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Brainship #1

The Ship Who Sang

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Helva had been born human, but only her brain had been saved—saved to be schooled, programmed, and implanted into the sleek titanium body of an intergalactic scout ship. But first she had to choose a human partner—male or female—to share her exhilarating escapades in space!

Her life was to be rich and rewarding . . . resplendent with daring adventures and endless excitement, beyond the wildest dreams of mere mortals.

Gifted with the voice of an angel and being virtually indestructible, Helva XH-834 anticipated a sublime immortality.

Then one day she fell in love!

248 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1969

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About the author

Anne McCaffrey

406 books6,946 followers
Anne McCaffrey was born on April 1st, 1926, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Her parents were George Herbert McCaffrey, BA, MA PhD (Harvard), Colonel USA Army (retired), and Anne Dorothy McElroy McCaffrey, estate agent. She had two brothers: Hugh McCaffrey (deceased 1988), Major US Army, and Kevin Richard McCaffrey, still living.

Anne was educated at Stuart Hall in Staunton Virginia, Montclair High School in Montclair, New Jersey, and graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, majoring in Slavonic Languages and Literatures.

Her working career included Liberty Music Shops and Helena Rubinstein (1947-1952). She married in 1950 and had three children: Alec Anthony, b. 1952, Todd, b.1956, and Georgeanne, b.1959.

Anne McCaffrey’s first story was published by Sam Moskowitz in Science Fiction + Magazine and her first novel was published by Ballantine Books in 1967. By the time the three children of her marriage were comfortably in school most of the day, she had already achieved enough success with short stories to devote full time to writing. Her first novel, Restoree, was written as a protest against the absurd and unrealistic portrayals of women in s-f novels in the 50s and early 60s. It is, however, in the handling of broader themes and the worlds of her imagination, particularly the two series The Ship Who Sang and the fourteen novels about the Dragonriders of Pern that Ms. McCaffrey’s talents as a story-teller are best displayed.

She died at the age of 85, after suffering a massive stroke on 21 November 2011.

Obituaries: Locus, GalleyCat.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 544 reviews
Profile Image for Edie.
664 reviews13 followers
January 26, 2022
It was Thanksgiving, I was out of town, had just gotten ready to head out for dinner when I heard that Anne McCaffrey had passed. It hit me like a punch in the gut. I couldn't quite shake it all evening. What was going on? Sure, I've read her books but she has never been on a list of favorite authors, why was I so affected? I knew L'Engle would be a tough one for me. Butler was just so unexpected. Le Guin is going to turn me into a wreck. But McCaffrey? I've never listed her as an influence or put her on a list of people I want to meet or authors I want to write like (L'Engle, Le Guin & Borges, if you are curious). Yet I was mourning her passing like she was a dear friend.

Turns out, I've spent a lot more time with Anne McCaffrey than I would have guessed. There is the Crystal Singer series, and the PTB, I never got into Acorna, of course Pern, the Freedom series, The Rowan (which I recently reread) and its sequels, the Pirate books (including Sassinak - not only a personal favorite but introduced me to Elizabeth Moon for which I am grateful). And then there is The Ship Who Sang. Who doesn't remember reading this book for the first time. Did you cry? If you say no then you don't have a heart. I enjoyed the other Brain books but Helva stole my heart.

When I got back from vacation I looked for my copy of The Ship Who Sang but couldn't find it. Not surprising since I tend to give my favorite books away. I started looking in bookstores, new and used, but no one seemed to have a copy. So last week I gave in and ordered it online. Doubt I'll have this copy long as I already have a list in my head of people I need to give it to.

Do I need to review this book? It is a classic, if you haven't read it, you should. I don't feel the need to "sell" it. However, I do have a few observations from this latest rereading. Perhaps the most superficial but obvious is how well the book stands the test of time. The Ship Who Sang is 50 years old. FIFTY YEARS! Think about how technology has changed in that amount of time. Yet there are very few startlingly out of date references. "Gay" is used to mean fun & festive. And if that is the biggest tell that this book is half a century old, how impressive is that? The rest still works well enough that it doesn't jerk you out of the story like many (most) older works. The story is still as strong, the technology as impressive, the characters as real, and the hope as powerful as ever. This is what science ficiton is supposed to do - it shows us the very best of who we are and who we might become. Not perfection (boring) but something to strive towards.

