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The Healer's War

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  856 ratings  ·  52 reviews

Although perhaps best-known for her lightly humorous fantasies and for her collaborations with Anne McCaffrey on the Petaybee series and the Acorna series, Elizabeth Anne Scarborough has also written Healer's War, a classic novel of the Vietnam War, enriched with a magical, mystical twist, which won the 1989 Nebula Award for Best Novel of 1988. The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 1st 1989 by Bantam Spectra (first published 1988)
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Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardDune by Frank HerbertThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinAmerican Gods by Neil GaimanRendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Nebula Award for Best Novel
46th out of 52 books — 212 voters
The Time of the Dark by Barbara HamblyEncounter with Tiber by Buzz AldrinThe Healer's War by Elizabeth Ann ScarboroughThe Reluctant Swordsman by Dave DuncanWingman by Mack Maloney
Humble SciFi eBook Bundle
3rd out of 13 books — 7 voters

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Community Reviews

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it's pretty rare to read a war novel by a woman--and despite the sf trappings, that's what this one is. for that reason alone it's worth a read.

our protag, Kitty, is a Vietnam-era nurse in a seaside base camp, relatively safe from being bayonetted but not immune to rockets. she cares for both American GI and Vietnamese civilian patients--with thorough professionalism for the former, and actual care for the latter, as the Vietnamese patients are there for a longer haul, and she has time to get to
Tamora Pierce
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, first known to me as the author of bawdy, funny fantasy, was a nurse durse the American war in Vietnam. THE HEALER'S WAR is what came of her time there, and it is every bit as gut-wrenching and real a Vietnam memoir as the best of the other Vietnam books I've read: Tim O'Brien's THE THINGS THEY CARRIED and LOOKING FOR CACCIATO, Jim Webb's FIELDS OF FIRE, Lynda Van Devanter's HOME BEFORE MORNING, and Michael Herr's DISPATCHERS.

There is a fantasy element to HEALER'S WAR
I would never, ever suggest censoring any piece of literature, especially one as honest as this despite the fact that it's fiction. However, I would have given it four stars if only I could have stomached the brutality. That's my own failing, of course, but I wasn't exactly prepared for it, as about 75% of the book was probably about to my limit of violence, and then the jungle happens...

I do realize this was written in 1988 and as such does not reference anything happening in today's world, but
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]This was one of those years when the Nebula system managed to recognise an exceptional novel that would never win a Hugo. The Healer's War is a somewhat autobiographical account of the Vietnam war as seen by an American military nurse, with precisely one sfnal element: a magic amulet, with slightly healing powers, which gives the narrator the power of empathy with the Vietnamese of all sides and of none (and indeed with her fellow Americans a ...more
I didn't feel like this could really be classified as a fantasy novel. It felt like the one limited fantasy element was being used as a means for the author to make commentary about plot and character. I kept waiting for more to be offered about the source of the magic amulet, the man who gave it to her, how it might have fit into a larger community of healers in this part of the world.

I picked up this book hoping to find a fantasy novel that explored some Asian perspectives on spirituality and
I had been seeing this book crop up in various book clubs I belonged to, and discussed by people I follow, but I had never gotten around to reading it. Because it is narrated by the incredible Robin Miles, I picked it up to give it a try. While I found the novel interesting, I didn't really latch onto it very well.

