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I read a few Nourse books when I was a young man. I knew nothing about him or even where to look to find out anything. The only thing I was positive was that if his name was on the book I would enjoy it. STAR SURGEON was one of those and, in rereading for this post, a lot of it felt new. I mean I remembered the basic idea, but that was about it. Thousands of books have come and gone since then.

Thanks to the internet, one can learn about all but the most obscure writers if you know where to look.

Alan E. Nourse was born in 1928 and served in the Navy after WWII. He graduated from Rutgers in 1951, married his wife, Anne, in 1952, and received a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. A one year internship in Seattle, Washington was followed by a medical practice in North Bend, Washington from 1958 to 1963, all the while pursuing his writing. He’d in fact sold stories to help pay his way through medical school.

Nourse counted among his friends Avram Davidson and Robert Heinlein. Heinlein dedicated his novel, FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD, to Nourse and did the same, in part, to Nourse’s wife, Ann, in FRIDAY. His novel, THE BLADERUNNER, was acquired just to use the title on the movie version of Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? William S. Burroughs was hired to do a story treatment of the Nourse book, but went no further as a movie. It later showed up as a novella titled, Blaedrunner: a Movie by Burroughs.

Now to the book. First published in 1959, hardcover I would imagine, Scholastic put out an edition in 1964. The above cover is from the 1986 Ace issue.

In this future, Earth is a probationary member of the Galactic Confederation(when full membership was attained, a seat on the Council was accorded) a group of united alien races who require two things before a species even is asked to join. They must have invented a star drive on their own and they must have something to contribute to the Confederation.

Medical expertise was Earth’s contribution. Most races had their own medical services, but none of them was into it like Earth.

Hospital Earth had huge hospital ships that patrolled through regions, easily reached if the General Practice Patrol ships needed help. Each branch of the medical profession had their own colors: black for pathology, red for surgery, blue for diagnostics, and green for general physician.

Dal Timgar was the first and only alien that had made it through eight years of schooling on Earth. And a hard eight years it had been. In those eight years, he had only one friend, Tiger Martin, everyone else either avoiding him or giving him the cold shoulder. His only backer had been a member of the Black Corp of Pathology, a man he seldom saw. He also had a Black Doctor who was determined to get rid of him.

Ever since childhood, when he’d seen a plague kill his mother and leave his father a cripple, it had been his desire to wear the red cape of surgery and, especially, the silver star of Star Surgeon.

The differences in Dal, a Garvian, and humans was slight: four digits on his hands, a slight frame, ninety pounds, and a fine gray fur that covered everything but palms, soles, and face. Garvians also had a small ball of protoplasm, Dal’s was named Fuzzy, that rode on the shoulder or the crook of an arm. When a child was born, the father’s split in half and became the baby’s inseparable companion. Theirs was more than just an owner/pet relationship.

Graduation had arrived. In his class of three hundred, Dal had been in the top ten percent for all eight years. He expected to get the cuff and collar of a probationary doctor. Instead he got a summons to Hospital Seattle and a meeting. There he would be evaluated and voted on by a board. His backer, Black Doctor Arnquist, was on that board. But so was the man who hated him, Black Doctor Tanner.

Tanner wanted the experiment ended now. If Doctor Timgar got his star, more aliens would eventually attend Earth training, a flood gate opening. And what else did earth have to offer but their medical expertise. That was Tanner’s rationale.

Arnquist spoke eloquently and got Dal through, but warned him to be careful. He was assigned to a General Practice Patrol ship with two other probationary doctors, one of them Tiger Martin the general practice doctor. Jack Alvarez was the blue diagnostician.

The ship was the LANCET.

Their job was to patrol their sector, answering calls from planets that had contracted for Hospital Earth’s services, and distributing medical supplies from it’s hold to outposts along the way.

Alvarez was a problem from the start. He seemed one of those Dal haters. The bilk of the book is their various stops, one screw-up on their first emergency(with Tanner dogging them every chance), called by Alvarez on that first screw-up(not a big one but Tanner was looking for any excuse) and Tiger shouldering the blame(Tanner wouldn’t dare wreck a human doctor’s career over such a minor thing).

Then the LANCET hit the mother lode when they got a timorous call for help from an unknown race. A plague was killing them by the thousands. A new race and if they could cure the plague, AND land a new contract for Hospital Earth, the stars of full doctor would be automatic.

Of course they ran into problems immediately. Records knew nothing about them. A survey eight hundred years before said there were nothing but plant eating animals on the planet. How could a race grow intelligent and move up to star drives and star radios in eight hundred years. The beings were shy and reticent to discuss the plague when they met them.

The three dove into work. They had to save these people. Because they were doctors. Not to mention a possible new contract.

And Tanner wasn’t through either.

When they finally learn they were all pawns in a bigger game… Well read the book and find out. It seems to be easily available on the used book sites. It’s also at Project Gutenberg.

The lower book is the one I read years ago(and where it went I have no idea). It might have been the Scholastic edition. Some places I looked call it a juvenile. Maybe. Those usually involve teenagers doing cool stuff and these were grown men who would have to have been in their middle or late twenties.

It was fun getting reacquainted with this one.

Go to Patti Abbott\'s blog for moreForgotten Books.