I took 3 novels with me this summer: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden, Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (which is available online here) and Stardoc by S.L. Viehl.
The Gods of War is the last in the Emperor series. Although I liked the first book, I had some difficulties taking myself through the other books. They were obviously interesting enough for me to buy all of them, but I don't feel too enthusiastic about them. More battles, more victories... I'm relieved Brutus and the senate put an end to this.
Agent to the Stars is a book I recommend. It has every ingredient I like: It's funny, believable and touches (briefly) some classical themes in science-fiction, such as the essence of sentience and consciousness.
Stardoc, by S.L. Viehl is the opposite. OK, I'll concede it sometimes is funny, but without the insight on the human being and its social life "Agent to the Stars" has. Furthermore, it's excessively unrealistic. I can't really criticize the book without summarizing the story, so here it goes.
Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil is a genetically-enhanced super doctor who runs away from her father to the other side of the galaxy. She lands on a luxurious planet where she fulfills her duty as a doctor in a small colony. This takes a lot of her time, and it shows in the story. The reader never really gets to know much about the planet and the dangers the colony faces. That's a shame, really, seeing how Viehl (whose name is suspiciously very similar to the main character's) describes the planet as beautiful and mysterious, both inviting and menacing at the same time. Instead, we get to follow Cherijo's daily routine, how little modesty her cat has, and how she falls in love with the first tall guy she meets. She even marries the guy, who conveniently promptly dies, leaving the door open for more romantic adventures (some of which are disturbing, see below).
Somehow, she manages to be the center of conflict threatening to take galactic proportions, barely escapes the planet on a starship operated by her deceased husband's family, and goes on to further adventures I won't follow.
The number one hard-to-swallow ingredient in the book is the power of her father. He is some sort of mad evil doctor who illegally engineered the perfect doctor. To Viehl's credit, the reader is spared yet another perfect genetically-enhanced warrior. Understandably, the father is upset at his creature's run for freedom. Somehow, he manages to bring the entire federation's military might into the chase. In the process, a pact with a powerful alien race is broken. What gives him that kind of decision power is left to the reader to imagine.
Other surprising events include the accusation brought against the main character. As a genetically-engineered creature, she is considered non-sentient, and she must return to her owner. The obvious flaw here is that creating and modifying human beings is considered unethical precisely because all humans are considered sentient. The accusation is totally absurd, and that a tribunal would judge in favor of Dr. Frankenstein is unbelievable.
I could go on for long, but I'll keep myself to just one more mystery. During her time as a doctor on K-2, Cherijo is faced with an epidemic caused by a sentient collective formed of virus-like individuals. These individuals were ingested by mistake by a colonist during a field trip, and they try all they can to return to their natural habitat. OK so far. Things get wrong when they take control over Duncan Reever, one of the characters. Under their control, Duncan Reever rapes Cherijo, an act described in bizarrely erotic terms. That scene will remain for ever in my memory as one of the most disturbing I've read. The goal with the rape (other than getting readers feel guilty about their reactions to the rape's description) was to transmit the infecting aliens to Cherijo, at which point they would get her to take a trip back to the forest and return the virus-like aliens to their home. Now, can anyone explain to me why they don't just get Duncan to walk back to the forest? What's the frigging' point with the rape?
Enough about this book now, but if you too made the mistake of reading this book and you are regretting it, you may feel better after reading these inspired reviews.