Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey & Margaret Ball






The Ship Who Searched / PartnerShip
Baen, Reissued Nov 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Science Fiction
In 1970, a series of short stories by Anne McCaffrey was gathered into one book and published as THE SHIP WHO SANG. If McCaffrey had gone no farther than the mental leap from placing people’s brains in mechanical bodies, to placing their brains in starships, space stations and engineered cities, it would have been an accomplishment. But she didn’t stop there. She made those transplanted brains piercingly human. Then she turned them loose in adventures so fascinating that THE SHIP WHO SANG became a beloved classic.
For twenty years it seemed to be a standalone concept. Suddenly, in 1992, McCaffrey released two brainship novels in collaboration with authors at the beginnings of their careers: THE SHIP WHO SEARCHED with Mercedes Lackey and PARTNERSHIP with Margaret Ball. BRAIN SHIPS is a combination volume of these two novels.
Seven year old Tia is already an oddity, dragged by her scholarly parents from one archaeological dig to another, on one isolated, unfamiliar planet after another. She has no child companions; her precocious mind has been trained by computers and her parents. Her best friend is the brainship who visits occasionally. When Tia is permanently paralyzed by an unknown virus, her only chance to fulfill her potential is to become a brainship herself.
As the brainship AH-1033, Tia has a personal mission: to find the homeworld of the dead civilization which harbored the virus that destroyed her body. With Alex, her eccentric “brawn” or human partner, Tia is sent on a series of assignments tracking down newly discovered plagues, a danger that must be expected in a civilization which is constantly exploring new planets.
I have read almost everything by Anne McCaffrey, and in my opinion THE SHIP WHO SEARCHED is her best collaboration. It has an emotional and literary richness which is rarely equaled before or since in her career. The story is especially deeply moving during Tia’s progression from human to brainship, and also in the relationship between Tia and Alex. My personal preference is for the type of relationship Helva has with Parollan in THE SHIP WHO SANG rather than the culmination between Tia and Alex, but that is because I love the idea of working out such mismatched matings as these between ship and human.
Nancia, the XN-935, has an advantage most brainships don’t have. Her father is a highly-placed official and a member of the High Families. The idealistic Nancia would rather die than take advantage of this to “pull strings” for her own benefit, but such things do happen all the time. For example, her first assignment. She finds herself, a Courier ship with a Singularity drive, trained for high-speed essential services, assigned to ferry five High Families youngsters, just to save them the time of getting to their first jobs in a faraway star system at the slower FTL speeds.
The youngsters are all spoiled but bright, and Nancia wonders why each is being sent into what looks like exile. Gradually the five reveal what their crimes were and how they intend to enrich themselves in their new positions. By the end of the trip, Nancia has an entire criminal conspiracy recorded by her cameras – and she can’t show the tapes to anyone.
Nancia is only sixteen human years old. Already idealistic, her indecision is reinforced by the impracticality of her brawn Caleb and a too cynical brainstation. It takes a brawn change and extreme circumstances to resolve the dilemma presented by five High Families criminals whose ambitious plans are coming to fruition.
Character is the focus in PARTNERSHIP. The five criminals are varied, interesting, and chilling, especially in the cases of the beautiful Polyon and Fassa. A bonus for readers is the sheer joy that Nancia takes in Singularity flight, which she likens to wave surfing. A bit spoiled and arrogant herself, she will have to do some growing up in high pressure situations. By getting to know some of the older members in Central Worlds service, Nancia comes to understand and appreciate what it means to be a “softshell” human, instead of a nearly-invulnerable maiden in a titanium ship.
The sparkle of THE SHIP WHO SEARCHED will be enjoyed by readers as yet unfamiliar with the Brainships series. If you already like the series and haven’t read these, do so. It was time we got them back in print.
Feb 2005 Review


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