Mind Changer: A Sector General Novel [NOOK Book]


It's where human and alien medicine meet: a massive hospital space station on the Galactic Rim, with 384 levels and a multispecies staff of thousands.

In the course of practicing deep-space medicine, that staff has seen more than its share of challenges--from plagues caused by cafeteria food, to cafeteria food that resembles alien species. But now they are facing a ...
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Mind Changer: A Sector General Novel

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It's where human and alien medicine meet: a massive hospital space station on the Galactic Rim, with 384 levels and a multispecies staff of thousands.

In the course of practicing deep-space medicine, that staff has seen more than its share of challenges--from plagues caused by cafeteria food, to cafeteria food that resembles alien species. But now they are facing a disquieting new development: the terrifying Chief Psychologist, Dr. O'Mara, has been promoted to head of the hospital.

Worse, he's been given the job on a temporary basis, for just as long as it takes to train his own replacement. After that, he is up for mandatory retirement. Nobody at Sector General can begin to imagine what they'll do without him--assuming they last long enough to find out.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The latest novel in White's long-running and justly popular Sector General series Final Diagnosis, etc. -- about a far future, multi-species, interstellar hospital -- features an unlikely protagonist. He is Dr. O'Mara, the formidable and ferocious Chief Psychologist of Sector General, newly appointed head of the hospital until he can choose and train his successor. As O'Mara embarks on that quest, his 30-year old career at Sector General unfolds through a series of flashbacks, which also reveal a great deal about the early careers of some of the other ongoing characters in the series. Also depicted is the early progress with the Educator tapes that have allowed inter-species surgery through mental imprinting -- one of White's more original, durable, and admirable concepts. Through O'Mara's entire career runs his bond with Marrasarah, the Kelgian female surgeon whose Educator tape O'Mara used first, and from whom he developed therapies that helped her and other Kelgians severely disfigured by damage to their fur to lead sane and productive lives. The proliferation of flashbacks may occasionally confuse readers, but otherwise this is White's finest performance, replete with wit, originality, medical expertise and sheer decency. The Sector General saga is now in its 10th novel and 36th year, but is shows few signs of aging.
Science Fiction Chronicle
An entertaining stew of amusing, illustrative and inventive incidents.
Kirkus Reviews
Another of White's Sector General yarns (Final Diagnosis, 1997, etc.), about a colossal multi-species space hospital. This time, chief psychologist O'Maraþ-probably the most abrupt and antisocial being in the hospitalþ-has been appointed as the hospital's administrator, but only until O'Mara can find and train his own replacement, after which he himself must retire. The key to O'Mara's odd behavior, we learn, lies in his early career. The standard method of multi-skilling among physicians is for them to accept a taped brain impression from another specialist of a different species. Unfortunately, not just the skills transfer but the entire mental pattern. Kelgians resemble huge, furry worms; their fur twitches involuntarily to reflect their mental state, so the slightest damage to the fur renders them incapable of interacting socially with their own kind. In one of his first cases, O'Mara treated an unfortunate alien that had received a tape from a brilliant but fur-damaged (and hence dysfunctional) female Kelgian surgeon named Marrasarah. To understand the problem, and against all rules and regulations, O'Mara accepted a copy of the tape himself. Just as irregularly, he retained the tape after completing the treatment, and formed an unusual mental partnership with Marrasarah. This gave him a particular affinity for Kelgians and their distinctive psychology. Other successful encounters with Kelgians followed. Finally, in the present, while O'Mara interviews and studies possible successors, a problem arises. A Kermi called Tuneckis has lost its telepathic abilities on a conscious level, but unconsciously is projecting powerful feelings of despair, paranoia, and xenophobia. Soits doctors and nurses helplessly become xenophobic and violent themselves. In solving this problem, characteristically, O'Mara confirms his successor. A rather dissatisfying entry, with numerous small, rather same-ish medical puzzles but no large conundrum to engage readers throughout. And an O'Mara of human dimensions is less gratifying than he was as a sort of animated thunderbolt.
From the Publisher
"Sector General is one of the few places in SF that one would really, really like to exist." —David Langford, Critical Mass

"White's finest performance, replete with wit, originality, medical expertise, and sheer decency." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312871703
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Series: Sector General
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 263,521
  • File size: 314 KB

