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Mind Changer
James White
Tor Books, 304 pages

Mind Changer
James White
James White was born in 1928 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He apprenticed as a tailor and, for 22 years, worked as one until moving to a local aircraft company. There, he worked in the public relations department for the next 20 years. He took medical retirement for a worsening diabetic eye condition in 1984. His first SF sale was in 1952 to the British SF magazine, New Worlds. He is perhaps best known for his 11 Sector General books.

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A review by Todd Richmond

Mind Changer by James White is the eleventh book in the Sector General series. So far, the series includes one short story collection, nineteen novellas, and seven novels. The Sector General novels follow the exploits of a group of multi-species doctors stationed on a colossal space station, dealing with extraterrestrials, their exotic physiology and thought processes, and the problems associated with communication and understanding between so many cultures. His books have a tendency to focus on one or more of the major characters that appear throughout the series. His latest focuses on Dr. O'Mara, Sector General's chief psychologist. As you might expect, the chief psychologist has his hands full making sure that a hospital with a multi-species staff, treating all of the known species in the galaxy, runs smoothly. Not only does he have to deal with all of the problems of a normal hospital; frustrated and over-worked doctors, discontent patients and typical bureaucracy; he also has to deal with xenophobic staff and patients, cultural misunderstandings, and completely alien psychology. He has a terrible reputation at Sector General as a cold, unfeeling tyrant. If he's nice to you, it means that he thinks you need his professional help. Generally disliked by everyone, you'd think everyone would be happy to see him leave.

Unfortunately for O'Mara's fans, that's what this book is about. The powers-that-be think that it's time for some changes at Sector General. Previously the top administrator was a member of the Monitor Corps, the enforcement arm of the Federation, which decides to replace the current head with someone with medical experience and a detailed understanding of the medical needs of the hospital. Dr. O'Mara is given the promotion, but only long enough to find and train a replacement. Having been with Sector General since before its construction was complete, after training his replacement, O'Mara must take his long-overdue retirement.

Mind Changer has the requisite medical puzzle that is the hallmark of all Sector General novels. Sector General has experienced an outbreak of unusual behavior, sudden and uncharacteristic personality changes that border on paranoia and xenophobia. The cause of this phenomenon must be found before conflict tears the station apart. But Mind Changer is primarily about O'Mara's search for a replacement and about his career. As his career is ending, a series of stories about his past show us how his career has progressed, and how he came to be the person that he is as chief psychologist. Unfortunately, the very earliest story about how O'Mara became a psychologist on Sector General isn't included as part of this book. For that, you will have to track down "Medic," a short story found in Hospital Station, the first collection of stories about Sector General, or in The White Papers, a collection of many of James White's short stories.

For Sector General fans, picking up Mind Changer is probably a must. I have to confess, however, that as the series has continued, I have found myself less and less inclined to keep reading. The Sector General novels in recent years haven't had the same appeal as the early books in the series, like Hospital Station, Star Surgeon, and Star Healer. In my opinion, the series hit a low with the Galactic Gourmet, and, thankfully, is improving again. Mind Changer is a definite improvement over the Galactic Gourmet, and has many of the short story elements that I enjoy about the Sector General series. I think the medical puzzles and the alien first contact situations lend themselves to the short story/novella format. Part of the lack of appeal of some of White's latest books is that they try to take the elements of a short story and stretch them into a full novel. As a consequence, some parts of the story get drawn out to the point of tediousness. Mind Changer takes a step back by incorporating short stories about O'Mara's past into the novel that are complete enough that they could stand on their own. That, in my opinion, is a major improvement and a step in the right direction.

Copyright © 1998 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.

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