White, James: (01-03) Beginning Operations (omnibus of Hospital Station; Star Surgeon; Major Operation)

I’m not entirely sure how I got from the 19th-century English social dilemmas of Pride and Prejudice to the far-future alien medical crises of James White’s Beginning Operations. I suspect I might still have been thinking of the “brave, kind heroes” I expected to find in Scaramouche. The Sector General books—this is an omnibus of the first three—are comfort books for me because the protagonist medical personnel are just that, brave and kind. Unfortunately, they are also sometimes sexist, at least this early in the series, which I found rather distracting on this re-read. (And only sexist about Earth-human females, too, while cheerfully accepting all kinds of really weird alien beasties! The series does get better about this over time, at least.)

The other reason I read the Sector General books is for the sheer inventiveness of them. I’m amazed at the range of alien species and medical puzzles that White develops; this is most on display in the first novel in the omnibus, Hospital Station, which is basically vignettes in the early life of Sector General, and in the third, Major Operation, which presents several radically different lifeforms tied to just one planet. The middle, Star Surgeon, has less opportunity to display this imagination, because it tells how Sector General becomes the focus of an interstellar war—though oddly, if anything, it is slightly less preachy than one of the vignettes in Hospital Station. It does display what seems to me a fundamentally optimistic view of people (in the broadest sense of the word), which again I find comforting to read about, even if my opinion of it varies from day to day.

Tor’s Orb line is also reprinting the next three in another omnibus, Alien Emergencies, which will be released soon. I look forward to it. (And then I only need to find a copy of Code Blue—Emergency for a reasonable price [currently listing used for between $25 and $75!] and my collection will be complete . . . )

[Later: Well, it seems fitting to try out discussion links with a post on “Beginning Operations,” so let’s give this a shot.]


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  1. Aaah, James White. Such nice futures he promised us.

    He’s one of those writers who hits my “real sf” button: nononsense writing and carefully working out of interesting ideas.

  2. Hey, cool.

    Now I have yet another way to fall behind on my grading, and my own book log…

  3. Martin–and the good thing about unspecified but far-future books is, the nice future he promised might, theoretically, still be out there (at least I can tell myself that, since there aren’t any nasty dates to jar me out of my fancies).

    Chad–you’re complaining about being behind? I’m currently three books behind on this, coming up on four very soon.

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