Meet the Author

James White lived in Northern Ireland. He was a popular writer of science fiction for over forty years. He died in 1999.
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Read an Excerpt


Far out on the galactic rim, where star systems were sparse and the darkness close to absolute, Sector Twelve General Hospital hung in space. Too vast by far to be considered a space station, too small to be called a metal moon, in its three hundred and eighty-four levels were reproduced the environments of all the intelligent species known to the Galactic Federation, a biological spectrum ranging from the ultra-frigid methane life-forms through the more normal oxygen- and chlorine-breathing types up to the exotic beings who lived by the direct conversion of hard radiation. Its thousands of viewports were constantly ablaze with lighting in the dazzling variety and intensity necessary for the visual sensors of its extraterrestrial patients and staff, so that to approaching ships the great hospital resembled a gigantic Christmas tree.
The most brilliant feature of all was the flashing pattern of warning beacons outlining the perimeter of the fusion reactors. But for the next few hours the real source of power within the vast establishment would lie behind a group of three yellow, lighted panels of moderate intensity on Level Thirty-Nine--although, O'Mara thought cynically, the people wielding that power would have been the first to make token denials of that fact.
But today he was receiving some very confusing signals from the beings who were standing, sitting, hanging, or otherwise reclining at ease around the big table. Something unusual had happened or was about to happen, or Skempton would not have been able to ensure this full attendance. By the nature of things within this medical madhouse that meant a surprise, almost certainly an unpleasant surprise, for someone here. As he stared slowly at the others in turn, he knew that the DBDGs present, as well as the few ETs who had learned how to read Earth-human facial expressions, were aware of his irritation.
With the exception of the hospital's administrator, Colonel Skempton, and himself, they were the hospital's medical elite, diagnosticians all and the heads of their respective departments. This was the first monthly Meeting of Diagnosticians that he could recall where all staff members had turned up and were staring at the colonel in silence instead of complaining loudly to each other about having better things to do elsewhere.
Definitely, O'Mara thought, the surprise was going to be an unpleasant one.
Around the big table the silence deepened until the quiet bubbling sound from the environmental protection vehicle of the water-breathing Diagnostician Vosan began to sound loud. Inside its protective chlorine envelope, Lachlichi twitched disgustingly but silently, and the highly refrigerated sphere containing Diagnostician Semlic radiated a supercooled silence, while the tentacles of Diagnostician Camuth, the Creppelian octopoid, made impatient, slapping noises against the floor. The others were warm-blooded oxygen-breathers who did not need to wear environmental protection, or even clothing apart from their badges of medical rank, with the exception of the three Earth-humans present. Diagnostician Conway had on his surgical white coveralls, while Colonel skempton and himself wore their dark green Monitor Corps uniforms. It was the colonel who finally broke the silence by clearing his throat.
As he knew it would, the Kelgian diagnostician, Yursedth, reacted at once. Its mobile, silvery fur rippled into angry eddies as it said loudly, "That noise illustrates the basic design flaw in your
Earth-human physiology, Colonel, that of having the functions of respiration and speech served by the same air passage. Surely you can exercise some voluntary control over the process when you prepare to speak, and refrain from making that disgusting sound."
The concepts of politeness, diplomacy, or otherwise hiding the truth were totally alien to Kelgians because, to another member of their species, the movements of their highly mobile fur expressed exactly what they were thinking and feeling from second to second, so that trying to vocalize a different message would have been a stupid waste of their time. Skempton ignored the outburst, as did everyone else in the room, and spoke.
"Before we get down to the routine business," he said, and added with a small, dry laugh, "if anything about this medical menagerie can be described as routine, I have two important announcements to make. They are the results of discussions and decisions taken at the highest level, that of the Federation's Medical Council and the subcommittee tasked with the supply, maintenance, and administration of Sector General. These decisions are irreversible, not subject to debate or amendment and, naturally, they will not please everyone."
He had the precise, colorless voice of a bookkeeper, O'Mara thought dryly, although over the years the excellence of his bookkeeping had earned him the highest nonmedical position in the hospital. As Skempton paused for a moment to look slowly around the table, his expression remained emotionless and his gaze lingered on O'Mara for perhaps an additional millisecond. But O'Mara was too good a psychologist to be blind and deaf to the other's body language.
