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.