Viehl is an excellent writer. She creates real worlds, and real characters. Having moved into a new culture to be a teacher, a culture composed of at least 8 different cultures, all evolving rapidly, I easily identified with the primary character, Cherijo, as she pursues a professional career on a new planet, teeming with some 200 different species and cultures. Trying to serve the medical needs of 70,000 beings, ranging in size from a snail to a wooly mammoth, is an incredible challenge. This challenge takes what could be a somewhat boring premise- a novel about medical practice in the future- and turns it into a roller-coaster ride of a book, difficult to put down. Then Viehl adds in a number of suprises, up to the very end, as you try to discover just who Cherijo really is.
I write of the characters as they are human, because Viehl does such a good job of creating her characters. Science Fiction is sometimes accused of being technology driven- you slap a few people (or species) into a standard plot, throw in a few gimmicks, and you get instafiction. But all good science fiction has been character driven- with just a few things changed to help us understand one possible future, and our possible present. Viehl does this excellently, helping us undersand what it means to be human. And in a genre that often downplays the role of women and minorities, Viehl is to be commended for highlighting both- I don't read much science fiction where the hero is a female Native American.