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|The Galactic Gourmet
by James White
Published by Tor, 1996
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Recommended by: Greg Slade
This is the next "Sector General" novel published after The Genocidal Healer. Lioren, the protagonist of the earlier book, is present in this story, but only as a minor character. White seems to have a pattern of telling each story from the perspective of a different character. (I haven't read all the "Sector General" books, and it's been a while since I've re-read some of them, but I can't recall any two books which follow the same central character.) The protagonist this time out is Gurronsevas, who was the chef of "the Cromingan-Shesk in Retlin on Nidia, the largest and most highly-acclaimed multi-species hotel and restaurant in the Federation." (p. 18.) He has come to sector general because he was bored with his previous easy life, and relishes the challenge of improving the quality of the food (and, thus, patient and staff morale) in the largest hospital in the galaxy, which must cater to the needs of every known (and some unknown) sentient species in two galaxies. He also has a secret ambition of coming up with a recipe which will appeal to every oxygen-breathing species.
As I said, Lioren is present, but in a very minor way, and the issues of sin and forgiveness wrestled with in the earlier book are missing in this one. In fact, Lioren is much less of a chaplain than a psychologist in this book, and, in fact, works in the psychology department. In fact, the only theme which could be seen as related to Christianity in this work is the way that Gurronsevas is, bit by bit, forced to swallow his considerable pride. (When it comes to food, he's always right, because he is, after all, the greatest chef in the galaxy. But he's also always in trouble, and ends up gathering wood for the fire and washing the dishes before the book is over.)
I should probably mention that in the "Sector General" books, White succumbs to the temptation of having his characters explain the workings of the hospital to one another. The more of the books you read, and the more familiar you are with the situations, the less patience you are likely to have with this artifice. He also tends to beat readers over the head with his main theme of tolerance for diversity. Still, for all that, they are always fun reads, both for the messes which White creates for his characters, and for the ways they find to get out of those messes.
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