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review 2017-05-01 01:23
Star Surgeon by James White
Star Surgeon - James White

Star Surgeon starts off with Conway treating an alien of a sort he’s never seen or heard of before. It turns out that his newest patient’s species is seen as somewhat godlike by those aliens that know of them. They’re purported to be immortal, and they have a habit of gradually making themselves the supreme ruler of a world, solving its problems (I was left with so many questions), and then leaving. They are always accompanied by a companion of a different species.

Conway’s efforts to treat his patient, Lonvellin, impress it so much that it later insists he help it and the Monitor Corps with a problem it’s having on the planet Etla, which is part of a larger Empire made up of several planets. Etla used to have a thriving population before it was hit by one horrible illness after another. To make matters worse, Etla’s natives are deeply suspicious of beings that look different from them, so they refuse to accept help from anyone except the Empire’s Imperial Representative, who rarely stops by. Earth humans and Etlans just happen to look very much alike, so Conway and the Monitor Corpsmen are able to sneak in, assess the situation, and try to help. Unfortunately, the situation is much worse than anyone realizes and deteriorates to such a degree that Sector General finds itself caught up in an interstellar war.

I think this is my second full-length Sector General novel, although I’ve read a bunch of Sector General short stories. So far it looks like one of the nice things about the full-length novels is that they gave the author the time and space to show readers things that weren’t directly related to solving medical mysteries. Star Surgeon shows readers one of Sector General’s recreational areas (as Conway tries to convince Murchison to take their relationship from “friends, sort of” to “dating and maybe even having sex”), and I learned that there are apparently 218 human (or at least DBDG) women at Sector General, not that we ever learn the names of any of them besides Murchison.

Unfortunately, Star Surgeon turned out to be less focused on medical mysteries and more of a war book. Lonvellin’s medical issues were dealt with fairly quickly, and Etla’s problems were revealed to be less medical and more political (and absolutely horrifying). That left the interstellar war, with Sector General at its heart.

This book’s tone and message reminded me strongly of the story “Accident,” available in the Sector General omnibus Alien Emergencies. The specifics of how Sector General was evacuated were fascinating - in addition to concerns about moving sick or injured patients, every species’ general physical needs (gravity, atmosphere, temperature, and more) also had to be taken into account.

Unfortunately, Sector General’s evacuation and the events that happened afterward were also a bit emotionally draining. Sector General was intended to be a hospital capable of catering to any and every alien species. The evacuation and Sector General’s transformation into “what amounted to a heavily armed military base” (104) were both painful.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder about the economics of the Sector General universe. Money still seems to exist and be necessary, because it took great gobs of money to build Sector General in the first place. The damage Sector General sustained during the battle and the hospital’s evacuation and repurposing should probably have financially wrecked it. And yet it apparently recovered just fine, because there are many Sector General stories and books that come after this one.

As much as I like the idea behind the Sector General series, the books and stories have several recurring problems. One of those problems kept rearing its ugly head in Star Surgeon: sexism. Since the series is usually careful not to assign a gender to any of its aliens, except in one instance where a particular alien species cycles through genders during the course of its life, that means that most of the more blatant sexism involves Murchison, the series’ only named human woman (that I know of).

If Murchison ever appeared on-page without some mention of her appealing physical form or features, it was rare. Also, just like in Star Healer, Murchison requested to be allowed to use an educator tape, only to be shot down by O’Mara.

“‘As for the girls [he means the nurses],’ [O’Mara] went on, a sardonic edge in his voice, ‘you have noticed by this time that the female Earth-human DBDG has a rather peculiar mind. One of its peculiarities is a deep, sex-based mental fastidiousness. No matter what they say they will not, repeat not, allow alien beings to apparently take over their pretty little brains. If such should happen, severe mental damage would result.’”  (132)

And then there was this, said by Murchison to Conway:

“‘I...I asked him to give me [an educator tape], earlier, to help you out. But he said no because…’ She hesitated, and looked away. ‘...because he said girls are very choosey who they let take possession of them. Their minds, I mean…’” (141)

Am I the only one who thinks that explanation sounds uncomfortably sexual? At any rate, while I’m thankful that at least one Sector General fix fic exists, it doesn’t stop the burst of anger I feel whenever I come across things like this in the original books and stories.

Well, even though I hate the series’ sexism, I love its “doctors in space” focus. Unfortunately, this particular book was grimmer and had less in the way of medical mysteries than I preferred. It wasn’t a bad entry in the series, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for when I started reading.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-03-05 07:09
Alien Emergencies by James White
Alien Emergencies: A Sector General Omnibus - James White,David Langford

Warning: this review is pretty long.

Alien Emergencies is the second Sector General omnibus and includes either four or three works in the series, depending on how you count them. There's Ambulance Ship, Sector General, and Star Healer.

