James White’s General Practice is a Sector General omnibus that collects the previous out-of-print Code Blue—Emergency and The Genocidal Healer. (Tor has now published the entire Sector General series: all the books after this omnibus were originally published by Tor, and all the books before are in the two prior collections, Beginning Operations and Alien Emergencies. They do good work.) To round off the one-word summaries, this is “benevolent”—no surprise, since that applies just as well to all the rest of the Sector General stories.
These are the first books to be told from the viewpoint of non-Earth-human characters. Indeed, they’re also the first books to not focus primarily or exclusively on Conway, who was made a Diagnostician at the end of the prior book. Code Blue—Emergency also features our first female protagonist, Cha Thrat, who goes to Sector General in part to escape institutional sexism on her home planet—only to run into Sector General’s unique institutional sexism regarding Educator tapes, an irony that appears to be lost on both the author and the male characters. (Not the least because it’s demonstrably wrong, though no-one seems to notice.)
The book does a better job than I expected of managing Cha Thrat’s point-of-view, avoiding blatant infodumping in her personal thoughts and letting her personality and cultural background unfold slowly. Like prior novels, it is structured in a somewhat episodic fashion; the overall arc is Cha Thrat exploring Sector General and finding her place. Satisfyingly done.
The Genocidal Healer is talky, philosophical, angsty, and possibly my favorite Sector General book. (I’d read it before, actually just before I started this log.) This is the story of Lioren, a Tarlan Surgeon-Captain who makes a terrible mistake out of ambition, pride, impatience, and arrogance, and opens the book demanding the death penalty for nearly wiping out an entire species. Instead, he’s sentenced to Sector General.
I think this is the first book where we’ve seen a serious mistake made—we’ve come close before, but out of well-intentioned inabilities to make Conway-sized deductive leaps. And much more than any prior book, this is about the internal journey of a character: Lioren is suffering under a crushing weight of guilt, and coming to terms with his actions takes a considerable amount of self-reflection and emotional growth. In another first for Sector General, this is also a very spiritual book (presented in a way that I, thoroughly secular creature though I am, did not find offensive). And there’s also a good medical puzzle to keep the suspense up.
Anyone who likes fabulous flights of imagination, thoroughly grounded in a respect for humanity in the broadest sense of the word, should really read the Sector General series. They are comfort books par excellence and I am greatly pleased to have finally read all of them.