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|The Genocidal Healer
by James White
Published by Ballantine Books, 1991
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Recommended by: Ross Pavlac
White is (along with Murray Leinster) the top name in "Medical science fiction." This recent novel of his covers a lot of bioethics issues. White was Guest of Honor at the 1996 World Science Fiction Convention.
I have always loved James White's "Sector General" stories, but I had never considered reviewing any here, because they're not particularly deep. Lots of fun, puzzle-solving, getting to see familiar characters through alien eyes, and so on, but not much of a message beyond a general advocation of tolerance and diversity.
However, this story does show real depth. The protagonist is Lioren, a highly skilled doctor of a species which considers apologising the lowest form of humiliation. He is the doctor of a ship dispatched when a planet is discovered where the inhabitants have been reduced to a few thousand individuals by a global epidemic and incessant warfare. When he acts against advice to perform the treatment he considers necessary, almost all of the surviving population die. Where he was supposed to be a healer, he is now responsible for genocide. He acts as his own prosecution in a court-martial, and calls for the death penalty. By his species' philosophy, asking for forgiveness is impossible, and yet when he is refused the death penalty, he must live with the consequences.
And so, White brings moral and theological issues squarely into the heart of his most popular SF book series. Lioren, in the course of his new duties, studies the religions of many alien races, looking for answers. He finds answers which will be familiar to Christian readers, but cannot solve his own crisis. The only way he can bear to live is by asking for and receiving forgiveness, but he can neither bring himself to ask, nor can he bring himself to believe in a god to ask to forgive him. His wrestling raises White's "Sector General" books to a new level. Greg Slade
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