Kitty is our main character and the story is told through her eyes. She's a nurse in Vietnam, during the war, just trying to survive and have what life she can. Along the way, she gets
Josh Meares
This book takes a long time to get started, as far as the plot goes. So, it doesn't get really hi marks for "being interesting". However, the beauty (and shame) of this book is the picture that it paints of a Army nurse's experience of the Vietnam war. The lostness, cynicism, and hopelessness are characteristic of this type of novel, and understandably so. I imagine that the writers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan will write the same kind of literature. Scarborough does an excellent job of ...more
Bill Blocksom
This was a good read. Action, adventure, fantasy. A good story. It helped me see a little more clearly the complexity of the Viet Nam war through the eyes and experiences of an Army nurse. I really enjoyed it and it has left me with a lot to think about.
Really surprised it won a Nebula, but it was good. Written about a nurse in the Vietnam War by a Vietnam vet nurse. Essentially no sci-fi. I am a sucker for good stories where people can see auras.
The Healer's War is a great example of a book I shouldn't have liked for at least two reasons. One, it's set in the Vietnam War, a downer topic if ever there was one. Second, it's yet another example of the pseudo-fantasy genre. In other words, fiction that's been classified as a fantasy due to some minute, barely discernable use of fantasy elements in the story. In this case, the fantasy part is an amulet that allows an army nurse to read people's auras. So disappointing! As far as I'm concerne ...more
Enoch Root
A gripping read that offers a view into the horrors of the Vietnam era, as told by a young & idealistic nurse. There is a fantastical, supernatural element in the story, but neither the protagonist nor we as readers are ever told how it works. The lack of knowledge makes this a very nice literary device. Together with the rather open ending, this is an emotionally draining book. However, the writing is not superb and some sections do seem to drag on a bit (at least for me). If you can stomac ...more
I read this book without knowing anything about the book or the author beforehand. Just after finishing the it I felt that I had missed something - while the narrative was capturing and the characters believable I still thought it was "OK" as a whole.

But, what really gave me goosebumps though was when I read the author's background for it. The lens she chose to project her personal experiences through really made me change my overall perception, to where I think the end result is really fascinat
Janito Vaqueiro Ferreira Filho
I would give it 3.5 stars. It's a very interesting description of a person in the middle of the war of Vietnam.

The book is divided in two parts. The first part takes place in a hospital that takes care of wounded troops and civilians (both American and from Vietnam). This part is interesting mostly in the descriptions of how the hesitant relationship between Americans and locals is portrayed, with some people (like the protagonist) indifferent to nationality while others would rather leave the l
Seamus Mcduff
It's debatable I suppose, but I think perhaps sometimes it is useful to read something well below the par of what you would normally read. If only to make you better appreciate good writing. Maybe that sounds snobbish.

I felt it was rather a shame that this novel went the way it did. In the beginning I was quite enjoying the scenes in the army hospital and the various on and off base happenings. There were elements of what seemed like truthfulness due to the fact that the author was in reality a
Mathew Walls
When i first saw the title of this book I assumed it was going to be some generic fantasy "chosen-one in a world of sword and sorcery" type of story, so I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out not to be. Even beyond the name, the book does itself no favours though by starting with a glossary. Fortunately, it turns out to be completely unnecessary as everything makes sense in context.

The book is broken into three sections (although the third section is basically just an epilogue), and I fel
Sharon Reamer
I am having a hard time characterizing my response to this book. (Note: contains spoilers)

On the one hand, it was an amazing account of a woman's journey to know the limits of what she can endure. Kitty, an American nurse stationed at China Beach during the Vietnam War, comes to care as much for her Vietnamese patients as she does for the American GIs. She has an affair with a helicopter pilot that fizzles out. This comprises part one of the book and is interesting in a kind of very grown-up Can
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
Nov 30, 2010 Shellie (Layers of Thought) rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Recommended to Shellie (Layers of Thought) by: I had to dig to find a speculative fiction book about Vietnam
The original review with additional links and information is posted on Layers of Thought.

A realistic fantasy novel set in Vietnam during the ill fated war against communism. With a touch of the magical/paranormal it shows a realistic, difficult, and heartbreaking picture of Vietnam from the perspective of a female veteran of the war.