So what is it about Anne McCaffrey that makes me read her books (lots and lots of her books) but not mention her when people ask who I read? I recently had a discussion online about the difference between the books we say we read and the books we actually read. I don't have answers yet, but it is a question I am pondering. If you ask me for my top ten favorite science fiction books I would be able to come up with a reputable list off the top of my head. And they would be books I really do adore, books that changed my perspective, changed my mind, changed my life. But you know what science fiction book I have reread the most? Sassinak. True story.
Profile Image for Amelia.
1,514 reviews119 followers
August 11, 2014
Oh the awkward moment when you don't like someone's favourite book they've loaned you. Admittedly it would be somewhat inaccurate to say I didn't like it... I liked it fine - for the most part - until page 304. This is where we get to Anne McCaffrey's views on love and sex which are... dated, shall we say. I thought, as Valerie raved about this book, that I wouldn't be able to identify with Helva as a human being. That a spaceship experiencing emotions would be just too much for my sci-fi-is-ok-but-really-I-just-like-fantasy sensibilities. Surprisingly, the emotions actually felt very real. So when I say Anne McCaffrey's views on love/sex turned me off, I don't mean that I had a problem with Helva being in love .

Rather I felt faintly nauseated by the "brawn fixation", by the concept of someone reaching in and touching her face and body - which, let's be clear here, is essentially a malformed baby attached to a lot of wires. Or... not so much the concept which is understandable if a bit icky but the "Then say the syllables. Open the panel, breach the shell, stare at my face and hold my twisted body... better for me to die at your hands than remain an inviolate virgin without you!". I'm sorry, but could that have been put in any more of a nauseating way? And then to rave about his "generous endowment and... appetite to fit." What do you care how well endowed he is Helva? You. Have. The. Body. Of. A. Baby. And THEN for Helva to be all insecurely thinking "what if he doesn't think I'm pretty compared to all the young women he likes?" and to respond by referring to Helva WHO, REMEMBER, HAS THE BODY OF AN INFANT as "NUBILE AND YOUNG" as if it's FUNNY. If I wasn't already feeling that bit icky, referring to the body of a child as if it's fertile/sexually appealing... Joke it may have been, funny it was not. And then we hear Helva lamenting about the fact that she can't have sex (because of her body) and wondering what it might have been like to be able. Understandable, really, to be in love and think about sex. But then in comes Anne McCaffrey with her horrible attitudes towards sex and lets us know that this wouldn't for her to enjoy the union or whatever. Oh no, it'd be so that he could enjoy using her body.

As I've started to dip back into a lot of the fantasy I read when I was younger, I've noticed how disturbing a lot of the attitudes towards women/love/sex are in them. I mean seriously... I've read shedloads of McCaffrey's dragon books... but the rape scenes, the sexual subservience of women, the focus on it all being about the man, lack of concern for consent, scenes that hint at a taste for BDSM... those passed me by. And yet, there they are in virtually every book. This is expressed well in this review of The Lady

So, in essence it's not that The Ship Who Sang was bad. Indeed many parts of it were very good. But Anne McCaffrey and her need to melodramatise and generally render nauseating/misogynistic any romantic situation and her obliteration of a strong female character, Helva, into someone who found her life's meaning in a desire to be USED by a man killed it. Fifteen+ years ago when I was reading all those books about Pern I didn't even notice it. Now I'm an adult I can't forgive it.
Profile Image for Michael.
815 reviews81 followers
December 12, 2014
You could structure an entire college course around the ethical questions raised in this book. Is it ethically justified to take children with sound minds but no control of their bodies and then hook them up to galaxy class spaceships to work off the medical expense through government contracts? What ethics are involved for such a ship in making choices about their missions and their destiny? Would other humans want to compete for such an honor, or would it still be a secondary existence to living purely in a human frame? What form would human relationships and love take for such a person? Would they still be a person?

Ms. McCaffrey explores this premise and the resulting ethical curiosities throughout the book, and in myriad contexts. As is true in any good speculative fiction tale, each discovery and plot point becomes a springboard for more ideas and more discoveries. I found myself wanting to know more about where these questions could take us, and I am gratified to know that there are at least a half dozen sequels to capture my interest.

The book was originally written as a series of short stories that appeared in various magazines, and to some degree that affects the reading. I thought some stories were stronger than others, and so in that sense it was a little like reading an anthology. However, despite the different contexts in the stories, Ms. McCaffrey did a remarkable job transitioning between stories and keeping continuity where it could easily have been dropped. The original story was referenced all the way to the end and in some ways the last story was the conclusion to the first story. So it definitely felt like a complete novel.

I think what I was most surprised about was how much this was a novel about love, and loss, and human growth and relationships, since the premise and the missions are so science-based. I have been told that these are recurring themes in her novels, but I confess I am new to her work. In any case, the stories definitely evoked myriad human emotions, and brought me to tears more than once.

I also was surprised at how dialogue driven the stories were. Even much of the science speculation was handled through conversations between the characters. I consider this pretty hard to pull off while still keeping it fresh and interesting, and yet the dialogue was so astute, and witty, and lively, that it never seemed like you were just standing in a room listening to people speak. It reminded me a bit of Asimov's treatment in the Foundation, using little isolated dramas to expound on galactic events and ideas. Ms. McCaffrey definitely has a way with puns and wordplay.

