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Mind Changer: A Sector General Novel    by James White order for
Mind Changer
by James White
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 1999 (1998)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Sector General is a hospital, an artificial world that, in the author's own words, 'reproduces the environments of all the intelligent species known to the Galactic Federation'. Since those species breathe anything from oxygen to methane, and one even requires hard radiation to survive, their variety is breathtaking. To human eyes they resemble crabs, caterpillars, and butterflies; many defy description. Given the size of Sector General and the careful partitioning into self-contained sections, each with its own environment, one would think each would have its own medical staff as well. But where would be the fun in that? It's in the mixing of aliens and alien cultures that science-fiction takes off.

White postulates a single (massive) hospital, in which medical experts, the most competent in their fields, come together to help people, no matter what their size, shape or environmental needs. His stories are a fascinating blend of hospital drama, alien contact, and often detective work, as Sector General's staff puzzles out the mysteries of alien biology and psychology. The only villains are death and disease; in White's universe, well-meaning beings of amazingly diverse types work together. Reading any Sector General story is a treat for its characters and ingenious plot.

Mind Changer, like many of the Sector General tales, is told from the point of view of Chief Psychologist O'Mara, who is also the hospital administrator. As head of the hospital, he deals with a myriad of concerns - medical, professional, psychological, administrative, and personal. He is in fact the head of government of a virtual small planet, and the experience gained in a lifetime of serving Sector General is invaluable. Now facing mandatory retirement, O'Mara is looking for his own replacement, whom he must also train. Filling his shoes will be a daunting and challenging task. In addition to his wealth of experience, O'Mara has intelligence and an extremely forceful personality.

Ingenious stories in a fascinating setting, peopled with wondrous characters, all in the larger context of a civilization that spans the stars - James White's universe is one I can only wish were real. He has created a place where diverse beings meet with one common goal, to help those in need. Similarly, his Galactic Federation is a civilized one, ruled by the Pax Galactica, which is maintained by the Monitor Corps. White has written a series of novels in this setting, so those wishing to visit his Sector General universe have many opportunities to do so.

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