Hospital Station – James White (1962)
James White is best known for his tales of Sector General, a vast deep-space hospital designed to replicate the environments of scores of aliens, a place to practice and teach xenobiological medicine.
The series begins with this book and starts with the story of O’Mara, contracted to work on the construction of the hospital and by dint of unorthodox methods of motivating a colleague and the challenge of simultaneously babysitting an enormous alien orphaned baby, is offered the post of Chief Psychologist.
The focus then shifts to Dr Conway, in the now fully-operational hospital and his multi-limbed assistant, Ptilicla.
The tales are Asimovian in style, and a little formulaic in that they generally feature a member of an unknown species whom Dr Conway has to diagnose and cure.
However, the tales are delightfully readable and popular enough at the time that the series ran for several volumes, simply because White is a very good story-teller.
He disposes quite quickly with problems of communication by providing a Universal translator, that vital piece of equipment which has been in the SF public domain for some time. Alien medicine is learned through having an alien personality imprinted on one’s consciousness which does away with all that tedious studying and lets us get on with the action.
White was sometimes truly inventive with his aliens, many of which knock the creatures of some contemporary authors into a top hat. Some of the best surgeons, for instance, are huge elephantine creatures of formidable intellect but who rely on a symbiotic relationship with an almost mindless creature who can perform dexterous and fine surgery directed by their symbiote partners.
It is a shame, however, that White’s ‘Sector General’ books have tended to overshadow some of his other work, which is generally of high quality and well worth checking out.