I am almost tempted to give this book 5 stars, but I did feel that it dragged a bit in a few places, and again some stories were better than others. (For example, I would definitely give the first story 5 stars; it is what made me buy the book, and it was a brilliant display of efficiency and emotional impact in writing). Another element that detracted from 5 stars was that in one story, one of the characters who had been someone with complex motivations suddenly reverts to being just a stereotype that everyone wrote off with a slur. (It made me think even Ms. McCaffrey had finally gotten fed up with the character!) It spoiled the ending of the story for me a bit, as I could not understand the motivation for the character's behavior.

Overall, it was an amazing book, particularly amazing in that I found the ideas fresh nearly 50 years after it was written! I will definitely be reading more of her work.
Profile Image for Oblomov.
178 reviews46 followers
September 6, 2021
Year of New Authors

Born with a severe bodily disability, Helva's parents are given two options: allow their child to become a literal ghost in the machine and integrate her body into a space vessel (with a choice of human brawn companion and a secure job performing missions to pay off the ship she would call her body); or just straight up kill her, I guess.
Having not been born to arsehole Spartans, Helva's life obviously goes the former route and we follow her epic journey across space to deal with religious fanatics, strange diseases, alien life forms and toxic masculinity (because even in the age of space travel we ain't gonna clear up that shit, it seems), and our sentient ship sings beautifully all the way.

I loved this, I adored every glorious moment of it, bury me with this book.
Our protagonist is perfect; a kind, flawed, relentless, short and soft tempered badass.
The episodic chapters are brilliant, ranging from the profound, the heartbreaking, the funny and the just down right horrific. At absolute worst they can slightly drag, but have an iron grip on your throat at their best.
The side characters are great, each a perfect balance for Helva, whether that be to force her empathy, push her boundaries or emphasise her competence by their own failures and prejudice.
The writing is superb; vivid, visceral and at times achingly painful with suspense.

Any flaws? Well, as great as it is to see a disabled female character at the helm of a story in the 1960s, there are some cringeworthy descriptions of her original body that feel very uncomfortable in the modern day, like when Helva is described as 'born a thing' to give one example. These uneasy moments are thankfully rare, and she's always presented as an actual thinking, feeling, competent person, rather than a mind in a box trying to prove to the reader they're an actual person, if you understand me.

Queasy moments aside, this is thoroughly recommended, I utterly loved it, will be reading the absolute shite out of the rest of this series and you should read this immediately.

Side note, for so great a story this book's plagued with terrible cover art. E.g:

The rather dull:

The 'artist wished he was working on Barbarella instead':

The 'Space Lada':

The bloody stupid:

And the 'Oh Christ, what was in those edibles?':
Profile Image for Joan.
1,963 reviews
March 10, 2016
Every now and then I pull this book out and reread it. I probably have pulled it out more frequently in the last 8 years since my father's death than before then. I took my father's death pretty hard and this book does deal with the questions that get raised during that grief. In fact, McCaffrey wrote it after her own father died. Why can't someone you love live forever? What happens to your spirit if you stay immersed in grief rather than moving on? Suppose you have specific regrets connected with your grief, does that give you license to grieve forever in your life? Having grieved, is it all right to withdraw from relationships because they might cause you more grief in the future?

Added to which, there is a theme of what rights and abilities do the disabled have? If completely disabled, what are the rights of the disabled children? This is actually easier to answer in the future when the disabled have the ability to become part of a ship or other such careers and live a great life of honor and respect. As a disabled person who has had disparaging comments made, I am less convinced by this message for today's disabled. I certainly don't regret being born and mostly don't consider myself disabled. But when I do, it is a legitimate concern. Did my parents do right by me, allowing a premature child with disabilities to survive? When I see people look at me as if I'm stupid, or talk to others around me, rather than to me, or when I simply have trouble getting something done because of the disabilities, or am in pain, I wonder.

However, to me, the value of this book is the discussion and exploration of grief. Helva grieves her first love, Jennan, and feels no one really understands why she is so heart broken. She also deals with others who are grieving in various ways and learns from them. Gently hand this to friends who are having trouble moving on in life after a death floors them. Due to sexual aspects I suggest not giving it to adolescents unless you know them well enough to predict how they will react.
Profile Image for Mark Johansen.
Author 4 books7 followers
March 7, 2011
In a future time, society has found a niche for children born with severe handicaps: They are encased in metal shells, attached to all sorts of electronics, and used to run factories, cities, and star ships.

The heroine of this book, Helva, is such a child, who has been built into a star ship. She IS the ship. She figures out how to sing through her electronic speakers, hence the title.

At heart, this is a romance novel. The "brain ships" of the book are paired with an ordinary human pilot. Helva and her first pilot fall in love, a romance in all but the sexual sense. Given that ship and pilot are alone together for months and years on end and are constantly working together, this doesn't seem implausible. You'd have to end up either loving or hating each other. Then -- WARNING! MINOR SPOILER COMING -- her pilot dies. Most of the book is about Helva dealing with grief and searching for a new love.

