Monday, January 16, 2012
By James White
Beginning Operations is a Sector General Omnibus containing the three early Sector General novels, Hospital Station, Star Surgeon, and Major Operation.
Hospital Station is a collection of short stories starting with Medic in which Sector General hospital is under construction. O'Mara, a worker on the project, is suspected of negligently causing the death of two alien workers. Pending an investigation he is restricted to quarters and given the aliens' child to care for. His competence in caring for the alien baby is the first step on the road that leads him to the position of Chief Psychologist of Sector General.
The second story, Sector General, introduces the main character in the series, Dr. Conway. Conway, a bright young physician, has arrived to take his place among the throngs of beings working at the hospital. He finds himself dealing with all kinds of medical mysteries and strange aliens but manages to do his job not only competently but often brilliantly.
The other three stories also center around Dr. Conway: The Trouble with Emily in which Conway has to treat a very large dinosaur-like animal; Visitor at Large in which a frightened young shapeshifter runs amok in the hospital and which introduces the giant insect being and empath, Dr. Prilicla; and Out-Patient in which Conway's apparently callous and cold-hearted treatment of a patient turns his compatriots against him.
Next in the omnibus is Star Surgeon. Having proven himself, Dr. Conway is now a Senior Physician at Sector General. Called to aid the ailing population of a planet, Conway and the Monitor Corps run afoul of a corrupt regime. The evil empire sets its sights on Sector General, making the hospital ground zero in a war. The hospital is evacuated but Conway and others stay behind to take care of the casualties from the battle for the hospital itself.
The third novel is Major Operation. It starts with a sudden rise in inexplicable errors on the part of the surgeons and staff of Sector General. The errors are traced to the presence of an amazing malleable tool that can shape itself into whatever tool is needed at the moment. The tool is traced back to a planet with an intelligent population, but they are not the ones who created the tool and it turns out the one who created the tool is gravely ill and may die and take with it the secret of its magical tools.
I enjoyed these stories very much. I especially enjoy White's many interesting aliens and the medical puzzles that Conway and company deal with at Sector General and beyond. One of the things that I have always liked about the Sector General stories is the basic decency and good intentions of the characters. Even in cases where it seems the characters have ill intentions, it usually turns out they were misinformed or misunderstood. Plus, Sector General is teeming with strange and interesting beings and it is always fascinating and entertaining.