The Ship Who Sang

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Ship Who Sang
First edition cover
AuthorAnne McCaffrey
Cover artistJack Gaughan (first)
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
PublisherWalker & Co.
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)

The Ship Who Sang (1969) is a science fiction novel by American writer Anne McCaffrey, a fix-up of five stories published 1961 to 1969.[1] By an alternate reckoning, "The Ship Who Sang" is the earliest of the stories, a novelette, which became the first chapter of the book.[2] Finally, the entire "Brain & Brawn Ship series" (or Brainship or Ship series), written by McCaffrey and others, is sometimes called the "Ship Who Sang series" by bibliographers, merchants, or fans.[3][4][5][6]

The protagonist of the 1969 novel and all the early stories is a cyborg, Helva, a human being and a spaceship, or "brainship". The five older stories are revised under their original titles as the first five chapters of the book and the sixth chapter is entirely new.[1]

McCaffrey dedicated the book "to the memory of the Colonel, my father, George Herbert McCaffrey, citizen soldier patriot for whom the first ship sang".[7] In 1994 she named it as the book she is most proud of.[8] Subsequently, she named the first story her best story and her personal favorite work.[9][10][11]

During the 1990s McCaffrey made The Ship Who Sang the first book of a series by writing four novels in collaboration with four co-authors, two of whom each later completed another novel in the series alone. By 1997 there were seven novels, one old and six more recent.[3] They share a fictional premise but feature different cyborg characters.

Fictional premise[edit]

The Brain & Brawn Ship series is set in the future of our universe and in McCaffrey's Federated Sentient Planets. The parents of babies with severe physical disabilities—but fully developed and exceptionally talented brains—may allow them to become "shell people" rather than be euthanised. Taking that option, physical growth is stunted, the body is encapsulated in a titanium life-support shell with capacity for computer connections, and the person is raised for "one of a number of curious professions. As such, their offspring would suffer no pain, live a comfortable existence in a metal shell for several centuries, and perform unusual service for Central Worlds".[12]

After medication and surgery, general education, and special training, shell children come of age with heavy debts which they must work off in order to become free agents. They are employed as the "brains" of spacecrafts ("brainships"), hospitals, industrial plants, mining planets, and so on, even cities—in the books, primarily spaceships and cities.

A brainship is able to operate independently but is usually employed in partnership with one "normal" person called a "brawn" who travels inside the ship much as a pilot would. A brawn is specially trained to be a companion and helper, the mobile half of such a partnership. The nickname is relative: the training is long and intense and the brawns must be brainy people in fact. Commonly the brain and brawn are paired at will and, for a fee, a brainship may terminate an assigned partnership.

McCaffrey explained the origin of the brainship premise to SFFworld in a 2004 interview: "I remember reading a story about a woman searching for her son's brain, it had been used for an autopilot on an ore ship and she wanted to find it and give it surcease. And I thought what if severely disabled people were given a chance to become starships? So that's how The Ship Who Sang was born".[11]

The short story[edit]

Anne McCaffrey had published two stories when she attended her first Milford Writer's Workshop in 1959. Afterward she worked on "The Ship Who Sang", which was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Apr 1961) and included by editor Judith Merril in the anthology, 7th Annual of the Year's Best S-F (1962).[2]

Helva scored well on encephalographic tests and her parents chose the shell option. She would be a brainship, an elite of her kind. "Brainships were, of course, long past the experimental stages" in her time. Supposedly, "the well-oriented brain would not have changed places with the most perfect body in the universe".[12]

The story closes with brainship Helva singing "Taps" at the funeral service for her brawn Jennan. Decades later, son Todd McCaffrey called it "almost an elegy to her father".[13] About that time, she called it her own favorite story, "possibly because I put much of myself into it: myself and the troubles I had in accepting my father's death [1954] and a troubled marriage".[9] She has also called it "the best story I ever wrote", one that still makes her cry.[11] She chose it to read aloud as Guest of Honor at the annual science fiction convention Eurocon 2007.[14]


Joanna Russ noted the steady increase in McCaffrey's command of her craft over the writing of the stories, saying "one of the pleasures of reading Ship is watching it progress from some rather awful gaucheries through the middling treatment of middling ideas to the final two sections in which the author at last begins to dramatize scenes with ease and some polish". Russ concluded that while the book suffers from a failure to rewrite the earlier work into a coherent whole, "even at its silliest the book has a contagious joyfulness".[15]


In a 2010 essay, "The Future Imperfect", published in Redstone Science Fiction, disability rights advocate Sarah Einstein criticizes the "Brain & Brawn Ship" series as a stand-in for science fiction in general for its use of disability.[16] Regarding one novel in the series, The Ship Who Searched (1992) by McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey, Einstein observes that in fact they have:

many more technological wonders than McCaffrey had imagined. The protagonists in the story would have been much helped, for instance, by a secure communications channel and a GPS system, both of which I have in my battered old car. But most of all, the heroine of this book would have been helped by a future shaped by the actions of today's disability activists. Because, at its heart, this series of books tells the story of the enslavement of extremely promising children who have the bad luck to be born—or in this one case alone, become—disabled.[16]

The early stories: Helva[edit]

The 1960s stories feature one shell person, Helva, who becomes brainship XH-834:

All but the novella "Dramatic Mission" are novelettes, short fiction in 7500 to 17,500 words. They were incorporated in The Ship Who Sang novel (1969) as the first five chapters with a new closing chapter or short story, "The Partnered Ship".[1][a]

McCaffrey wrote two more Helva novelettes:[5]

Brain & Brawn Ship series[edit]

The Ship series comprises the Helva stories and six novels published in the 1990s by Baen Books. More than twenty years after the first book, McCaffrey returned to the premise in her first collaboration with Margaret Ball. She soon wrote Ship novels with three other co-authors, two of whom later wrote one alone.[3]

Co-authored by Anne McCaffrey:

  • PartnerShip (1992) with Margaret Ball. ISBN 0-671-72109-7
  • The Ship Who Searched (1992) with Mercedes Lackey. ISBN 0-671-72129-1
  • The City Who Fought (1993) with S. M. Stirling. ISBN 0-671-87599-X
  • The Ship Who Won (1994) with Jody Lynn Nye. ISBN 0-671-87657-0

Separately authored:

  • The Ship Errant (1996) by Jody Lynn Nye. ISBN 0-671-87854-9 (sequel to The Ship Who Won)
  • The Ship Avenged (1997) by S. M. Stirling. ISBN 0-671-87861-1 (sequel to The City Who Fought)

These six novels were also issued in omnibus editions of two each.[3][b]


The fourth and longest story, "Dramatic Mission" (originally published in Analog, June 1969), was one of five nominees for both the annual Hugo Award and the annual Nebula Award in the Best Novella category. The Hugos are voted by paying participants in the World Science Fiction Convention and the Nebulas by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America.[17][18] Both awards define the novella by word count 17,500 to 40,000.[a]

The American Library Association in 1999 cited The Ship Who Sang and the two early Pern trilogies (Dragonriders and Harper Hall), when McCaffrey received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award for her "lifetime contribution in writing for teens".[19]


  1. ^ a b Both Hugo and Nebula awards define the novella category by word count 17,500 to 40,000. Novels are longer, novelettes shorter. The new sixth chapter is catalogued as a short story, or fiction in fewer than 7500 words. See The Ship Who Sang (book) at ISFDB.
  2. ^
    • Brain Ships (2003. McCaffrey, Ball & Lackey): The Ship Who Searched and Partnership. ISBN 0-7434-7166-0
    • The Ship Who Saved the Worlds (2003, McCaffrey & Nye): The Ship Who Won and The Ship Errant. ISBN 0-7434-7171-7
    • The City and the Ship (2004, McCaffrey & Stirling): The City Who Fought and The Ship Avenged. ISBN 0-7434-7189-X


  1. ^ a b c "The Ship Who Sang (book"). The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB).
  2. ^ a b "The Ship Who Sang" (story). ISFDB.
  3. ^ a b c d The Ship Who Sang (series). ISFDB.
  4. ^ Partnership (The Ship Who ...). Amazon. Confirmed 2011-07-27.
  5. ^ a b Anne McCaffrey. ISFDB.
  6. ^ Footer to "Dragonsong/Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey" (for discussion 2005-03-23). Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club. Confirmed 2011-07-27.
  7. ^ Anne McCaffrey, The Ship Who Sang (1969), New York: Ballantine, paperback edition, 25th printing, Dec 1993. Front endpapers.
  8. ^ "An Interview with Anne McCaffrey" (1994-05). By Richard Karsmakers. Gouda, NL: Retrieved 2011-07-21.
  9. ^ a b "Interview with Anne McCaffrey" (2000-05-08). Science Fiction and Fantasy World ( Confirmed 2011-07-12.
  10. ^ "An Interview With Anne McCaffrey" (2004). By Lynne Jamneck. Retrieved 2011-07-21.
  11. ^ a b c "Anne McCaffrey: Heirs to Pern" (2004-11). Locus Online excerpts from an interview published in Locus: The Magazine Of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field, Nov 2004. Confirmed 2011-07-27.
  12. ^ a b Anne McCaffrey, The Ship Who Sang (1969), New York: Ballantine, paperback edition, 25th printing, Dec 1993. pp. 1–2.
  13. ^ Todd McCaffrey, Dragonholder: The life and dreams (so far) of Anne McCaffrey by her son (1999). New York: Ballantine. ISBN 0-345-42217-1. Page 13–14.
  14. ^ "Anne McCaffrey reading at Eurocon 2007". YouTube. Uploaded 2007-09-27 with the caption "Clip of Anne McCaffrey reading The Ship Who Sang at Eurocon 2007 in Copenhagen september 23th [sic] 2007". Confirmed 2011-08-31.
  15. ^ "Books", F&SF, July 1970, p. 40–42.
  16. ^ a b "The Future Imperfect" (2010-06). Sarah Einstein. Redstone Science Fiction. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  17. ^ Dramatic Mission. ISFDB.
  18. ^ Anne McCaffrey. Locus Index to SF Awards. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
    • From any Locus Index entry, select the award name for details of the annual result; then select "About" for general information about the award.
  19. ^ "1999 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winners". Young Adult Library Services Association. American Library Association. Retrieved 2011-11-14.[permanent dead link]

Further reading[edit]

  • Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century", in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991: 149–181.
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. "The Life Cycle of Cyborgs: Writing the Posthuman". In Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs and Cyberspace, edited by Jenny Wolmark, 157–173. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

External links[edit]