While I'm not a big fan of romance novels -- note I checked the box for "male" in my profile -- at its best this book is an excellent example of what science fiction can be. The author takes a speculative scientific premise: what if handicapped people could be made productive by wiring them into a spaceship like this? Then it examines the implications in an entertaining story. What would it be like to be wired into such a ship? How would such people fit in society? What would be the legal and moral implications? Etc.

On the down side, I thought this book tried too hard to tug at my emotions. Or perhaps I should say, the author's efforts were too abrupt. Characters were introduced and three sentences later I am apparently expected to care about them. I don't even know them yet. You need to build more. Too many characters with too many personal problem raced by too quickly. The pacing was just too fast for me to get emotionally involved with any of them but Helva herself. I think this book would have been better if it had had fewer characters and fewer "episodes", but had discussed each in greater depth.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Freya.
568 reviews117 followers
December 24, 2013
As with it seems all Anne McCaffrey's books I was hooked and found it very difficult to put down - made worse by the fact that it's quite easy to hold, being so small, at the dinner table...

The Ship Who Sang is about Helva who's body is disfigured and fairly unusable from birth, however her mind being unaffected she is raised to be a shell-person and become a brain ship. I really love the ideas of brain ships, the extra things they are capable of despite lacking the mobility of their human body, but also the limitations they have and the way different people react to them, and in fact the way she reacts to situations. one of my favourite parts is actually near the beginning when she's still 'at school'.

A nice short book I'd recommend as a light sci-fi read, and I'm keeping an eye out for the others!
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,023 followers
October 23, 2014
I think I read this before I read her Pern series, at least about the same time in the early 1970's. I was really impressed by her take on a cyborg. It was different than anything I'd read before. She looked at it with a lot of humanity. A perennial favorite of mine.
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,051 reviews391 followers
October 30, 2019
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I've read the first short story/ chapter a few times, and it always moved me but didn't make me feel the need to read further. But now I found a group discussing it... you can find that discussion in The Lady Vaults, Oct. 2019

Anyway, to address just three complaints of negative reviewers:
The plot is 'fragmented' because it's stitched-together short stories. Think of it as episodic and it's fine.
The love story at the end is *not* just about lust. Yes, it's about what it means to be fully human, but it's about love, and comparisons are made to love of beauty, of knowledge, of ideals.
Helva wants a companion, it's true. Yes, she tends to think of men as the most likely to be compatible. But it's made that her 'brawn' could be female, and that not all brainships like being close friends to their brawns, and that people are individuals, whether they are brain or brawn or citizen or service member or alien....

I really liked the over-arching theme of the value of the Arts in the future in which technology seems to rule. The Dylanist and the Shakespearean Troupe are important 'episodes' (not inserted randomly, as a fourth negative reviewer complains) that express McCaffrey's view that the Arts are part of what keeps us all human.

I have no idea why some ppl have trouble with the portrayal of disability. But I have seen that complaint only among ppl who did not finish the book, and I do admit that the first few pages are a bit hard to stomach as McCaffrey shows us what the world she's building does with infants with birth defects. Consider, though, that these stories were almost certainly written as a response to the thalidomide tragedy, and that at the time the first was written McCaffrey did not know that a new drug was to blame and likely feared a wider & more persistent problem. In any case, Helva's character and the others' interactions with her do get more nuanced as the story goes along.
Profile Image for Jane Jago.
Author 79 books168 followers
January 3, 2017
This is both happy and sad and it is so well written....
1,211 reviews18 followers
March 22, 2013
I have a collection of short stories by McCaffrey, but I realized when I got it down to reread and review it that one was a sequel to this book. So I searched around until I found a copy, which took longer than I expected.

First, the table of contents:

The Ship Who Sang
The Ship Who Mourned
The Ship Who Killed
Dramatic Mission
The Partnered Ship.

The book, in other words, is a collection of short stories. McCaffrey did write novels, but this isn't one. But since all the stories at least involve the 'brain-ship' Helva, and since they're consecutive, this is sort of a crossover between short stories and a novel. It's evident from the copyright information that the stories were essentially serialized, and only after the publication of Dramatic Mission were they collected into this book.

Though Helva's development is thoroughly chronicled (up to about age 16) in the first story, too many readers don't seem to have read it in detail. Thus many think that the brain was removed from her body. It wasn't. The body's still in there. It's essentially paralyzed, and the motor nerves, sensory nerves, etc are rerouted to operate first the shell, and then the ship. But it's there.

McCaffery accepts too readily that persons born severely disabled will be routinely killed, unless they can be meshed with machinery in this way. Further, the children are given no say whatEVER in their fate. If they pass certain unspecified 'tests', they're immured in the shells. Otherwise they're killed. They're heavily propagandized to accept choices that are made for them before they have the capacity to make informed choices themselves. Fairly early on those who object to this high-handed manipulation of people's lives are mocked as interfering do-gooders--but though it's not clear who makes these decisions, whoever it is are not described as interfering--it's just taken for granted that the unnamed 'authorities' know better than ordinary citizens, and are better able to make such decisions as the disabled children themselves would be. As for any family decisionmaking, this is completely ruled out.

