The Galactic Gourmet

by James White
Reviewed date: 2008 Aug 4
Rating: 2
320 pages
cover art

Galactic Gourmet is a crummy entry in James White's Sector General series. The story concept has potential in short form, maybe as a novelette. The Sector General hospital is the galaxy's premier medical facility; it treats any and all life forms in the universe. With hundreds of different species on board at any one times, the food service is a big deal. The staff needs food, not to mention the special dietary needs of the patients. Artificial synthesized food is the only practical option, but the bland meagre diet wears on the staff and slows the recovery of the patients.

Enter the great Gurronsevas: egostical master of culinary arts. He sees a challenge and wangles himself an appointment to Sector General hospital. The great Gurronsevas will improve the food and add another great accomplishment to his already impressive resume.

Sigh. As I said, this might work in short form. But as a novel? It's just too dumb. Let's review Gurronsevas's work.

  • One patient complains that his food balls just sit there; he's used to chasing live food. Gurronsevas adds an edible air-filled bladder to the food ball. The escaping air sends the food ball darting around. The patient is delighted.
  • A physician says his food paint is too bland, and he'd prefer some tasty additives. Gurronsevas adds various trace elements to the food paint. The physician is delighted.

Is this the best that James White can come up with? This is dull dull dull.

Eventually Gurronsevas's meddling gets him kicked out of Sector General. The major sends him on a first contact mission to Wemar, a planets whose failing ecosystem can no longer support the carnivorous diet of its inhabitants. The Wem refuse to eat vegetables, although they provide all the necessary nutrition. They display an almost-religious objection to eating vegetables.

And here's a curious failing: White never explores the possibility of religion among the Wem. The Wem are willing to starve themselves rather than live without eating meat. What else but religion could account for such devotion? White pretends religion doesn't exist.

And what is the big mysterious reason why the Wem insist on eating meat? There is none. White mumbles something about social customs and evolutionary advantage, but the truth is there is no good reason. The Wem are stubborn about meat because the story requires it. That might work for a short story or even a novelette, but it doesn't hold water in a novel.

Galactic Gourmet is second-rate.

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