It’s getting to be the time of year when you have to start thinking about gifts. Bah. For others. Humbug. Or maybe just because the November weather is giving you the perfect opportunity to explore like in the Great Indoors. Perhaps you are just a bibliobibuli, c.f. someone who reads too much. Or maybe the dispatches from SDLP party conference have whetted your appetite for escapism. Either way, this seasonal Slugger book club is for you. So pull up an armchair while we discuss classic NI books, past and present.
This week….James White’s Sector General Series.
Who dunnit: James White, born in Belfast 1928. After a few years in Canada, White returned to Belfast, and lived with foster parents while he was a teenager. He worked first in the clothing industry, then as an assistant manager at the Co Op and then at Short Brothers Ltd. from 1965. He moved to Portstewart in the 1980s. White was a member of the
famous not so well known “Belfast Triangle” along with Bob Shaw and Walt Willis. A lifelong pacifist, White was a Council Member of the British Science Fiction Association for many years and a Patron of the Irish Science Fiction Association.
Why is it a classic: Although nominated four times for Hugo / Nebula awards, White never took home the honours. Paul Kincaid, British sci-fi critic and recipient of the Clareson Award for outstanding service in the field of science fiction, described White as second-rank writer who occasionally produced first-rank works. Miaow. Yet, while not consistently well regarded by critics, White’s Sector General Series “defined the sub-genre of multi-species medical stories” and was “the first explicitly pacifist space opera” series. So if a gigantic multi-species hospital space station founded as a peace-making project by two heroes from opposite sides of humanity’s only full interstellar war tickles your fancy, you could do worse than start here. Plus…telepathic dinosaur experiments.
Reasons to Give it a Miss: Telepathic dinosaur experiments.
Three words to sum up the plot: Interspecies medical drama? Interstellar Holby City? Pacifist space opera?
Can I just watch the movie?: Nope. There is no shortcut to reading all 12 novels plus four additional short stories. If you haven’t made it past the first book in Wheel of Time, abandon, abort! This is not an undertaking for any but the most committed sci fi / medical / pacifist armchair warriors.
Who to buy it for: Obviously sci-fi fans. Anyone still watching Grey’s Anatomy, which is bearing less and less resemblance to life on earth. A friend working in a less than creatively inspiring field with dreams of future artistic success. A technophobe who eschews ebooks, because Sector General is hard copy only (in this galaxy anyway). This series is also for anyone likely to appreciate profound yet zany aphorisms, exemplified in Double Contact:
“There is nothing entirely new under this or any other sun.”
What do you think? Top of the gift list or would you rather get coal in your stocking? Back every week from now til Christmas…ho ho ho etc.