That said, the character Helva isn't anybody to feel regret for. She's healthy-minded, and has an enviable role--if it's taken into account that she won't be able to have one partner lifelong (she'll outlive all ordinary humans, barring accidents). These partnerships are informal marriages. They're not platonic, despite the impossibility of sex (it's accepted that the human partners will have sexual, and even marital, involvements while off-duty). They're genuine marriages. And they're often homosexual marriages, at that. Though most scout 'brawns' appear to be male, the ship 'brains' may be either. The relationship is the same, whatever the matchup. And in either case, any permanent partnership is ideally a romantic relationship. If ship and scout are not in love, it doesn't work out anything like as well, by all accounts.

Several of these stories are more than a bit harrowing. Having read the book before, I find myself tensing up in a 'reach for the stuffed animal, or the Kleenex, or whatever you use to comfort yourself' way, and I have twice put down the book before I reached the first harrowing landmark.

If I were recommending only one story in this book, it would be 'Dramatic Mission'. I'm not sure if one could understand it without reading at least the stories of Helva's upbringing. But I liked it best, and I think I'm not alone in that.

Having read right through (I can recommend skipping bits, but that doesn't mean I can implement my own recommendations), I find that there's a lot I'd forgotten. Some of it is better than I'd remembered, some more disturbing. There's a casual racism that doesn't seem to reach the level of consciousness. Why should planets (ANY planets) be settled by people who are ethnically/culturally homogeneous? At one point in the book the entire population of a planet is rendered sterile by a common accident. The embryos that are brought in (and the older children brought in from other sources) are deliberately selected, not for variety, but for similarity with the 'Nekkarese'. Note for contrast that in Norton's Zero Stone books the narrator, Murdoc Jern, is specifically identified as a 'duty child', brought as an embryo onto Korwar specifically to INCREASE genetic variation, and carried to term by a host mother--who argues that such a 'duty child' has no rights of inheritance; an argument that Jern could probably have contested legally, but chooses not to.

McCaffrey's casual assumption that people would seek out 'their own kind' and live, not generally in exclusive enclaves (most planets have regular commerce with other worlds, and interstellar travel, though 'too slow' by the standards of the society, is in fact quite fast), but still in self-segregated groups, is not consistent with what has happened on Earth, mostly. Why would it be so in an interstellar federation?

McCaffrey also apparently had quite a strong repugnance for drug use. The evidence indicates that drug use is rarer in the galactic federation than in our own societies (due largely to restrictive policing by the quasi-military 'Service'), but McCaffrey still shudders away from the idea that people might become addicted to drugs, and demonizes the addicts.

I should point out that the Corviki understanding of Romeo And Juliet is perhaps not quite so similar to that of creatures of other cultures as the characters (and the author) seem to think. There's some recognition of the differences in interpretation of the universe at large and Shakespeare in particular, but there's too much of a tendency to assume that Shakespeare is universally explicable. For a counternarrative, I might recommend Laura Bohannon's Shakespeare in The Bush.

Women in general in this federation are treated with an odd mixture of separatism and integration. That is, they're generally present in all segments of society, but they're still often treated as if they were not quite human. What else they might be is not clear. It reminds me of the James Thurber essay in which Thurber, having heard that some humans might be of feline rather than primate ancestry, concludes that this may include all women, and that when his hostess asks him if he'd like some coffee with his milk, she might not be joking, after all.
Profile Image for Doreen.
2,399 reviews58 followers
September 21, 2009
First off, I'm late to the Anne McCaffrey oeuvre. Someone gave me a stack of her books, and I thought I'd start with Dragonflight, for which she's best known. Bad idea, as that is a novel of extremely unlikeable people who do cruel things to one another (also, the "romance" was entirely forced and grossed me out.)

The Ship Who Sang has characters that it's much easier to root for, and the scientific ideas are progressive and unique. But. Helva is exceedingly naive for someone of her experience. She's 16 or so when she falls in love with Jennan, and about 26 when she bonds with Niall, and I suppose that a single decade, as well as her isolation from the perils of physical love, make it more difficult for her to chart the course of a healthy relationship. It's probably just personal, but I did not find Niall's behavior at all loving or romantic, just obsessive, manic and creepy.

