Reading Idea: The Sector General Series
Zak Zyz, writing at Tor.com, clues me in to a science-fiction series that I was previously unaware of. I'm a sucker for Golden Age SF. This sounds right up my alley.
The series takes place in Sector 12 General Hospital, a sprawling 384-floor hospital space station built in order to cement a lasting peace after humanity’s disastrous first interstellar war. A notable departure from the militaristic space operas of the time, the story of Sector General is explicitly pacifistic, eschewing conquest and combat in favor of the struggle of doctors to understand and heal their alien patients.
It has diverse alien species and environments.
The Sector General series is often commended for its depiction of extraterrestrials that are more than just humans with cosmetic differences. White’s aliens are physiologically far outside of the human experience, with asymmetrical bodies, unusual metabolisms, and strange and often monstrous appearances. Critically, they are also psychologically different. Empathic Cinrusskin aliens are aggressively agreeable peacemakers as they find negative emotional radiation physically painful. Predatory Chalder become too bored to eat when given food they don’t have to chase down and devour alive. White’s aliens are bemused by the human nudity taboo, described as unique to the species.
Designed to treat patients from all the intelligent races in the galaxy, Sector General has wards that replicate living conditions for a vast array of life forms. There are murky undersea wards for the forty-foot long, armored, crocodile-like Chalder, poisonous sections for the chlorine-breathing kelplike Illensans, sub-zero wards for the crystalline methane-breathing Vosans and superheated wards near the hospital’s reactor for radiation-eating Telfi hive-mind beetles.
And it has the tape learning, so common to the stories of the era.
Facing this incredible menagerie of patients, no doctor could be expected to know how to treat them all. On Sector General, physicians overcome this impossibility by using “educator tapes,” the stored experience of famous alien specialists which the doctors download directly into their brains. The genius psyche temporarily shares space with the doctor’s own persona and advises them as they aid patients. The process is described as intensely jarring, since the educator tapes contain not only the expertise, but the entire personality of its donor. Inexperienced doctors find themselves struggling to eat food that the taped personality disliked, suddenly enamored with members of the expert’s species to whom they wouldn’t normally be attracted, and in some cases they must struggle to maintain control of their own bodies in the face of a personality stronger than their own.
Most doctors hurriedly have their educator tapes “erased” when the emergency at hand has run its course, but some working closely with patients from another species will retain tapes for long periods. The highest ranked medical staff in the hospital are the lordly diagnosticians—senior physicians capable of permanently retaining as many as ten educator tapes in a sort of intentional multiple personality disorder.
The Sector General novels are available in omnibus editions from Tor Books.
I looked up the stories. Apparently, I can get all but two in Kindle editions.
Beginning Operations(Hospital Station, Star Surgeon, Major Operation), $7.99
- Alien Emergencies (Ambulance Ship, Sector General, Star Healer), $7.99
- General Practice (Code Blue: Emergency, The Genocidal Healer), $7.99
- The Galactic Gourmet (also in Tales of Sector General)
- Final Diagnosis (also in Tales of Sector General)
- Mind Changer, $7.99
- Double Contact, $6.99