Major Operation (Sector General, book 3)
By James White
Major Operation (first published in 1971) is the third of James White’s Sector General books. Like the first volume and unlike the second, Major Operation is a collection of short pieces. In this case, all involve the enigmatic planet Meatball.
Sector 12 General Hospital is a vast hospital space station. Located in deep space, Sector General is equipped to treat all known life forms and to make a good try at treating unknown beings as well. The staff is as diverse as its patients.
Warning: James Does Not Like Sector General as Much as Other People Do.
Meatball is peculiar in that the continents and seas are filled with a superabundance of life. The continents in particular are covered in a layer of living flesh, thus the planet’s name. The Federation is no stranger to peculiar worlds and even more peculiar beings. If there are intelligent beings on the planet, the Federation will do its best to invite them to join the galactic community. Key to the effort: the hardworking staff of Sector General.
I picked this up because the edition I saw had a John Berkey cover and I’d had good luck with books with Berkey covers. In this case, results were mixed.
On the plus side, SF novels that firmly eschewed violent solutions were rare at the time. There were other SF medical works but not many, and none as prolific as the Sector General books. In retrospect, I am a little surprised this setting never got the shared universe treatment or even a GURPS sourcebook.
On the minus side, the problems and solutions in this volume often seem contrived. As well, a number of problems could have been avoided if Sector General and the Federation were familiar with the concept of due diligence. As it is, they like to charge in without having the facts. It is true they eventually resolve all the crises, but it seems that points should be deducted if the crises one is solving were initially due to iatrogenesis.
I found this book memorable for reasons other than the merits of the stories: this is the book that showed me how useful alphabetizing libraries could be. Until I organized my library, I didn’t connect this volume with Monsters and Medics. If there were two books by White (one of which I enjoyed), there might be more. A search for his books ensued.
Major Operation is available as part of Beginning Operations: A Sector General Omnibus, which can be found here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).
Now for the stories.
Invader • [Sector General] • (1966) • novelette
Was Mannon’s sequence of medical mishaps evidence of professional error or was some outside force working on the unfortunate surgeon? Chief Psychologist O’Mara investigates. Evidence links the mishaps to a recent expedition to the newly discovered planet Meatball.
I cannot help but notice that the staff begin by assuming Mannon is innocent, despite all the evidence (and Mannon’s own conviction) pointing the other way.
Vertigo • [Sector General] • (1968) • novelette
Believing that a space craft launched from Meatball is in trouble, a Federation ship “rescues” its pilot. The rescue very nearly kills the craft’s occupant, thanks to the rescuers’ profound ignorance of the occupant’s biology. Can Federation – Meatball relations be salvaged?
The first error made by the Galactics was assuming that the occupant needed rescuing. From Meatball’s perspective, aliens kidnapped their astronaut. After that, the story is about the Federation’s struggle to solve a problem caused by the Federation.
Blood Brother • [Sector General] • (1969) • novelette
Meatball native Surreshun forgives all and provides an introduction to its exuberant civilization. Evidence suggests that Shurreshun’s people, the Rollers, are not alone on Meatball. Making contact with this hypothetical second civilization poses great personal risk.
Meatball having a ferociously active land ecology, the Rollers have taken to clearing regions with the application of dirty nuclear weapons. Rather unbelievably, the Rollers deal with the long-term implications of poisoning their world by ignoring the problem. Logically, any civilization that did that would not last long.
Meatball • [Sector General] • (1969) • novelette
The staff of Sector General are convinced that Drambo (formerly known as Meatball) is home to at least two unrelated civilizations. The Rollers were easy to locate. The hypothetical second civilization proves enigmatic.
Major Operation • [Sector General] • (1971) • novelette
Sector General’s staff tackles the challenge posed by dangerously ill patients, each the size of a continent, with an alien physiology as yet poorly understood and no ability to communicate. Even the concept of communication is lacking. Failure to bridge the communications gap will be fatal.