I'm definitely delving way too deeply into the psychology of the writer here, but it's hard to read these books without thinking that the author had a problem with sexual love. While these books may have been ground-breaking in the 60s, they present a view of women much less emancipated, emotionally and sexually, than in the writing of, say, Thomas Hardy half a century before. I'll be reading the rest of the afore-mentioned stack because they're not unreadable books; it just bothers me that the heroines of McCaffrey's books so far never seem to be happy without the approval of a guy, and that this is not presented as a tragedy but as a somehow "natural" order of things.
Profile Image for Angus Mcfarlane.
659 reviews11 followers
February 9, 2017
The ship who sang is a historical science fiction piece that comprises short vignettes which exercise both technological speculation and contemporary commentary. I liked the angle on time and space travel that is taken: interstellar travel is routine, but apart from the very long times needed to get to faraway places, the days weeks or years needed for the trips taken in the various stories is never mentioned. Ambiguity is also retained throughout regarding the trustworthiness of the central worlds government: whilst orders are followed there is an undercurrent of cynicism which leaves open the possibility that things may not be as they seem.
The use of medicines to cure the various ailments in different star systems seems to reflect the mood of the times the book was written in. I was reading The Emperor of All Maladies concurrently with this - it documents the optimistic mood on medicine in the 60's that having defeated all comers with immunizing drugs, cancer was the only disease, and it too would soon succumb to chemotheraputic treatments. (There was also a similarity with Dan Simmons Olympos in the use of Shakespeare as a muse, although on a far smaller scale in this book.)
The book feels a little dated in its pace and the (pre-?) feminist subtext, but the stories retain enough freshness to be enjoyable.
Profile Image for Brystan.
Author 3 books6 followers
July 24, 2018
3.5 Stars.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book! I really liked that it was a collection of short stories. It made it somehow easier for me to read, and though each short probably could have been fleshed out to be their own novel or novella, I still felt satisfied at the end of each one.

This book could easily be the subject of a college lit course (one that I would have actually wanted to take!). From the biblical themes to discussions of morality, and even the types of romance explored...this book gives a lot to dissect and talk about!

I've never read an Anne McCaffrey book before, and I'm glad this was the first one.
Profile Image for Samantha (AK).
349 reviews38 followers
December 8, 2018
The late Anne McCaffrey was a giant in the field, one of those authors that everyone's heard of, even if they haven't read her books. Somehow, though, I've managed to completely bypass her work until now.

The Brainship books were brought to my attention a little while ago by way of random internet reference. You know the kind. Someone makes a throwaway post about a book they read in childhood, someone else commiserates, and they're off. I wish I could remember who it was.

The Ship Who Sang is the story of Helva (XH-834), a woman locked into a cyborg shell in infancy to become the 'Brain' of a starship. Like all brainships, Helva chooses a mobile human partner to act as her 'Brawn' to undergo missions across the Central Worlds.

It's a neat story, though it feels as retro as the cover looks. Helva is a well-rounded character, and her search for a permanent partner is a touching, if somewhat uneven, read.

Before being published in 1969, the first five chapters of The Ship Who Sang were originally published as independent novelettes (and one novella). They underwent some minor edits and the addition of a 6th, new chapter to make the book. The writing steadily improves as the book goes on, but the final product doesn't feel cohesive to me; there's just too much skip between "chapters" for events to settle.

On a less likeable note, certain aspects of the world have not aged well, especially the story's treatment of disability, and its related eugenicist themes.

The fundamental problem shows up in the first two paragraphs, where Helva's parents are given the option between euthanizing their disabled daughter, and effectively selling her to the government for use as a cyborg 'brain.' The modifications that the infant Helva undergoes are expensive, and she is bound to Service until such time as she pays off her debt. The only persons in the book who seem to have a problem with this concept quickly come to the conclusion that the shell-people (as those like Helva are called) are better-off as they are than attempting to navigate the abled world.

(In fairness, McCaffrey might have been trying to be subversive when she wrote the first bit in 1961, but the out-of-sight/out-of-mind approach is more appalling than anything now.)

Still, it was a quick and interesting throwback read. I don't think I'll read the other Brainship books, but I'm glad I took the time to read this one.
Profile Image for Lilja.
50 reviews8 followers
September 8, 2015
This was the first Anne McCaffrey book I've picked up. Hers is one of those names in Sci-Fi that can seem daunting to dive in to. I came with so much hesitant expectation. I was worried that if I didn't like it I'd be put off her whole award-winning back catalog, but her writing is astoundingly accessible when you consider she's often held up with other pillars of the genre like Bradbury and Heinlein.

The book flowed like a series of short stories connected by the growth and development of the main protagonist, and offered a slightly different view of the Utopian future among the stars (a topic quite prevalent in the work of her contemporaries) specifically a future including those people considered physically disabled or disfigured. The depth of beauty attributed to this kind of character is wonderful and touches a deep respect for all human life that is often missing in Sci-fi.

