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Below is a re-published old review of an even older book - Hospital Station, the first book in the extensive and entertaining Sector General series by James White.
It’s a hospital, Captain, but not as we know it…

James White – Hospital StationMeet Conway, the hero of these stories, a junior but highly qualified doctor, speciality exo-biology, working at Sector General Hospital. Or shall we say Sector General Hospital Station? Sector General is a huge, all-known-species (unknown ones always welcome) Hospital space station manned (ok, ok, staffed…) by doctors from all sentient species known. Conway has a way of attracting attention, so he finds himself frequently assigned to special or unusual cases. And not all of them are meant to be a treat…

Meet O’Mara, the Chief Staff Psychologist of Sector General. His job is to keep his staff sane (tricky, as a technical kind of schizophrenia by hosting alien personalities in one’s mind is a pre-requirement for the job), in line (tricky, with all these ETs around. They’re just not human, or at least not to our standard of what human means) and keep their heads from swelling up from thinking they’re the best (tricky. They are the best. But Conway is a specially tricky case there). O’Mara has a, ooh, reputation… most people would prefer not to be too near him and his sarcasm. Like, on the other side of the Galaxy, rather.

Meet the Monitors. They wear uniforms. They carry weapons. They are in charge of about anything. Including Sector General. And Conway doesn’t like this one iota. The monitors might see themselves as a friendly peace-keeping force. Conway sees them as Galaxy-wide oppressive force, hell-bent on destruction and killing. Cue some interesting exchanges and situations…

Meet Dr. Prilicla. He/She/It comes from a low-gravity planet, is vaguely insectoid, can walk on walls or ceilings, has a good number of legs/arms/manipulators, and is rather fragile. Oh, and Prilicla is an empath, meaning that it can reliably read the emotions of the beings around it, including the ones of its boss, Conway, who frequently says things that are not in synch with his true feelings…

The book (or, rather, the series) has a number of interesting concepts.
First there’s the classification of the beings in the Hospital – while the races have names, they are all classified by a four-letter code (humans like you and me – that is assuming that you’re human – are of type GBDB) specifying what they breathe, type of body, special faculties, an idea about diet etc.
Then we have the funky notion that everyone considers themselves ‘human’, and everybody else is an ET! Had me chuckle…
Everybody wears a ‘universal translator’ that is adjusted to the being wearing it, and which is capable of translating all sounds made by any other being on the station into the language of the wearer. This doesn’t avoid misunderstandings, of course, but if you doubted that you’re looking at Space Opera or not then this should settle it ;-)
And lastly (but very importantly for the hospital work) there are the ‘tapes’, which allow you to have an alien, including all his medical knowledge (welcome) and his memories and personality (not so welcome) in your mind, alongside with your own. Technology-induced cross-species schizophrenia… Freud would love it. But it’s the only way a doctor is capable of treating any number of different species – become the specialist, and you’re ready to go. On the other hand this can become quite a strain on your mind… you’re becoming symbionts, empaths, telepaths; you think you should walk, swim, fly, burrow; you feel like eating salad (a horror to James White… more on this later), meat, nameless goo, radiation… it’s just not a healthy state of mind!

James White is an interesting writer. He’s a pacifist, and these leanings (as well as some debates of what being a pacifist entails) comes through strongly in some of the stories in the book (there are several, only loosely connected story arcs). He’s also faintly misogynistic, and rather old-fashioned in his opinions of how people should be and behave (these things change – presumably together with the author – in the later books). A classic example is to find a doctor, harbouring an alien species that abhors eating meat in his mind, forcing himself to eat a steak. Because that’s what a real red-blooded man does.
The book also contains a short story telling how O’Mara got into the positions he holds (there is a later book focussing entirely on him). The book is the first one written in the series, although there are later books that play at an earlier point in time. You don’t need to have read any the other books (lots thereof) to enjoy Hospital Station, but the more you immerse yourself in this universe the more you’ll see and enjoy the little in-jokes and references it contains.

The aliens in the book are great fun, the stories are not gory at all, despite the Hospital/Doctor setting. It’s a great book, if I can say something negative about it (besides the Author’s quirks mentioned above) then it would be that it’s a slightly to quick a read…

More James White



Title: Hospital Station
Series: Sector General
Series Number: 1
Author: James White
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher: Corgi (Transworld)
Publication Date: 1967
Review Date: January 25 2006
Price: 3s 6d original, 50p 2nd hand on Amazon now
Pages: 190
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Space Opera

 

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