Ambulance Ship starts off with “Spacebird,” a story set on Sector General, a vast hospital in space. Ambulance Ship continues with stories detailing the first voyages of a specially designed ambulance ship, the first of its kind. True to the spirit of Sector General, the ambulance ship's crew includes not only humans like Senior Physician Conway and Pathologist Murchison, but also Dr. Prilicla, an incredibly fragile empathic alien who looks like a giant insect, and Charge Nurse Naydrad, who looks like a giant silver-furred caterpillar. These hospital employees are accompanied by members of the Monitor Corps, sort of an intergalactic police force. Ideally, everybody should work together in order to solve the medical mysteries they encounter in the best and quickest possible way, but things don't always go quite as smoothly as they should, especially at the beginning.

Sector General includes more stories dealing with the ambulance ship's various adventures. In Star Healer, however, Conway is provisionally promoted to the position of Diagnostician and can no longer be part of the ambulance ship's crew. Star Healer is the only novel-length work in the omnibus, and the only work where Conway is assigned several clinical cases and medical emergencies at once. His patients include: a violent alien that's about to give birth to its telepathic fetus and render it just as mindlessly violent as itself; Hudlars (very strong aliens) critically injured in a horrific accident; geriatric Hudlars whose bodies are deteriorating more rapidly than their minds; and a less time-sensitive case involving the Gogleskans, aliens who have an instinctual fear of physical contact, even with members of their own kind.

While Conway deals with all of this, he also has  to adjust to one of the more difficult aspects of being a Diagnostician: learning to live with multiple alien personalities inside his head. Every Diagnostician permanently possesses at least four Educator tapes, the full medical knowledge of a doctor of another species. Unfortunately, Educator tapes don't just impart medical knowledge, they also include the tape provider's personality, dreams, nightmares, body sense, and more. It's disorienting, to say the least.

All right, now for my review. I bought Alien Emergencies because it was on sale and because I was intrigued by the idea of pacifist medical science fiction. However, I hadn't read the first omnibus and wasn't sure how lost I'd be. As it turned out, there was no need to worry. I adjusted to the world, the characters, and their relationships fairly quickly – the only thing that took me a while to figure out was that Conway and Murchison were either married or dating. It also helped that the stories were mostly set up as relatively self-contained medical mysteries. There were a lot of first contact situations, and the characters often had no more idea of what was going on than I did. Their primary focus was on figuring out the situations and what, if anything, they needed to do in order to help their patients.

I loved the whole “doctors in space” aspect. Even though the cynical part of me occasionally wondered how everything was being paid for and whether anyone at Sector General had ever heard of the word “budget,” I kind of loved how idealistic it all was. Sector General was this enormous place designed to accommodate any and all beings, either as patients or as medical staff. It was built to encourage cross-species cooperation and thereby promote peace, and the inspiration for its construction was a single horrific accident. The Monitor Corps could technically be considered a military force, but their presence in the book was entirely limited to assisting Sector General. There were no trigger-happy Monitor Corpsmen who abused their power, and not even a sense that such people could exist. It was weird, but nice.

Characterization was pretty basic, but I still had a few favorites. Prilicla was a big one. At first, I wondered how it could possibly be useful, considering that it had to keep well out of everyone's way in order to avoid being injured and considering that others' negative emotions could cause it a great deal of distress. However, I came to enjoy the effect that it had on those around it. Everyone made an extra effort to stay calm and reasonable in order to avoid upsetting or harming it, and its empathic abilities turned out to be incredibly useful in pretty much every situation.

Of all the works in this omnibus, my favorites were probably Star Healer and the first story in Sector General. I can't say much about the latter without giving too much away, but Star Healer was my favorite because it was the only work long enough to give readers a more complete picture of what life was like for medical staff at Sector General. I finally got to see Conway try to juggle multiple patients, talk to his patients about adjustments they'd have to make once they were discharged from the hospital, chat with friends during meal breaks, and demonstrate that he had at least a little bit of a personal life. It didn't go quite as far as I would have liked - Conway still felt like his social life mostly consisted of having sex with Murchison, and I was disappointed that one of Conway's cases was left with some significant loose ends - but it was good enough to make me wish the other works in the omnibus had been novels as well.

For the most part, I very much enjoyed Alien Emergencies. That said, it was by no means perfect, and certain aspects of it were very dated and just not okay (FYI, these books were published in the late '70s and early '80s).

One particular story got me to thinking about how disabilities were handled (or not handled) in the series. In that story, blind aliens

made telepathic contact with a group of aliens that couldn't move. The blind aliens could experience sight through the eyes of the aliens they'd contacted, and they wanted to be able to see so badly that they risked their lives to do it. It was the thing that inspired them to build a space ship and figure out space travel. Considering that these aliens had never been able to see, and had evolved so that they had abilities that allowed them to enjoy and interact with the world around them in other ways, I was uncomfortable with the idea that being able to see was so important to them. Why couldn't they have invented space travel because they'd made contact with those other aliens and were just plain curious about them?

(spoiler show)

Then there was the way women were written. Murchison was the only human female in the whole book, and one of maybe two or three female characters period. The number of times she was described as attractive was ludicrous. And she wasn't even attractive in a specific way – I couldn't tell you what color her eyes or hair were, or how tall she was, or if she had freckles. She was just generically gorgeous in such a way that all human males found her attractive, and White felt the need to repeatedly remind readers of this. To be fair, this wasn't the only thing White repeated. One of this series' other problems was that White copied and pasted certain descriptions and explanations from one story to the next, and sometimes multiple times in a single story.