The futuristic lingo feels a bit clunky here and there but over all doesn't detract from the otherwise really solid writing. If you've never read McCaffery before I think this book is a great place to start. It works as both a stand alone novel or as a gateway to her series following the same main character.
Profile Image for Helen.
7 reviews
May 19, 2013
This was the first Anne McCaffrey book I read, and I fell in love with it.
I love singing, which attracted me to the title, and I was entranced by the idea that Helva had been born with severe physical disabilities but was mentally bright, so her brain was wired up to control spaceship parts rather than limbs, and to access computer data storage as well as what is in her brain.
But she still has human needs, and develops this extraordinary talent to sing as a hobby and a way of engaging her feelings.
She also has a need to love and be loved, and this book is about how she deals with love and loss. In space.

I loved this library book so much that I went out and bought a copy when I started earning money. I then bought another copy when I moved to the UK and had to leave my books behind.

I love the characters - they are so distinct, although if you've read any of Ann McCaffrey's other books you may recognise some of the personalities - who cares, they work well and spark off each other.
Profile Image for Christine Ricci.
200 reviews13 followers
August 5, 2011
At first I was a little disappointed because I felt I needed more evidence of the four years or so that Helva spent with her love to deserve such a grieving process. However, I found that I eventually, felt there was no need. The relationships throughout the novel are quite compelling and speak to the many types of relationships I see in my life. The novel seems to be an expansion of the idea that everyone you know, was put into your life for a reason. You know them for the time it was important for you to know them.

Of course, it was well-written, but I admit a little confusing at times. Sometimes McCaffrey would write about how the underlying meaning of so-and-so's argument didn't get past Helva, and then not explain the underlying meaning. I didn't always get it, on my own. Overall, beautiful language, but I think it is the relationships and Helva's funny, intelligent and witty character that made up the spine of this novel.
Profile Image for D Dyer.
351 reviews29 followers
November 11, 2019
I found the ideas in this book fascinating but the structure made it less enjoyable than it could’ve been. The story is told in the format of a series of short, mostly self-contained stories but this means that we really don’t ever get to know any of the characters in more than a cursory way. Even Helva, the ship who sings of the title, didn’t ever become really three-dimensional for me. But I enjoyed the action sequences and the idea of the brainships is definitely intriguing. I’m hoping to get a bit more of a look at some other ship perspectives in the next book, and perhaps to encounter some less one-dimensional depictions of disable the characters, one of the issues in this first entry in the series though I assume that is somewhat a product of the time in which of the book was written.
August 10, 2019
She sorted out the young men. Tanner's opportunism amused but did not specifically attract her; the blond Nordsen seemed too simple; dark-haired Alatpay had a kind of obstinacy with which she felt no compassion; Mir-Ahnin's bitterness hinted an inner darkness she did not wish to lighten, although he made the biggest outward play for her attention. Hers was a curious courtship, this would be only the first of several marriages for her, for brawns retired after 75 years of service, or earlier if they were unlucky. Brains, their bodies safe from any deterioration, were indestructible. (c)
Profile Image for Kaila.
807 reviews99 followers
October 3, 2016
It was alright. I have a memory of reading somewhere that Anne McCaffrey couldn't read the story without crying, but I didn't feel much emotion from it myself. The whole middle part about actors and taking on an alien "envelope" body so that they could perform Shakespeare...what? It's just too weird for no real reason. The whole book reads as sexist as basically every woman exists for this or that man and if they don't...isn't that AWFUL? Don't they want a COMPANION?
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
933 reviews84 followers
March 3, 2013
McCaffrey's Science Fiction is so different from PERN! While I love her PERN books for a bit of escapism, books like The Ship Who Sang are really more my style. Plus both McCaffrey and I are/were classical singers, so I really love it when she puts music in the mix.
537 reviews83 followers
October 8, 2020
This book was better than I expected.... The author explores the fascinating psychological experience of an intellectually gifted, physically disabled woman who is entombed inside a spaceship and neurologically integrated with it. The story focuses on her longing for relationships and the challenges of using her intellectual power to achieve the ship's complicated missions to various planets. The final chapter where she succeeds in finding a mature partner who is the right emotional match is quite powerful.
Profile Image for Alex Satrapa.
20 reviews
May 7, 2012
Anne Mccaffrey was a prolific writer of Science Fantasy. The first Anne Mccaffrey book I read was this one, "The Ship Who Sang." Anne's writing (all through the books I have read from Dragonriders, Petaybee and Crystal Singer) has always struck me as optimistic, romantic, and not at all concerned about physics. If you are a hard science fiction fan (i.e.: you love Asimov and Arthur C Clarke) you might be left feeling cheated by The Ship Who Sang: there are gaping plot holes on just about every page.

Anne deals mainly with the emotional issues of the protagonist, with the science fiction setting as a dressing. If you view Anne's writing as Science Fantasy or Space Opera, and accept that the genre by necessity requires the protagonists to be pseudo super-heros or borderline Mary-Sues, you'll love Anne's writing.

I loved the book, as much for the inspiration to get back into reading fiction (and science fiction in particular) as for the easy-to-read love story that this book really is. The character development is reasonable if a little hackneyed, but Anne's writing language is wonderful enough to keep you entertained right through to the last page.

