The Ship Who...

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The Ship Who... is a science fiction series created by Anne McCaffrey, consisting of short stories and novels.

In The Future, infants with severe birth defects are placed in self-contained life-support shells in which they will spend their entire lives, and are trained to become the "brain" of a starship, into which they will be connected in such a way that the ship is effectively their body.

McCaffrey first visited the setting in a series of short stories written in the 1960s, collected in The Ship Who Sang in 1969.

The setting was revived in the 1990s by Baen Books for a series of co-written novels: PartnerShip (1992, with Margaret Ball), The Ship Who Searched (1992, with Mercedes Lackey), The City Who Fought (1993, with S.M. Stirling), and The Ship Who Won (1994, with Jody Lynn Nye). These were followed by The Ship Errant (1996, a direct sequel to The Ship Who Won, by Jody Lynn Nye solo) and The Ship Avenged (1997, a direct sequel to The City Who Fought, by S. M. Stirling solo).

McCaffrey also wrote two more short stories in the "ship who sang" sequence after long gaps ("Honeymoon", 1977, and "The Ship That Returned", 1999), and "brainships" have made occasional cameos in her other science fiction series, including the Crystal Singer series.

Tropes used in The Ship Who... include:
  • Artificial Limbs: One of the characters in The Ship Who Searched is a research scientist whose field is prosthetic limbs.
  • Badass Bookworm: Both the Brains and the Brawns.
  • Brains and Brawn: In name if not in spirit; each "brainship" is assigned a "brawn" who acts as companion, ambassador and muscle for the immobile ship. Averted because brawns are also required to be pretty smart.
  • Can't Have Sex Ever: A problem for any brain and brawn pair who fall in love, which is one reason the administrators try to avoid it happening. In The Ship Who Searched, the protagonist, after becoming very rich, deals with the problem by commissioning a remote-controlled full-sensory human body.
  • Child Prodigy: Tia of The Ship Who Searched.
  • Code Name: Gently mocked in PartnerShip; when Nancia realizes her current brawn is a spy, he says she can call him X-39. When she points out that she already knows his name, he cheerfully agrees; he just thinks it would be fun to be called that.
  • Continuity Nod: Helva is featured by just about every sequel at some point, but apart from that:
    • Partner Ship references the "Helva Modification" invented after The Ship who Dissembled
    • The Ship Who Searched references the "Nyota Five" incident from Partner Ship
    • The City Who Fought references Moto-Prosthetics from The Ship Who Searched
    • The Ship Who Won recaps the events of The City Who Fought early on (together with cameos from Simeon and Dr Chaundra), and references the Moto-Prosthetics.
  • Cool Starship: Depending on how inherently cool you consider the idea of a brainship. The actual ship body is usually something ordinary and middle-of-the-range.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover of PartnerShip features an astronaut walking next to a female humanoid hologram being projected from a device that floats next to him as he walks away from a spaceship, giving the impression that the brainship of the novel gains the ability to project an image of herself. This never happens. The blurb on the back cover also misidentifies the main character and misses the plot entirely.
  • Creator Breakdown: The first story, in which Helva meets her first brawn, falls in love with him, and has to watch him die an unnecessary death was written while McCaffrey was grieving for the death of her father.
  • Crew of One: A brainship appears to have a crew of one (the brawn), if you don't realise it's a brainship. It's also perfectly capable of flying itself with a genuine crew of one (just the shellperson), but they usually don't except in emergencies.
  • Cyborg
  • Death Seeker: Kira, Helva's brawn in The Ship Who Killed, is this due to the death of her husband...causing Helva enormous panic when they unknowingly wind up on a planet where the religion is such that everyone is one of these.
  • Death World: Kolnar, the homeworld of the villains of The City Who Fought.
  • Decontamination Chamber: In the research station at the start of The Ship Who Searched, decontamination procedures are required whenever someone comes in through the airlock. Readers are treated to some graphic depictions of what can happen when decontamination procedures prove inadequate or aren't followed properly.
  • Department of Child Disservices: The social worker assigned to the orphan Joat in The City Who Fought.
  • Dueling Scar: In The City Who Fought, Simeon's onscreen avatar has a dueling scar because he thinks it's cool. Only one other character recognises it.
  • Explosions in Space: Used correctly in The City Who Fought; an exploding starship releases enormous quantities of debris which make the immediate environment of the protagonists' space station very dangerous for a period of time.
  • Fantastic Drug
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Very expensive, and you still have to accelerate and decelerate relative to your destination on conventional drives, making the trips less than trivial.
  • Future Music: In The Ship Who Sang.
  • Go Mad From the Isolation: In one of the short stories, hijackers capture several brainships and remove from each the life-support shell containing the "brain", leaving the shellperson inside unable to see, hear, or otherwise sense anything outside the shell. At least one goes mad before rescue arrives. In direct response to this incident, subsequent shells are designed with integrated audiovisual inputs.
  • Handicapped Badass: Helva of course.
  • Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: In one of the short stories, brainship Helva learns that one of the crewpeople at her home spaceport has fallen in love with her. He tells her that he's afraid if she lets him get too close to her, he'll succumb to an urge to crack open her life support unit, killing her, in an attempt to get at the real her (a thing that has happened before in comparable cases). She deliberately eggs him on, confident that she knows him well enough to be sure he won't go through with it. She's right; he doesn't.
  • Klingons Love Shakespeare: Or rather methane-breathing Starfish Aliens do.
  • Magic From Technology: In The Ship Who Won.
  • Man in the Machine
  • Mindlink Mates: Helva and Niall end up as this in "Honeymoon".
  • Moral Dilemma: In the beginning of Ship Who Sang there is a well-shown portrayal of the ethical controversy that would arise if such technology really appeared in an apparently more or less liberal society.
  • Name's the Same: There are two shellpeople named Simeon - one appearing in Partner Ship and the other in The City Who Fought (also having a cameo in The Ship Who Won). Both are managers (albeit for different locations) and even their designations are fairly close - VS-895 and SSS-900-C, respectively
  • No Conservation of Energy: Played with in The Ship Who Won.
  • Pardon My Klingon: Subverted in one of the short stories that makes up The Ship Who Sang: one of Helva's brawns curses a hapless functionary off the ship by reciting a particularly vituperative string of syllables -- her grandmother's recipe for paprikash, which she then proceeds to cook and eat.
  • Parental Abandonment: Theoretically, once parents give consent for their babies to become brainships, they have no further contact with them and the kids grow up knowing nothing about their background. Nancia of PartnerShip and Tia of The Ship Who Searched avert this totally, however.
  • Patchwork Story: The Ship Who Sang.
  • People Jars
  • The Plague: In "The Ship Who Mourned".
  • Razor Floss: Monofilament wire used as a weapon in The City Who Fought.
  • Remote Body: In The Ship Who Searched.
  • Social Darwinist
    • The Ship Who Searched has a minor character -- Haakon-Fritz -- who fits this. He actually belongs to an organization called the neo-Darwinists.
    • The villains of The City Who Fought are an entire race of these who have grown up in an extremely harsh environment.
  • Son of a Whore: One of the secondary protagonists from The City Who Fought describes himself as "the son of a pimp and dockside whore."
  • Spaceship Girl
  • Tagline: The tagline for the Baen novels was "The Ship Who Sang is not alone!"
  • The Unpronounceable: "Fred" in The Ship Who Searched.
  • Veganopia
  • Wetware CPU