James White





Ballantine, Mar 1977
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Science Fiction Short Stories

To my mind, James White was one of the most lovable of science fiction writers. His popular Sector General series combined his lost hope of being a physician, with a fertile imagination for alien biology and psychology. The resulting stories are often a form of medical or psychological mystery. They hinge on gaining an understanding of a set of aliens so wildly varied they rival even David Brinís Uplift universe. White has also written several books not part of the series. MONSTERS AND MEDICS is one of the independent collections.

Second Ending. What would happen if a man awakened from cryosleep to discover he was being tenderly cared for by robots, and was the last living thing on earth? Second Ending was nominated for a Hugo Award, one of the top awards in the field.

Counter Security. A night watchman tracks down the perpetrator of scary pranks in a department store. Trying to think like an alien isnít easy when all you have to go on is science fiction magazines. White gives us just a taste of his knack for inventing aliens.

Dogfight. A mysterious computer is conducting a mysterious, successful, galactic war, in which the victors have no idea what they are doing. The stunning explanation is a whole new way of looking at humanity.

Nuisance Value. A bereaved son spends decades in a quixotic investigation of his fatherís death, while the world goes to chaos around him. Suddenly a new government takes a sinister interest in his findings.

In Loving Memory. The sci fi version of a social worker mourns his greatest failure on a burning world. The author said he wrote this when he was falling in love with the woman who would be his wife, and the story was influenced by his emotional state.

The Apprentice. A department store personnel manager tries to find a successful niche for a friendly, clumsy, alien employee, who makes trouble wherever he works. Charming and satisfying.

Answer Came There None. The aging civilization of Earth sends out searchers for another sentient species, but they keep finding planets whose sentient populations have died out. Even if there was something they could do to revive hope, would they want to do it?

Introduction: Reality In Science Fiction. Actually placed at the beginning of the book, this is an interesting description of the authorís creative process. Well, not description. Even the author can give little indication how his ideas grow from the everyday things of his everyday world, but they do. He demonstrates with a sample from one of these stories.

I picked up MONSTERS AND MEDICS to read on a shopping trip, figuring I could stop at the end of any short story and return to the book I had going at home. Instead, I read the entire book, made my friends listen to me talk about it, and now Iím reminding the world of it in a review.

Sadly, James White has died. His books are being reissued in omnibus trios, which is a relief because some of them were out of print and difficult to find. Donít stop after reading MONSTERS AND MEDICS. These stories only hint at Whiteís greatest strength.

Because there are so many people named James White in the world, Iíve tracked down a website for you: . "Sector General" in the URL refers to the series, which is about an outer-space hospital where medics of many species treat aliens of all species. When I recommended Sector General to my sister, she became an instant convert. I reread them now and then, to be repeatedly surprised by their detailed invention and humorous kindheartedness.

Dec 2003 Review


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