Skip to Content

The Ship Who Sang

I'm really not sure what to make of The Ship Who Sang. In many respects, it reads like a dark reflection of 1930s pulp sci-fi. Despite being set in a fairly horrifying capitalist dystopia - the main character is a disabled person who was surgically altered as a child to become the 'brain' of a space ship, and is locked into a contract with the company who paid for the surgery until she can buy her freedom - most of the characters exbibit a fairly carefree attitude to life, and burst into song at the slightest provocation.

At times, it reads like a (almost) beautiful reflection on our values and attitudes to life, and at others it feels like a poorly written boys' own adventure story populated by larger than life, thigh slapping heroes. Part of the problem, is that the book is actually a collection of short stories written over a period of many years. The characters come and go, with the protagonist being the only real point of stability. In many respects, this could have been a strength, as it reflects the transient nature of the "ship's" relationship with her "brawns" (human crew). The medical procedures that have left her trapped inside a steel shell have also greatly expanded her lifespan, and time passes very differently for her; the brief windows that the stories represent an analogy for the slices of her life that those around her occupy.

In practice, however, I mainly found the episodic nature confusing. In part this is due to the aforementioned nature of the characters. Many of the humans in the book (there are, of course, also inscrutable aliens who like nothing more than a nice bit of Shakespeare) feel like they could have stepped out of the pages of a Dan Dare comic, or Buck Rogers novel. No matter the odds, they always manage to come together for a good sing song, or make some clever witticism just as they are about to come unstuck. In fact, so frequent is this theme that these characters, who often appear with little to no introduction, tend to blend into one another and I had difficulty remembering who was who; or, indeed, following the plot, which tended to involve the ship going off and doing something for rather arbitrary and not adequately explained reasons.

Half pulpy rubbish, and half inspired reflection on what it means to be human, the Ship Who Sang is a book I won't soon forget, but it's not likely to be one I'll be returning to in a hurry either.