HOSPITAL STATION by James White
Corgi Books | 1962 | paperback | 191 pages
Science fiction with a difference.
Hospital Station does not deal with galaxy wars, or science gone mad. its heroes are not space-men, or technicians.
Hospital Station is the story of a vast galactic hospital – where everyone – and everything in the universe can be treated.
The heroes are doctors and nurses – who have eight legs – or none; who breathe methane – or water. Each patient is a fantastic and challenging problem – getting close to an invalid – whose ‘food’ is radiation. Caring for a baby – who weights half a ton.
The incredibly account of a hospital in the sky.
One of the few things more enjoyable than finding a new author (by which I mean, of course, new to me), is finding a new author and discovering that they’re pretty damn good. Even better than that is finding a pretty damn good new author who also has an extensive back catalogue.
James White certainly falls into this category, having released 28 books in his lifetime, of which half belonged to the Sector General series (of which this book, Hospital Station, is but the first instalment). Oh, and since it was part of my original conditions, yes: this book is good… very good.
Bearing in mind I know nothing of the series, or the author (beyond counting the number of unique books in his bibliography), thus I have no idea what the final end-game of Sector General is. This first book reads like a collection of short stories, packaged together to make a coherent novel, rather than a book planned out end-to-end. There is no overall story arc, for one thing, unless you consider Dr Conway’s rise through the hospital ranks as he treats one new extra-terrestrial patient after another.
Whatever its origins, it’s a great read, detailing life onboard a massive, multi-species hospital in space. Some of the terminology can get confusing at times, even wearisome in some cases (I’m thinking specifically of the four-character alien taxonomy system that White invents for the story, which often took me out of the flow of the story), but the story itself is excellent, a sort of science fiction precursor to House, with each new chapter revealing a hitherto unknown (both to the reader, and in-universe) patient exhibiting bizarre and unfathomable symptoms.
With each portion of the novel being somewhat disparate from one another, it lacks the sense of fulfilment one might get from a novel-length narrative, which is the only reason it’s not getting the full five stars from me. That said, I enjoyed the world that White created in this first outing, and look forward to picking up more books in the series, if I can find them for a reasonable price.