Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffrey

The first time I read a book by Anne McCaffrey, I was ten. After devouring it, I proceeded to read almost every book of hers that I could get my hands on, but I never read The Ship Who Sang, or any of the other books in its series. When she died last month, and articles mentioned how important the book was to her, I knew I had to finally read it, to see what I had missed out on.
I've come to both regret and am thankful that I didn't read the book sooner. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting, so I am saddened that I did not experience it sooner, but I wonder if I had read it when I in the full thrall of my obsession (when I was 14) I would have appreciated the complex emotions that the story made me feel.
The Ship Who Sang centers around Helva, born with extreme physical disabilities, whose parents have the option of euthanizing her or giving her the opportunity to live a life inside a metal shell, controlling a ship with her brain after years of conditioning and training. As a shell-child, she develops a hobby for singing, a habit and talent unprecedented among the Brain Ships she is training to become. As a Brain ship, she becomes acclaimed for her skills and famous for her singing, and the book tells five stories of Helva's journeys through space partnered with normal human Brawns working to help planets in emergencies.
The stories are very much about pain, and about having your heart broken and suffering through it, and learning to be happy again, and maybe, eventually, finding someone who you want to share your life with again. So, uh, spoiler? I guess. The last story is my favorite, because it completes a relationship that had been building for a while, and shows what some people are willing to go through for the one they love. Like its precursors, it's painful in parts, but in ways that leave you faithfulhopeful that everything will work out, because you almost need for it to. You need for all of the past suffering to be worth it. Or at least I did.
Over the course of the book I became so attuned with Helva's voice that I felt with her. I got mad when people assumed she wasn't intelligent, wasn't as good as other humans even human, just because she was a ship. I rationalized their behavior to myself, thinking they must be idiots, because I knew, how caring and personable, as well as intelligent, she was. And I shouldn't be surprised that Anne McCaffrey could do this. She so skillfully portrayed the connection between dragonriders and their dragons, the telepathic communication of Linyaari. And I don't know that I was surprise. But looking back, I didn't expect this book to be so powerful and emotional for me. But it was, and it was a perfect read as a send-off for a sci-fi great who was so important to my childhood.

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