The mentions of Murchison's attractiveness thankfully eventually decreased in frequency, but there were still moments that made me angry enough that I needed to take a break. The one that sticks in my mind the most was the way Murchison's request to use an Educator tape was handled. Here is what she was told:

“'Absolutely not, Pathologist Murchison! I am well aware that the Educator tapes would assist you in your work. But you and the other females or extraterrestrial female equivalents on the staff will have to continue using your brains, such as they are, unaided. It is regrettable, but you females have a deep, ineradicable and sex-based aversion, a form of hyperfastidiousness, which will not allow you to share your minds with an alien personality which is unaffected by your sexual...'” (375)

Either O'Mara was about to say that women (human or otherwise) couldn't use Educator tapes because they couldn't handle carrying around minds that wouldn't find them attractive, or he was about to say that one gender (female) couldn't comfortably accommodate the mind of another gender (male). Either interpretation is upsetting, the first because it presents women as beings that care more about whether they're considered attractive than men do, and the second because it indicates unexamined problems with the Educator tapes themselves. Did White mean to say that the Sector General universe didn't have a single talented and knowledgeable female doctor who could contribute an Educator tape? At the very least, there could have been OB/GYN-specific Educator tapes provided by female medical professionals whose species aren't always comfortable with males providing that kind of care.

Another area that I didn't think White had thought through very well was the Monitor Corps. Maybe this was addressed in the first omnibus, but I thought it was odd that, in a universe where humans weren't considered the superior beings, the intergalactic police force was composed almost entirely of humans. Why wasn't the Monitor Corps as diverse as Sector General?

So, yes, I had some issues with this series, but I still plan to read more of it. "Doctors in space" really works for me.


The book includes two introductions, one by David Langford and one by the author. A word of warning: one of these (I can't remember which) majorly spoiled the very first story in the book and probably several in omnibus volumes I haven't yet read. They were very much written for people who were already fans of the series, so, while they did contain some helpful and/or interesting information, I'd recommend that newbies like myself skip them and read them later.


(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2012-08-20 20:48
Vector - Robin Cook Anthrax ist ein weiterer Roman von Robin Cook mit Suchtpotential. Ein Leiche wird im Gerichtsmedizinischen Institut von New York eingeliefert, der an einer heftig verlaufenden unerklärlichen Infektion gestorben ist. Der Gerichtsmediziner Dr. Jack Stableton entdeckt sehr schnell, dass der Tote mit Antraxviren infiziert worden ist. Er beginnt mit den Ermittlungen...... Robin Cook hat Antrax als mögliche Biowaffe in seinem Roman zum Leitfaden gemacht. Er hat, wie in jedem Buch von ihm, sehr gut recherchiert und übermittelt uns ein unglaubliches Detailwissen. Es wird schnell klar, welche Gefahr besteht, wenn Antrax in die Hände von Terroristen gerät, in diesem Buch sind es Neonazis. Der Autor möchte uns für diese Gefahr sensibilisieren. Es hat durchaus eine politische Botschaft. Allerdings wurde der Roman vor dem Terroranschlag in New York geschrieben und wirkt aus heutiger Sich dadurch ein wenig antiquar.
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review 2012-08-08 22:24
Grabesstille: der 9. Fall für Rizzolie & Isles
Grabesstille - Tess Gerritsen einfach super!
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review 2012-07-30 23:02
Narkosemord - Rainer Schmidt,Robin Cook Eine junge Frau stirbt während eines Eingriffes den der erfahrene Anästhesisten Jeffrey Rhodes vorsteht. Trotz sofort eingeleiteter Hilfemaßnahmen können die Ärzte das Herz der Patientin nicht mehr zum Schlagen bringen. Dem Arzt wird der Prozess gemacht. Zunächst wird er wegen eines Kunstfehlers angeklagt und dann auch noch wegen Todschlags. Da er sich sicher ist, keinen Kunstfehler begangen zu haben, beginnt er auf eigene Faust zu ermitteln. Ein rasantes Katz - und - Maus - Spiel beginnt. Robin Cook ist ein brillanter Thriller - Erzähler. Geschickt verbindet er medizinisches Wissen mit einer spannenden Handlung. Der Leser ist immer versucht, weiter zu lesen. Pausen gönnt er sich selten. Zu keiner Sekunde liest sich der Roman langweilig. Gut gefallen hat mir, dass Cook ein unglaubliches Fachwissen in die Handlung einfließen lässt. Der Leser bemerkt sofort, dass Cook Medizin studiert hat. Einen Punkt ziehe ich ab, da mir das Ende zu schnell und ohne Paukenschlag gekommen ist. Niemals habe ich die Lösung während des Lesens auch nur geahnt, aber etwas ausführlicher hätte es nach der langen Suche schon sein dürfen. Ich werde mit Sicherheit weitere Thriller von diesem Autor lesen.
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