The decisions, whatever they were, had certainly pleased Colonel Skempton.
"My first announcement," the colonel resumed, "is that I shall be relinquishing my position as the hospital's administrator and will shortly be leaving Sector General. This was not my decision, but as a serving Monitor Corps officer I have to go when and where I'm told. I am being appointed to a similar, but I think a much easier job, in the multi-species Monitor Corps base at Retlin on Nidia, with the substantive rank of fleet commander. I am not unhappy about this move because, large and well-appointed as our recreation level is, it is too small to include a proper golf course. So I look forward to relearning the game after twenty years' lack of practice…" He looked at O'Mara for a moment before ending, "…and playing it on real grass under a real sky."
O'Mara was the only other person in the hospital who knew about, and had helped the other to fight, his continuing war against claustrophobia and its related neuroses--a common enough problem among the hospital staff, especially with newly arrived trainees. In Skempton's case the war had gone well, although it had never been truly won.
Without changing his expression, he gave the colonel a nod of sympathy, understanding, and congratulation that was too brief for the others to see.
"Isn't that the game where Earth-humans knock a small ball into a slightly larger hole with a stick?" said Yursedth with a disapproving ruffle of its fur. "Our children play a game like that; the adults have more important things to do. But your promotion and anticipated juvenile pleasures, Colonel, are both well deserved."
Coming from a Kelgian, it was a highly complimentary speech. Everyone else around the table made the untranslatable sounds that were the extraterrestrial equivalents of murmurs of agreement.
The colonel dipped his head briefly in acknowledgment, then went on, "Before naming my successor, who has already been chosen, I must first inform you about two important changes in the job specification. Henceforth the position of hospital administrator will no longer be filled by a serving officer of the Monitor Corps but by a senior member of the medical staff. The reason the Federation's Medical Council gives for this is…"
Chairs, benches, and support frames creaked as their occupants changed position suddenly to stare at Thornnastor, the diagnostician-in-charge of Pathology and the acknowledged senior member of the medical hierarchy. Thornnastor, who did not use furniture because its species did everything including sleeping on their six elephantine feet, used its four extensible eyes to stare back at all of them simultaneously.
It stamped two of its feet for emphasis, and when the loose equipment about the room had stopped rattling, it said, "Don't look at me. With respect, Colonel, I'm a pathologist, not a glorified supplies clerk. If I have been considered for the position, I respectfully decline it."
Skempton ignored the interruption and continued, "…is that someone with medical experience and a detailed understanding of the medical needs of the hospital--rather than a Service-indoctrinated, glorified supplies clerk, even one with my lengthy experience in the job--will eventually occupy the position. The new appointee will have to satisfy the Federation's Medical Council, but more importantly our own medical staff, regarding his, her, or its fitness for the post…"
Inside its ultra-refrigerated protective sphere, the tiny, crystalline entity that was Diagnostician Semlic spoke in a voice like the amplified but ineffably sweet chiming of colliding snowflakes. From their translator packs came the words "Who the hell is it?"
"The first of the new-style hospital administrators," Skempton replied, looking directly at O'Mara with an expression that was sympathetic rather than congratulatory, "will be our chief psychologist."
For a moment surprise left O'Mara incapable of speech, a condition so rare that he could not remember the last time it had happened, but he did not allow his feelings to show in either his expression or his voice.
"I'm not qualified," he said firmly.
Before the colonel could reply, Ergandhir, the Melfan diagnostician, raised one of its thin, exoskeletal limbs and began clicking the pincers loudly together for attention.
"I agree," it said. "Major O'Mara is not qualified. Shortly after joining the hospital I was surprised to discover that it had no formal medical training or qualifications, but that it was virtually running the place, and that in real terms its authority, with respect, Colonel, exceeded your own. But you have just stated that the appointee must be medically qualified, so you appear to be contradicting yourself. Are you waiving that requirement in O'Mara's case? If for some reason you are already changing the rules…"
It had been an even longer time, O'Mara thought with angry embarrassment, since anyone had so much as dared mention his lack of medical training to his face, much less publicly and in such distinguished company. He thought about using a few pungent and appropriate words that would lift the skin off Ergandhir's back, even though as a Melfan that area was covered only by a bony carapace. But the other was still talking.
