Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

1971: Major Operation (White, James)

Conway vs. Meatball: surprises galore (3/5)
From August 10, 2011

Major Operation is a Sector General novel (the third of twelve) comprised of five novelettes: "Invader" (1966), "Vertigo" (1968), "Blood Brother" (1969), "Meatball" (1969), and the self-titled "Major Operation" (1971). This is the fourth Sector General book I've read and while the whole alien emergency scenario gets a little old, James White still pulls a few surprises to entice the reader. These surprises are just enough to pull the reader through the sometimes predictable jungle of medical emergencies littered throughout the pages. This is especially true in Major Operation, where a planetary mystery evolves into a medical mystery and back.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Star Surgeon Conway, Nurse Murchison, and the doctors of Sector General were used to big problems and wonderfully strange patients--yet even tentacled Chalders, elephantine Tralthans and the spidery empath Dr. Prilicla were baffled.
The denizens of the weird planet included wheelshaped rolling sentients without hearts, leechlike healers without brains, and vast carpets of withering flesh. One of the species had invented a quasi-living tool that could change galactic medicine... if only Conway and his staff could find it.
He knew that to solve the mystery he would need all the alien talents of Sector General's interstellar staff to mount an unparalleled major operation."

Invader - 4/5 - Some curious incidents involving surgical mistakes and miscounted tools have led Conway to investigate a few theories. These theories are only that and Chief Psychologist O'Hara thinks Conway may be creating mass hysteria. His investigation uncovers a scout ship which has recently returned in a damaged condition from a planet called Meatball. Through Conway's persistence, a unique and rather useful life form has emerged on the ship. 40 pages

Vertigo - 4/5 - A research team is dispatched to the orbit of Meatball, where they witness an orbit craft freshly launched. The team attempt to stop the craft's rotation but the occupant emotes panic and resumes it's gyrations. Requiring much engineering and some brainstorming, the team figure out how to snare the craft and allow it to dock in the research ship. 27 pages

Blood Brother - 3/5 - Conway attempts to upload the memories of the rotating alien but finds the experience too extreme, even though he has subsumed alien memories before. To understand the dire stress of the planet Meatball and to observe the strictly solitary lives of the aliens, a culture contact team will go planet-side, including Conway. Once down, things never go quite as planned and Conway is attacked and yet saved by the same entity in the sea below. 35 pages

Meatball - 3/5 - Once the study of the exotic doctor organism found on the seafloor is at a satisfactory conclusion, a pathology team, including the pulchritudinous DBDG Murchison, take a trip down to the surface to try to understand the giant massive animal/vegetable being which sprawls across the surface of the planet Meatball, which is now known as Drambo since communication with the wheelie-alien had been successful, if not a tad bit annoying. 33 pages

Major Operation - 4/5 - The pathology team, assisted by military-cum-surgeons and miners-cum-surgeons, attempt surgery on an epic scale on the densely layered carpet of life on the face of the planet. Every attempt to help the entity is met with resistance since it lacks the senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell. The doctor-like organisms help those who emote friendliness but attack those with ill-will. The military and medical staff must find a fast solution to cease the human loss and save the life of the patient. 48 pages

For those used to the Sector General series, you won't be perturbed by the casual mentioning of DBDG, SRJH, TLTU or ELNT descriptions of alien life forms or the recurrent cafeteria theme and the usual difficulty Conway has on finding an appropriate seat and an appropriate meal. Many of the same characters make their appearance (especially Conway, Murchison and O'Hara while Thornnaster and Prilicla take on supporting roles). There seems to be a generous amount of tongue-in-cheek humor and some restrained sexual tension between the married couple and even in the general words written by White. Curious.

For the new reader of James White, this is great introduction novel. For the more weathered White reader, it has the same-old, same-old feel as all the other Sector General novels. Unique science fiction but just so-so for James White.

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