This book is a classic, hands down. I read this the first time in my teen heyday of science fiction when I was reading Starlog and burying myself in comics and all the SF I could get my hands on. I think the copy on my shelf is the one I bought all those years ago. It’s one of those stories I can pick up and lose myself in any time.
Helva is born with severe physical disabilities, to the point that she would be unable to survive. In this world, the option is there for her to become a shell person. The body is encased in a shell with deep neural connections. Once inside, the shellperson can become one with and run any number of buildings, cities or, in Helva’s case, a ship. She becomes one with an interstellar ship and partnered with a “Brawn” to her “Brain” She enjoys a freedom she could never have in her original physical form.
The Ship Who Sang is a collection of stories about Helva, illuminating different aspects of her life and world. There is a sweetness to these stories, almost a fairy tale feel. There is heart and genuine emotion, and Helva is a character who is easy to love. Whenever I read this book, I feel like I am visiting an old friend.
There are some disability activists who have argued against the book and the concept and I can see the point. But I also think there’s a difference between presenting a world in which something happens and actually endorsing that something should happen. I think SF exists to show what could be, and take us into a world, and the implications of what exists therein.
This book isn’t about the ethics of whether this could or should be done. It’s a look inside a wonderfully written character with strength and heart and charm. It’s the kind of story that says “Regardless of whether or not this should happen, in this case, it is wondrous”
And wondrous this book is.