Visions of Paradise

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Med Ship

I enjoy reading a good mystery, preferably not a routine crime story but one concerned with something more interesting, such as a historical mystery. I even enjoy medical mysteries such as James White’s series set in a futuristic hospital in space. So when I learned about The Virginia State Legislature declaring June 27, 2009 as Will F. Jenkins Day (the real name of sf writer Murray Leinster), I decided there was no better way for me to celebrate it than by reading Baen’s complete collection of his Med Ship series.

Leinster’s series is set in a galaxy in which all the planets form some type of loose union, a cross between Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League and Jack Vance’s galactic cluster. The main character Calhoun is a doctor who represents the Med Service by traveling from planet to planet, sometimes on routine surveys of their medical status, other times to investigate a specific medical crises. He is accompanied by an alien tormal named Murgatroyd who on the surface resembles a monkey who worships Calhoun, follows him around obsessively imitation every action of Calhoun, and whose vocabulary is limited to the single word, “Chee!”. But all tormals are valuable to the Med Service since they possess an immune system which immediately develops an immunity to any disease it encounters, thus serving as a living laboratory making serums Calhoun can use on his missions.

“Med Ship Man” is the first story story in the book and the only one I have read previously when it was originally published in Galaxy in 1963. In it Calhoun is sent to a planet whose entire population has been herded out of their homes by a mysterious wave of energy. It seems a totally useless form of attack until Calhoun figures out both its purpose and how to disable it without resorting to any blood-and-guts which would have likely been the climax of most stories of this type.

In “Plague On Kryder II”, a third consecutive planet is afflicted by a strange plague. The last two planets were devastated by the plague in a very suspicious manner. When a murder attempt takes place against Calhoun himself, he connects the two together. Another enjoyable mystery.

The Mutant Weapon is one of two full-length novels in the book, the other being Pariah Planet (which was previously released in book form as This World is Taboo). It involves a planet which has been selected for colonization by the inhabitants of the over-crowded world Dettra, but when Calhoun arrives there for a routine survey another murder attempt is made on his life, and he discovers that all the original settlers have been infected with a mysterious plague that was apparently caused by a group of invaders hoping to kill them off and take over the planet themselves. So Calhoun has the joint problem of curing the plague and somehow ridding the planet of the invaders, a difficult task for a doctor who is representative of a loose federation of worlds which has no military forces at its disposal.

The stories in Med Ship are clever medical mysteries whose solutions are never obvious, if a bit on the simplistic side, but none are either deus ex machina or so far-fetched as to be unbelievable. Calhoun rarely does anything stupid that artificially inflates the drama. The stories are all primarily cerebral: Calhoun arrives on a planet which is undergoing some medical crisis, he spends time investigating and analyzing, eventually realizing the cause of the situation and carrying out his solution to solve it. There tend to be villains in the stories since the crises are generally intentionally created to forward some person or group’s selfish needs, but whenever Calhoun confronts a villain, he handles him easily without a lot of stereotypical physical action.

I am about halfway through the book, and I anticipate finishing it by June 27th in time to celebrate Will F. Jenkins Day. Admittedly the stories are generally light reading, but cerebral rather than thrillers, and smart in the characters’ actions rather than stupid. They are giving me enough enjoyment that I am planning to buy Leinster’s Planets of Adventure collection from Baen Books next.


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