The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
1970, Ballantine Books
Review Summary: Overall, not a bad book for younger readers, but I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the series any further, at least not without looking for some additional critical reviews first.
I’ve read a number of McCaffrey’s Dragonrider books and have seen her Ship books on the shelves next to those books for a long time, but always assumed they were more female-oriented than I was comfortable with. But I happened to see the book on the shelf at Uncle Hugo’s and thought I would give it a try.
The book isn’t bad at all, although I would definitely classify it as a young adult book geared towards female readers. The subject matter is a little light, the book actually being a collection of short stories written by McCaffrey between 1961 and 1969, but the stories collect together well, and the story of Helva, the Ship Who Sang, flows pretty well. The nature of the ship’s various missions lends itself to an episodic telling of her story.
There were a couple of points of particular interest for me, the first being how the author, writing in the 60’s, imagines how the brain function of a ship would work. Rather than posit an artificial intelligence, as most writers today would likely lean, McCaffrey actually proposes that babies irreparably disfigured or with some sort of debilitating physical ailment, but whose minds are otherwise perfectly sound, would be signed away to the government to be trained and raised, in permanently stunted bodies, to be the brains of the interstellar ships that help keep the colonies alive. While ethically repugnant, although the narrator – the ship herself – argues otherwise, the idea is interesting as a crude form of cyborg. Would the idea still be as morally questionable had the child’s brain been transplanted into a more human-like form of robot or cyborg?
The second point of interest for me was the author’s reference to and description of the “Dylanist” movement. It took me a while to recognize what the author was talking about regarding this movement, and sadly enough, had Dylan’s latest album not just come out amid its various fanfares and press releases, I probably wouldn’t have connected the reference at all, never having been a fan of the artist. Unlike my wife, I’m not always very quick to catch pop-culture references like this. So I got a bit of a laugh once I figured out what McCaffrey was talking about.
Overall, not a bad book for younger readers, but I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the series any further, at least not without looking for some additional critical reviews first. Dated sci-fi is fascinating from a historical perspective, but for entertainment purposes I prefer those books which have more of a timeless quality to them, or which are at the very least more cutting edge.