James White – Star Healer (1984)
‘THE BIG TIME
Sector Twelve General Hospital had a staff of thousands divided among sixty or so intelligent species. Every day it treated alien illnesses of baffling complexity.
Of all the hospital’s very capable staff, Senior Physician Conway, the human doctor in charge of the Ambulance Ship ‘Rhabwar’, was thought by many to be the most promising.
So when he was replaced – without notice – by the birdlike alien Prilicla, Dr Conway was surprised, to say the least. But that was nothing compared to his shock when he was offered a promotion to a challenging new position.
It was his for the taking. If he had the nerve…’
Blurb from the 1985 Del Rey paperback edition.
The belligerent and somewhat inscrutable Chief Psychologist O’Mara tells his protegee Conway that he is thinking of promoting him to Diagnostician, a prestigious and challenging post, but one which will entail downloading tapes of alien surgeon personalities into his mind, which can lead to psychological problems.
While he considers the post, O’Mara sends him to the unusual planet Goglesk where the natives are a cactuslike species who, when threatened, can not only exude a deadly poison from their spines, but fuse together into a gestalt entity which then goes on a destructive rampage. Cooperation between individuals is therefore difficult and their development as a society has stagnated.
In attempting to help them, Conway gets fused with an individual Gogleskan and, during the contact, absorbs some of his personality and transfers his to the Gogleskan.
Subsequently Conway solves the problems of having multiple alien personalities in his head, solves the problem of a species whose unborn telepathic children are intelligent but revert to animal level after birth, and finds that his Gogleskan mental imprint has surprising implications.
White’s aliens are unfailingly ingenious in their biological design and life-cycles and incredibly plausible, although White tends to take a Star Trek approach to their personalities which are all very human in the final analysis. These are very much feel-good novels in the Asimovian style of there being a problem to solve within each separate section.
That having been said, it can’t be denied that the series is extremely well-written and highly enjoyable, despite the slightly absurd central premise of a General hospital in the middle of space, catering to the medical needs of hundreds of species.