Monday reading: classic sci-fi

Well I am discovering all sorts of fun memes here in bookblogland! Sheila from Book Journey wants to know: what are you reading?

Heh, I am reading Beginning Operations by James White. Beginning Operations is actually a collection of the first three novels in his Sector General series. I read one of these novels years ago and never forgot it. I don’t know why they aren’t more widely known because they sure are fun.

Do you remember the cantina scene in the original Star Wars movie?

Sector General is kind of like the cantina, except that it’s a HOSPITAL. And there are thousands of different alien species in this hospital, both patients and staff. Some of them breathe water or chlorine; others don’t breathe at all. Some of them require 4 Gs of gravity; others must float. Some of them must be kept at near-absolute zero temperatures; others are radioactive and hot. Some weigh several tons; others are microscopic. And the stories are basically about all the different accommodations that must be made for all these different species. Yes there is plot, but really it is all about the setting. And my favorite thing about it is that whenever a new species is mentioned, the author invariably includes a bit of info about the alien’s home planet conditions to explain why they have those particular characteristics; it is never random. I have a long-standing interest in biology, and particularly evolutionary biology, and this feeds right into it.

These stories probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, though. They are quite typical of pre-1970s hardcore sci-fi. The doctors are all male and the nurses are all female — at least, for the species that actually have gender. The “futuristic” technology is dated (they use “intercom mikes,” for example, and educational “tapes”). But the prose is rock-solid and unobtrusive; the aliens are brilliant; and the scrapes they find themselves in are hilarious. Classic science fiction just doesn’t get any better than this.

What are you reading today?

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