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Monday, April 10, 2017

"The Ship Who Sang" by Anne McCaffrey

First appeared in F&SF. Reprinted in major retrospectives by Judith Merril, Dick Allen, Lori Allen, Pamela Sargent, Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, Joseph D. Olander, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh, Josh Pachter, David Drake, Sandra Miesel, Edel Brosnan, A. Susan Williams, Richard Glyn Jones, David G. Hartwell, Milton T. Wolf, Applewhite Minyard, and Gardner Dozois.

Helva would be born with genetics deformities. Her parents had the choice to terminate or place her in a ship. They opt for the ship. Her builders apparently hide her past from her, even curiosity about her personal past.

Meanwhile, Helva adapts quickly to this new life, teaching herself to sing and paint microscopically. She needs to be paired with a partner, a Scout Service pilot, but she isn't assigned one, so she despairs until a prospect stumbles on her. He tells her to host her own party. She does, and suitors comes calling. She selects Jennan almost subconsciously to the chagrin yet acquiescence of the others.

They engage in various picaresque adventures until they reach a feminist colony that initially refuses to evacuate their doomed colony due to an expanding sun.

Discussion with Spoilers:
The colonists belated realize Helva and Jennan are correct and rush to overload her ship. Helva is most concerned about losing her partner. They are packed, and the acceleration crushes some, including her love.

She has to get a new partner. There is some initial concern she might go rogue, but she does not. She mourns.

The idea both of incorporating humans into machines and of the need for including the disadvantaged seems fresh, ahead of its time. At one point, McCaffrey turns the most common scenario for the handicapped on its head:
"I am currently reproducing the 'Last Supper' on the head of a screw.... Of course, some of my color values do not match the Old Master's and the perspective is faulty, but I believe it to be a fair copy."
[One of her female visitors]' eyes, unmagnified, bugged out.
"Oh, I forget," and Helga's voice was really contrite. If she could have blushed, she would have. "You people don't have adjustable vision."  
There's a hurried compression of time and events that makes one wonder what the story might have been had it been written just seven years later during her award-winning period. She might not have had the clout to write and publish a novella this early in her career. In fact, had the cards been played right--developing each phase as a search for different kinds of love and what this singing resolves--this could have easily been a lovely novel. But it is what it is, and it helped establish her career, so she could eventually publish her award-winning novellas.

She did revise this slightly, mostly to change whether Helva and her ilk could live indefinitely, which was probably to match it with later developments in this series.

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