James White - Sector General (Star Hospital and sequels)

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by R-Hat, Sep 6, 2016.

  1. R-Hat

    R-Hat Well-Known Member

    [no spoilers] So I found people kept borrowing these books and I found the theme interesting. Imagine a hospital space station, where aliens are healing lots of other or the same aliens. I also looked for something calm, normal, humane, not too strained, relaxed reading, but not trashy. I looked for something classical, from around 1960's or so. And Sector General is it.

    Is it worth reading? Well, I'm reading it, number 11 in the series, so I must say it is. Last time I did get so far in any series was some Raymond Feist, many years ago.

    Sector General series is sort of a hospital food for the sci-fi reader's soul. It is a thoroughly non-offensive, non-irritating, nutritious stuff.
    One thing you will quickly notice about the series is that even the writing style matches the topic. Everything is written with almost a clinical detachment. All the Earth Human DBDG medical staff is known by the last name only, as fits the on-duty discipline. It's not until the 8th book in the series that you learn doctor Conway's first name! And he's the only one mentioned, so far.
    The series could be divided on two halves - first 6 books or so are entirely from human point of view. Then the alien point of view is the main one, which improved the quality even more and it was one of the reasons why I'm reading the series. Yes, I knew it's going to take several books till I get to it, but still I've read it.

    The books started as a series of stories, so there is a lot of repetition in the beginning books, bringing the readers up to speed. But it's done still more and more skillfully each time. The art of medicine itself is also taken pretty simply. A modern writer would go over the top with genetics, chemistry and nanotechnology. James White focuses on surgery and psychology. The whole question of infection is simplified. Petter Wats (Blindsight) would die of boredom!

    I know, I'm saying these negative things - but I still keep reading, like almost never before! It must be, because despite of all, the Sector General series is actually pretty good reading. You don't notice it, because it's not shocking or artistic, it's simple and subtle. There's no nasty Dr House (unless you count Kelgians and Illensans). And the later books in the series also got some well-deserved acclaim and fame, for things like character development and philosophical questions. Still very subtle for me, but I take it as being on a diet from over-the-top hardcore sci-fi. And I have no problem going on and on reading, at work (successfully routing security measures), in subway, at home.

    I needed something normal and humane and Boreas recommended me a book about Miyamoto Musashi, but that's not sci-fi, so it didn't quite catch onto me yet. But Sector General is the sci-fi equivalent of simplicity I was looking for.
    Diziet Sma and Boreas like this.
  2. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    That's actually a good sign for a lot of readers.
    That's a selling point for me. I'm quite tired of modern genre authors (esp. in fantasy) wanting to over-analyse every thought process and feeling of the character. People have gotten so used to it that the most often complaint of a book that doesn't do this is "there's no (or weak) character development". Please. I'm happy with authors letting the reader figure out and think about the character's thoughts and motivations without too much gristle all the time. I appreciate subtlety. Would you recommend starting from the beginning or is there a better jumping in point?

    Too bad you couldn't get into Musashi. It's one of the best adventure/Bildungsroman novels of the 20th century that I've come across. Like a Tolstoy/Dumas offspring with Henry James as an occasionally visiting uncle that grew up and was educated in the East.
  3. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    It is for me. I haven’t picked up Blindsight, precisely because it feels very much the opposite of what R-Hat has described about Sector General.

    Boreas, how much subtlety are you finding in The Skinner characters? Don’t you love Sniper, the drone?
    Don't tell me off. I guess I should start a new thread ref. The Skinner. Will do later. I’m late…:)

  4. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

    Blindsight is excellent!
    I haven't especially liked anything else by Peter Watts, but Blindsight put a different spin on alien contact and for once an ending for one of these type of stories that was unexpected.
  5. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I’m sure it’s a great book. What I meant was, it wasn’t for me.
  6. R-Hat

    R-Hat Well-Known Member

    To be honest, I like both Blindsight and Sector General. One is an adventure that strained the limits of my learning, the other is restful.

    I have actually finished the last 12th book, Double Contact. It's great and well worth reading all the way to it. And the book before that is perhaps even better. I'll be also sure to check out other novels by James White. Something about him reminds me of Alan Dean Foster.

    Boreas: Maybe I need the element of sci-fi :)
  7. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I'm leaning toward the restful. It is more my thing. I have already downloaded a sample of General Operations (Omnibus containing the first three books of the series) I have also bought Radix Tedrad by A.A. Attanasio. Now I just need some spare time to get to them: fat chance!
  8. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Hospital Station(Sector General#1) by James White. HS is a medical drama minus the drama, the long descriptive surgical procedures for the beauty of it and the complicated relationships between doctors and nurses. HS is all about a mystery and how to solve a medical condition.

    Hospital Station deals in a straightforward manner with medical puzzles, in which alien species are the patients. White provides the reader with all the pieces along the way and if you are alert enough, you might unriddle the mystery in question or at least you can get close enough.
    This first book is a collection of novelettes in which the space hospital setting and main characters are introduced. However, what matters to White is not the who but the how so don’t expect detailed characterisation and introspective monologues: HS doesn’t need it.

    White, as @R-Hat rightly pointed out, writes in a direct, uncomplicated style that fits really well with the traditional manner crime novelists tend to deliver the story: unemotional, unromantic and factual. And why not? resolving a mystery in a dodgy part of a city or in space hospital station can't be that different, can it?
    I was prepared to find HS a bit dated. However, apart from some passé medical jargon, I was really happy with White creativity and imagination at creating different non anthropomorphised alien species.
    Next one in the series is Star Surgeon.
    R-Hat likes this.

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