Alan E. Nourse… I doubt any of you have heard of him. The only reason I know the name is because I frequent Project Gutenberg. Don’t know that one, either? Project Gutenberg is an organization dedicated to collecting all written books into a single, free, digital archive. Their collection only includes books that are no longer copyrighted and have slipped into public domain. Unfortunately, many of these books are nearly impossible to find in print form anymore, but Gutenberg makes the e-book versions available to everyone.
Now, as you know, I’m a fan of sci-fi. I particularly love the good, simple (some might say ‘simplistic’ but I ignore those people) stories from days when sci-fi was really getting started. Sure, the genre began back with Verne and maybe even before him, but it really got its feet under itself in the early decades of the 1900s. Alan Nourse was on the tail end of that era.
Star Surgeon is the only novel/novella length tale I’ve read of his, though I enjoy his short (and often humorous) stories. Written in ’59, it’s just long enough to classify as a novel, though it seemed rather shorter to me. Regardless, it was just right length for the story he had to tell, so Mr. Nourse gets top marks for that. A good story can go ugly so easily when the writer doesn’t know when enough is enough or where the “too little” mark lies.
Now, if you look it up, you might run across a Wikipedia entry for another story by the same name, with a link at the top to the right story. It says “you might be looking for a 1959 juvenile fictions by…” etc. Juvenile? As in ‘for kids’? I’m no longer a kid and I enjoyed this very much. Of course, the ‘juvenile’ part might mean it had no “mature content” in it. Regardless, it’s a great story and the guy who called it juvenile can go eat his hat. Or someone else’s hat. Or socks. I really don’t care. (can you tell the ‘juvenile” comment got me steamed?)
The plot IS admittedly cliche, but a good writer can take a cliche and turn it into his own, which is what happened here. Without letting out any spoilers, Star Surgeon is about the first non-human doctor to attend Earth’s medical schools. In the book, dear old Terra has joined a federation of planets, but it turns out humans are the only species that have much medical experience, so doctors become Earth’s defining asset. Thus, having an alien attend an Earth medical school is a big deal. As you can probably guess, the story is about the alien, Dal Timgar, achieving the respect of the human doctors.
In the process… well, actually most of the process, is his team’s discovery of a new and unique life-form. As the plot obviously demands, this new life form is in the grips of a plague and Timgar and his fellow (human) doctors have to find out how to save it. I won’t tell you whether they succeed or not.
Now, the cliche of the human who hates him and the human who is his staunch friend is blinding present here, but I didn’t find it a problem. It’s a good story and it demanded this cliche. Again, Nourse carried it off beautifully. (also, with ALL of these cliches, you have to remember, this book is almost 60 years old, so when it was written, the cliches weren’t quite so cliche)
Even though there was nothing actually wrong with this story, all the “cliches” might have made it sound bad, so here are the goods I found.
First off, Timgar’s pet is super cute. I’m not a huge fan of ‘cute’ but this little guy made me want one. ‘Nuff said?
Nourse is brilliant when it comes to creating alien races. As I said, I’ve read some of his short stories and he’s imaginative, creative, and never cliched in this respect. As it was, the true nature of the aliens in ‘Star Surgeon’ was stunning. He picked the perfect type to fit the plot and setting of this story.
Crazily enough, I actually LIKED the small amount of political intrigue in this book. (I usually hate political intrigue, for the same reason I hate/love the Dilbert comic strip; it’s so realistic) Here, however, it was a good part of the story, one that left me rooting for Timgar even more than otherwise, as well as giving me a bit of a (good) surprise at the ending.
So, here’s a link to Star Surgeon in paperback and in e-book. If you have a Kindle or some other e-reader, go now. Get it. It’s well worth the 30 seconds you’ll need to download it. If you DON’T have an e-reader, you can still read it on the computer. If you don’t like reading on a screen, I highly suggest buying the paperback. The only reason the print copy isn’t in MY possession currently is because the $10 it costs would put me even deeper in the red than I already am.
Move out, readers!