From Star Trek to Star Wars, from Dune to Foundation, science fiction has a rich history of exploring the idea of vast intergalactic societies, and the challenges facing those living in or trying to manage such societies. The stories in Federations will continue that tradition. What are the social/religious/environmental/technological implications of living in such a vast society? What happens when expansionist tendencies on a galactic scale come into conflict with the indigenous peoples of other planets, of other races? And what of the issue of communicating across such distances, or the problems caused by relativistic travel? These are just some of the questions and issues that the stories in Federations will take on.
Introduction by John Joseph Adams
Mazer in Prison by Orson Scott Card
Carthago Delenda Est by Genevieve Valentine
Life-Suspension by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Terra-Exulta by S.L. Gilbow
Aftermaths by Lois McMaster Bujold
Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy by Harry Turtledove
Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason
Different Day by K. Tempest Bradford
Twilight of the Gods by John C. Wright
Warship by George R.R. Martin and George Guthridge
Swanwatch by Yoon Ha Lee
Spirey and the Queen by Alastair Reynolds
Pardon our Conquest by Alan Dean Foster
Symbiont by Robert Silverberg
The Ship Who Returned by Anne McCaffrey
My She by Mary Rosenblum
The Shoulders of Giants by Robert J. Sawyer
The Culture Archivist by Jeremiah Tolbert
The Other Side of Jordan by Allen Steele
Like They Always Been Free by Georgina Li
Eskhara by Trent Hergenrader
One with the Interstellar Group Consciousnesses by James Alan Gardner
Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy by Catherynne M. Valente
“The Ship Who Returned,” which first appeared in the anthology Far Horizons, is a sequel to The Ship Who Sang, part of McCaffrey’s Brain and Brawn Ship series. This story follows Helva, a sentient spaceship with the mind of a human girl, as she deals with the death of her human partner and an emergency return to the planet she had saved years before.
Note: This review is for the short story The Ship Who Returned only. This review will contain serious spoilers for other books in the Brain and Brawn series. Read at your own risk.
I’m a huge fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Brain and Brawn Ship series – well, the ones written by Anne McCaffrey herself, that is.
The Brain and Brawn series begins with The Ship Who Sang starring Helva. In The Ship Who Sang, Helva loses her first Brawn – whom she loved dearly – in an accident while rescuing a group of women (the Chloes) from a religious compound on a dying planet. After a long period of mourning, Helva eventually is paired with Brawn Niall Parollan. Niall – a sarcastic and feisty man – and Helva fall in love by the end of The Ship Who Sang.
The Ship Who Returned takes up where The Ship Who Sang left off. Hevla and Niall were together for 78 years – but now he’s gone. The actions in all of the books in the rest of the series have already taken place. And again, Helva is grieving. Niall has been dead for about two months at the start of The Ship Who Returned. Helva placed his body in stasis and created an…uncommonly realistic holographic program of Niall in order to assist her with her grief. This program seems to think and talk without any prompting from Helva.
Helva desperately needs the holographic program of Niall in order to cope with his death. McCaffrey really emphasized one of the most devastating events that shellpeople (like Helva) have to deal with: the death of their mobile partner (brawn). Each shellperson is paired with a brawn and all of the good pairings are quite like a marriage. The Ship Who Returned shows the depth of the love and the grief these types of pairings involve as shellpeople can live for hundreds of years.
I started reading this story with extreme excitement but by the time I got to the end I was in tears. I’ve read that studies have been done that show the emotions people experience while reading are quite real – and as I read The Ship Who Returned, it made me think, “how would I survive the death of my mate?” And that thought crushed me.
As Helva drifts through space towards what will be Niall’s resting place – she discovers that she must go to the rescue of the Chloes again. Helva finds a trail of the remaining Kolnari (brutal space pirates from The City Who Fought and The Ship Avenged) en-route to the planet that the Chloes have newly colonized. Like being in the twilight zone, Helva again has a dead brawn and a planet of religious women to save. So she pulls herself together – along with her very real holographic Niall – and flies to the rescue.
Throughout her time assisting the Chloes, Helva has hologram-Niall talking with her and helping her make decisions – seemingly of his own violation and not as a graphics program. Helva questions how realistic the program is frequently while she and the Chloes prepare for the Kolnari attack.
There is not too much more I can say without spoiling the plot – but I can say that this was – for me – an emotionally gripping tale. Helva achieves some sort of peace by the end of the story and I felt mostly satisfied. I wanted more – but then I always want more of McCaffrey’s Brain and Brawn Ship stories. It saddens me that all of the Brain and Brawn Ship stories that were not written by McCaffrey (or in collaboration with) are not very good. I would love to see this series continued.
This was a very enjoyable and solid entry in both the Federations anthology and the Brain and Brawn Series. I can only hope the rest of the Federations entries are as good as this one.