"…Its time served in Sector General exceeds that of everyone in this room," Erghandir was saying, "because it joined Sector General before the final assembly of the structure was complete. Since then, as head of the Department of Other-Species Psychology, it has held the place together by showing the inhabitants of this medical madhouse how to live and work together as a unit. Its experience in this respect is unequaled. But I have an orderly mind, Colonel. I would like to know why you make rules one moment and break them the next--although, needless to say, I have no problem with your choice of administrator"
Around the table there were more untranslatable noises signifying approval. Yursedth said, "It has never been a requirement that the administrator be popular."
Their reaction gave O'Mara a warm feeling of surprise and pleasure, which he did not allow to show in his face because that would have been a totally uncharacteristic reaction from the most disliked person in the hospital, but he decided that the nonexistent skin on Ergandhir's back was safe. He nodded toward the Kelgian, then looked steadily at Skempton.
"Yursedth is correct," he said. "But I repeat, Colonel, I am still not qualified. My experience in procuring medical and maintenance supplies is nil. In this area the job is far beyond my level of competence." In a very disrespectful voice he added, "I, too, will respectfully decline."
"You will not decline," said the other firmly, "because the alternative would mean you leaving Sector General at once. Besides, my department is efficient and my staff are very good, good enough to make me feel redundant most of the time, and they will take care of all the routine matters involving procurement and transportation of supplies, with or without supervision. You must be left free to do the more important and urgent work--which, we believe, you are uniquely qualified to do."
"Which is?" said O'Mara.
Skempton stared back at him but appeared to be ducking the question. Obviously there was something he was finding it difficult to say, something which O'Mara might not like to hear.
The colonel went on. "I've no intention of breaking all the new rules on the first day. As I have already said, this is to be a civil appointment. You will therefore have to resign your rank of major in the Monitor Corps. This should be no hardship since it was originally given to you for purely administrative reasons and Corps discipline never has meant anything to you, especially…" He smiled faintly. "…in the matter of obeying the orders of senior officers. You will, of course, retain your position as head of
Multi-Species Psychology because henceforth the positions of administrator and chief psychologist are to be merged into One. But as a civilian administrator you will not have to accept orders from any other person within the hospital, which is simply regularizing the unofficial situation as it is now, and obey only the one general directive of the Federation's Medical Council…"
"Which is?" O'Mara broke in again, this time making no attempt to conceal his impatience. If there was anything he disliked, it was having to repeat a simple question.
The other hesitated, forced a smile, then said, "The good news is that your appointment will be temporary. It will last only for as long as it takes for you to select, evaluate, and fully train your successor."
For a moment there were so many excited, other-species voices speaking at once that his translator was making the derisive beeping sound that signaled input overload. O'Mara did not speak until everyone was quiet again.
"And the bad news?" he said.
Skempton looked very uncomfortable, but his voice was steady as he replied, "You have given exemplary service to this hospital for a very long time, Major, or I should say, ex-Major O'Mara. I fully agree with the majority of the Medical Council who say that, in the early years especially, it could not have functioned without you. But choosing and grooming your successor to a level of excellence that is as close as possible to your own may well be the most important and professionally challenging project you will ever undertake. And when you have completed it to your own satisfaction…"
The colonel paused. When he went on, his expression, O'Mara thought, showed an odd mixture of reluctance, sympathy, and deep anxiety, as if he was experiencing both sorrow and the expectation of an imminent emotional eruption.
"Well, Administrator O'Mara," he ended awkwardly, "I have already said that you have served this hospital for a very long time. As soon as you have completed this assignment, you will be required to leave and take your long-overdue retirement."

Copyright © 1998 by James White
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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 22, 2014

    Enjoyable series

    I've now read several of the "Sector General" books, really enjoy them. It's an interesting concept, with imaginative beings from other planets. Dated in many ways, of course; for poorly explained reasons, no female of any species can obtain the top rank of diagnostician. I'm also rather tired of the politely euphemistic descriptions of the obviously very well endowed female human character Murchison. It seems improbable that due to their nudity taboo, only humans wear clothes. Perhaps it saved having to describe clothing for six legged, multi tentaclesd beings!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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