Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, October 2, 2015

1977: Monsters & Medics (White, James)

Pretty good novel amid so-so shorter stories (3/5)

The cute alliterative title to the collection would make one believe that the collection is based on White’s Sector General series when, in fact, it’s wholly outside of it. This is a good thing as the series tends to get tedious quite quickly with its repetitive gags, alien classifications, tepid love story, and predictable conclusions to minor emergencies.

Though White is know for his Sector General series, it’s been his other material that has impressed me. His novel Escape Orbit [var: Open Prison] (1964) seems to have been fashioned on the short story “Dogfight” (1959) found in this collection; Escape Orbit is a great step-by-step procedural of how planet-bound captives plan their escape. Four other notable non-Sector General novels are The Watch Below (1966), Tomorrow is Too Far (1971), The Dream Millennium (1974), and The Silent Stars Go By (1991). Each mark the more serious side to the writer than the camp delivery of most of the Sector General series.

Monsters & Medics is a five-story collection that includes a full novel—Second Ending—along with two novelettes and two short stories. The novel in the collection is, thankfully, the best among the bunch. It’s a grim look at being the last man on earth and how to cope with looking forward to humankind’s prospective return to the planet is it’s at all possible… and if it’s not, then how? The other four stories are well-written but lack the punch or maturity as with Second Ending.

Second Ending (novel, 1962) – 4/5
Ross was diagnosed with incurable leukemia in 2017 and placed in Deep Sleep until a cure could be found. When he finally awakens, there isn’t anyone there to greet him but only a stationary facsimile of his old doctor colleague to inform him that he’s been cured. As he snoops around the empty hallways, he discovers that the current year is 2308. When he comes across the robotic Ward Sister, his knowledge of the world becomes singular: he’s the last person left, five miles safely underground, and king of the barren wasteland that was once Earth. 91 pages

Counter Security (novelette, 1963) – 3/5
In the basement of the department store Hardware and Dobbs, something strange is happening: each night, someone goes into the toy storage and mutilates one of the dolls in the same manner. This is Mr. Steele’s main grievance but the missing power tools and god in the stairwell also irk him. Tully is the security guard charged with staking out the entrances and exits and to ultimately find the culprit. Being a heavy science fiction reader, his mind is prone to extreme circumstances, which may just save him this time, actually. 22 pages

Dogfight (novelette, 1959) – 3/5
When Earth humans first engaged in war with the humanoid Semrans, the alien’s war computer tended to be much more powerful than the human’s R1. Proceeding models—R2 to R6—just didn’t meet the needs of the military as too many casualties had be wrought. In charge of the newest and most victorious computer RK9, Henson is actually a spy for the Semrans yet even he doesn’t know the secret to the great machine’s success, yet he does know that it’s progressively senile. 25 pages

Nuisance Value (shortstory, 1975) – 3/5
Barlcay may be in his sixties, but he’s still on a perpetual quest to find the truth behind his father’s death fifty years prior. The story went that his astronaut father took a plane over the sea without enough fuel yet another rumor said that he defected to the Russians. When modern society went to pot and anarchy reigned, Barclay maintained his hunt. He made allegiance and followed leads—which led to some state secrets—and ultimately to the receptive administrator named Citizen Conlon. 21 pages

In Loving Memory (shortstory, 1956) – 4/5
The planet of Phoenix was discovered by to a recent human survey ship and named as such because of its long, fiery summer on its approach around the sun. It’s soon discovered that the planet is inhabited by an ancient colony of evolved humans who have adapted to the dramatic seasons, only the planet is doomed as it’s bound for the sun. Ever the altruists, the humans offer each of the inhabitants a shot to standardize them to galactic norm, yet one lovely girl refuses, breaking the heart of her human lover and linguist. 13 pages

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