It's worth noting that The Ship Who Sang is a novel composed of short stories that were written separately, so the transitions from chapter to chapter can seem a little jarring. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,102 reviews5 followers
April 14, 2018
If I was reading this for the first time I'd only give it 2 stars but it gets 3 from me for sentimental reasons as I loved it when I first read it as a teenager.

It was an interesting experience reading it again after so long. It would be considered wildly political incorrect if it was written today. It opens with parents of the severely physically disabled baby, Helva, given the choice of euthanasia or having her become a shell-person/cyborg. This didn't bother me the first time I read it, and doesn't now, but I now see that it is a controversial view. What did make me blink this time was the comment on IVF. In the book it is said it is sometimes used for frivolous reasons not just "sensible" ones like ensuring the birth of a son to carry on the family name or business. An odd blind spot given that in the book there doesn't seem to be any gender segregation in the workplace. Jobs appear to be done as often by a female as a male.

As I said above, these days I'd give this 2 stars as it is more a collection of short stories rather than an in-depth novel. Also, at times the language seems a little florid and overwrought to my curmudgeonly middle-aged self. Still, the world is an intriguing one and I'm pleased I encountered it for the first time when I did.
Profile Image for Sic Transit Gloria.
144 reviews1 follower
July 15, 2015
Helva was born horribly misshapen, but that doesn't mean she has to be a burden on society. Instead, she is hooked up to a computer and taught how to pilot a spaceship. Now that she's actually assumed a ship to pilot, she must deal with the matter of finding a human partner and surviving the harsh galaxy.

Quite simply, this book is typical of McCaffery: Brilliant concept, horrible execution. I've actually put a great deal of thought into the idea of connection paralyzed babies to computers to enable them to experience life. Unfortunately, McCaffery comes at this problem without realizing how drastically computers would advance. I chuckled internally every time the book mentioned tapes.

However, as I mentioned before, although the concept was good, the rest was the typical rubbish of Anne McCaffery. The characters are stereotypical and flat, the "love" (at least at the end) is just really a perverted form of lust, the plot was fragmented, the science is unbelievable...and the list goes on. Given that another trope of McCaffery's series is that they get worse as they go on, I'm not going to get the next ones to read.
Profile Image for Raj.
1,374 reviews29 followers
February 22, 2010
Helva has been wrapped in a titanium 'shell' since birth, a shell that protects and nurtures her, as her own body is broken and useless. Inserted into a spaceship that becomes her body, she travels the stars with her partnered 'brawn', working for the Central Worlds government as a medical ship, trying to pay off the debt she incurred for her upbringing and spaceship body. But Helva is unique amongst Brainships, she is the ship who sings.

This book brings together several short stories about Helva that McCaffrey wrote in the 1960s and a new conclusion (at least, it doesn't have a separate copyright date on it) that brings closure to her story. Some of the attitudes in the writing, especially in the earlier stories, were a bit odd and of their time (especially attitudes towards disability) but I still enjoyed the book. A major theme in the book is one of loss as Helva mourns for her first brawn, finds ways of coping and eventually gains contentment. This feels well-drawn and organic, happening over a number of years.
Profile Image for Jai.
613 reviews113 followers
September 13, 2021
Actually a series of short stories that happen right after another, which I appreciated, since I could read a story, break, read another, in installments.

Entertaining. This has an interesting premise and a heroine I liked, but for sure this story is of its time.

*** Read on for me expanding on this thought (spoilers incoming) ***

Helva, the brain ship, was born human with twisted limbs and poor eyes and ears, though her brain was fine. Solution: train this baby (with certain conditioning in place) and essentially lock her in a metal shell to be the brain of a sentient spaceship! The longevity and technology to have far more power and ability than a human would is the argument why this is OK and not at all unethical and ableist.

Then we have some small doses of casual sexism, though I do find Helva stands her own, I didn't like multiple characters calling a difficult actress a "bitch". That word was really cringey in this particular context where there's pretty much no other swearing, and just felt straight misogynistic.

And finally the ending (really the last story) reveals a partner for Helva who I think mirrors the male leads in Romance as being a womanizer, manipulative, rude, and yet secretly reveals a pining for Helva, which excites/scares, but mostly excites her, while I'm saying out loud "OK, this guy is being creepy". I can accept it sort of if I step back and read it as old school romance, and there is a feeling of Helva having the upper hand and not being pushed around, but it doesn't QUITE work for modern romance. Also...she's encased, and he's fixated on her and contemplates getting to her? I'm not even sure if she's just a brain, or stunted as.a baby or what. And why is it that when he/she speak to each other they keep mentioning she's a virgin. Like...why, really. 👀💀

Besides that, some of the wording may be of it's time. Sometimes I was thrown because some phrases seemed cheerful, but a sentence later gives the context that it's not. It made the reading flow choppy.
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