. Her past life is only given a faint outline in Eternity Row, but that outline is horrible enough. It seems strange that a woman who spent her earliest years in such a disturbing environment should so quickly become a healthy, sane, friendly adult.

Perhaps that mental health can be attributed to Cherijo's daughter. Marel is a wonderful addition to the crew. A sweet child any parent would want, she adds a depth to Cherijo, and to the behavior of the entire ship's crew, that is often lacking in the too-sterile words of science fiction.

But Eternity Row is about life, and Marel is just a small part of that exploration. Cherijo spends the story caught in a struggle between two seemingly unrelated races, one dying too soon, the other living well but given their own special curse. That curse is the horrible Eternity Row, where Viehl creates one of the most awful scenes in science fiction without going over the top, and gives Cherijo a chance to prove her bravery in a strannge and painful way.

The ending gives at least a casual nod to the science of the novel. Like Cherijo, it seems to heal up too quickly, and without the lingering pain such a tense story should provide. The curse of the series novel is upon Eternity Row -- several plot threads hang dancing in the breeze as the adventure slows for moment. Here this promise of future tales is a relief instead of an annoyance. Eternity may not always be a good thing, but I hope Cherijo's adventures have a good long run.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 11 January 2003

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