About: Kitty, the main character, is a twenty-something nurse from the Mid West who decides to go to Vietnam to help in the war efforts, since her life at home in t
The story of an army nurse during the Vietnam war. Assigned to care for Vietnamese civilians who have been wounded, she develops deep bonds with her patients. An old man in her care has a strange amulet that gives him healing powers, but at terrible cost to his own energy. Eventually she is given the amulet when the old man dies. A change in command in her unit has a different policy implemented for her charges, and desperate to save at least one little boy from being sent to a Vietnamese hospit ...more
Kathleen Dixon
I was most pleased by this book. I have read a few of Scarborough's collaborations with Anne McCaffrey over the years and, while liking the storyline ideas, have always found them substandard. Reading some information about Scarborough, however, after my last little foray into the collaboration (as part of a must-read-all-my-McCaffreys-before-I-make-some-room-on-my-bookshelves) I saw that she got a Nebula Award for this novel. I was extremely curious to read it and see if I could revise my opini ...more
Susanna Parker
I got The Healer's War as part of a Humble Book Bundle. I wasn't really sure what it entailed - fantasy, historical fiction, action? Well, yes. Kitty is an Army Nurse stationed in Vietnam, and the story has elements of all three genres. Scarborough was a nurse in Vietnam, and the book benefits from her obviously vivid recollection of that time. The fantasy elements are important but not overplayed, and the action is harrowing and believable. Definitely recommend!
Lisa H.
Only passingly "fantasy" - the main character, Kitty, is a young Army nurse serving at the medical facility at China Beach during the Viet Nam war (the story is based on Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's own experiences.) In places Scarborough's descriptions of injuries and some soldiers' behavior are grim nearly to the point of horror, but her depiction of the experience, particular that of being female in a wholly male-dominated environment, rings utterly true.

The fantasy element has to do with an e
I don't think I would have normally read this book, but it came in a bundle I bought. It's actually about the Vietnam war, with a little aura-healing fantasy thrown in. It actually kind of threw me off, because I know people who really believe in auras, so to see auras come up in a book that was calling itself fantasy was kind of weird (kind of like if someone wrote a book where essential oils actually killed viruses, and then told everyone to shelve it in fantasy. Accurate, but kind of weird). ...more
Part of a humble bundle or I might have never read it. The story is okay though clunky. Reads more like someone trying to cope with Vietnam than a well written story, whether that is the purpose I don't know. Beach read at best but not a bad read.
The book is a tour around many scenarios in the vietnam war by the protagonist, an American army nurse.

I liked it that the fantastic element in the book is explored in an intelligent manner by the characters, leaving very little room for what ifs. The social commentaries in the book were also varied, not sticking to only one side of the story for too long. War sucks, for all parties involved.
This is the first (only?, well, only I know about) fantasy novel set in and during the Vietnam War. The author and main character Kitty were nurses during that conflict. Kitty, in addition to her duties with GIs on an orthopedic ward, she also becomes close to Vietnamese civilians. When GIs get better they have other places to go for more care. The Vietnamese do not. When a new racist orthopedist takes over the department, he insists Kitty, now the head nurse, get rid of the Vietnamese patients. ...more
Kris Sellgren
This fictional account of an army nurse's experiences during Vietnam won a Nebula, which it deserved. The fantasy element centers on a mysterious amulet which an injured Vietnamese holy man gives the nurse. But the heart of the novel is how difficult it is for the nurse to maintain her dedication to healing in the face of exhaustion, racist doctors, danger, and the constant influx of soldiers and civilians mangled by the horrors of war. The protagonist's journey encompasses both US military base ...more
Corneliu Dascalu
A very good story about the horrors of the Vietnam War, but also about the goodness hidden inside people.
Norman Howe
I always thought Fantasy was a light read.This is one of the hardest books I have ever read.
Brilliant writing that plumbs the depths of the horrors of war. I didn't know much about how awful the Vietnam war was for everyone, and now I certainly do, even though this is a fictionalised account of the author's and other's experiences.
Cass Morrison
A moving war story from a time when the military was gender segregated and the draft was in place.
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Elizabeth Ann Scarborough was born March 23, 1947, and lives in the Puget Sound area of Washington. Elizabeth won a Nebula Award in 1989 for her novel The Healer's War, and has written more than a dozen other novels. She has collaborated with Anne McCaffrey, best-known for creating the Dragonriders of Pern, to produce the Petaybee Series and the Acorna Series.
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