Hospital Station

Hospital Station

James White, © 1962
Orb Books 2001 trade paper (3 novel omnibus volume)
Sector General series – science fiction

Every once in a while I’m amazed to learn of an author completely new to me, that in all logic I should have at least heard of and more likely would have read. It’s happened again with James White. He began writing these hard science fiction stories in the early 1960s, a time when I was reading that kind of thing a lot, and he continued writing this series for decades, all through the time I was spending a lot of time in book stores browsing the SF and fantasy shelves and buying a good deal of it. So why didn’t I ever see any of White’s books? I have no idea, not even the faintest wisp of a theory.

The good news I did find these books, thanks to sally906, who posted in a comment to my January 13 post “Hey, read dome science fiction!” that she was reading an omnibus volume of White’s first three novels. George Kelley said the books were great, if I liked Murray Leinster’s Med Series, I’d like these, so I bought the omnibus collection Beginning Operations, containing the first three Sector General novels, of which this is the first. (original cover shown. I’ll show the omnibus cover when I review the third novel in the book)

This first novel (and the following two) are identified in the introduction as “mosaic novels”, that is they began as several short stories which were combined into a novel. The stories became chapters, and it doesn’t appear much additional editing was done to unify them. There is a set cast of characters here, and a nice prequel added at the beginning to show the background of one of the major characters.

Short stories, novel, regardless of origin, these are well written, interesting stories involving a small number of the vast staff of Sector General, a huge deep space hospital which caters to the needs of every conceivable alien and human patient, with specialized atmospheric sections able to provide any needed combination of gravity and breathable environment required. The stories take on the aspect of problem-solving puzzles, with main character Dr. Conway and other staff, human and alien, trying to understand what is wrong with the patient, how to heal it.

White does a good job of presenting his aliens in this book, he invents a classification system which the hospital uses to determine what atmospheric environment they need to be in, and the descriptions of these and the treatment procedures are deftly written. Of course problems arise, complications ensue, intra-species conflicts occur. Very entertaining.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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22 Responses to Hospital Station

  1. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Rick, some years ago I read a review of these and got them for Jackie, who I thought would really appreciate them. But she never read them and neither did I. I’m pretty sure I still have them on the shelf (well, I did, but all the books are in boxes as we’re having the room painted when we leave for Florida tomorrow), so when we get home I’ll pull them out and try one.

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    OK – I checked the shlves and found them in another room!


    Just packed them in a box to take.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Those are the first three books, though I have two and three reversed up there.

  4. Richard says:

    Right, and those are the books in the omnibus volume I bought and read. I decided to do the reviews one book at a time rather than just the omnibus, the cover of which I’ll do in a summary review with mention of the following two omnibus volumes.

    Have a great time in F-L-A (as Freddy Cannon put in his great song “Tallahassee Lassie”.

  5. Carl V. says:

    My list of science fiction authors that I want to read is bursting at the seams just because of conversations had and posts read over the first month of this year! White was already on the list after you posted the image of the omnibus edition the other day and I am even more excited about tracking down his work now.

    I like the mosaic format. Desolation Road, my first read of the year, felt like it was in that format, especially the first half or better of the novel, and I really enjoyed the approach. It isn’t the first novel I have read like that, but the most recent. Books like that sometimes work really well for me because I can read them in bite sized chunks during free moments and I feel like I am getting something accomplished in my reading, if that makes any sense.

    How cool that Jeff M. was just able to go snag these off his own shelves…or out of his own boxes! I just found that my library system has 1 copy of the omnibus that isn’t checked out, so I placed it on hold. Might be fun to read at least some of this now while it is fresh in your mind.

  6. william says:

    Agree that these are great stories and well worth rereading if you haven’t looked at them in several years.

    take care,


  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    It does sound a little like the Med Ship series, except that was one guy traveling between planets. Actually this one sounds a little more up my alley, though I enjoyed the Leinster too.

  8. Richard says:

    By “mosaic” he just means a set of short stories was linked into a novel length, there’s no other technique to the form.

  9. Richard says:

    What amazes me is that I’d not heard of White (or my old brain has forgotten) before.

  10. Carl V. says:

    yes, I understand what he meant by “mosaic” and I’ve seen that happen just like you describe this one, where short stories were later linked into a novel, but I’ve also seen others like Desolation Road that reads very much like that although parts of it were not previously written/published as short stories.

    Some people are really turned off by that, I saw some negative reviews of DR that mentioned specifically that they didn’t like the way it was presented. Me, I really like it. And I love the term “mosaic” that was used in the intro to describe the story.

    On a “same but different” note I would mention Larry Niven’s Draco Tavern book which collects several stories written about that location that feel as if they tell an overall story when read all together but no effort was put in to the book, beyond an introduction, to actually tie them together into a larger story.

  11. George Kelley says:

    Glad you enjoyed James White’s series, Rick. The early stories were published in GALAXY or IF and White wove them together into episodic “novels.”

  12. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I hadn’t realized White was from Northern Ireland until I looked it up.

    I’ve started the first book, by the way.

    Carl, I read the Draco Tavern series too, as well as Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon books and Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the ‘White Hart’.

  13. Richard says:

    And I’ve read all of those too, the Draco Tavern stories just last year after having the book around for quite a while. It’s been a long time since I read TALES OF THE WHITE HART but I recall enjoying it enormously.

  14. Drongo says:

    My computer is getting cranky today.

    Not a huge fan of Mr White, but I did enjoy ESCAPE ORBIT, a very low-key novel about human soldiers held captive by aliens.

  15. Richard says:

    Dumped the half post, Drongo. I wonder what it was that makes you say “not a huge fan”? Just not your cup of tea? I thought this and the second novel in the series were pretty darned good and the third interesting if not a favorite.

  16. Drongo says:

    I just find his novels to be a bit lacking in energy.

    As I said though, ESCAPE ORBIT is a pretty decent story, modeled, it seems, after COLDITZ or THE GREAT ESCAPE.

  17. Richard says:

    Fair enough Drongo. I’ll have to take a look at ESCAPE ORBIT.

  18. Many readers consider James White’s ALL JUDGMENT FLED as his best book.

  19. Todd Mason says:

    Indeed, Rick, congratulations on the rediscovery. Not having read White isn’t quite not having read Hal Clement…but pretty damned close. Though if there’s another writer he tends to remind me of most, it might be Clifford Simak.

  20. Richard says:

    Thanks, Todd. Maybe Simak with a touch of Eric Frank Russell thrown in?

  21. Todd Mason says:

    But unlike Russell, grounded.

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