Sure, I've read her books but she has never been on a list of favorite authors, why was I so affected? I've never listed her as an influence or put her on a list of people I want to meet or authors I want to write like (L'Engle, Le Guin & Borges, if you are curious). There is the Crystal Singer series, and the PTB, I never got into Acorna, of course Pern, the Freedom series, The Rowan (which I recently reread) and its sequels, the Pirate books (including Sassinak - not only a personal favorite but introduced me to Elizabeth Moon for which I am grateful). Who doesn't remember reading this book for the first time. When I got back from vacation I looked for my copy of The Ship Who Sang but couldn't find it. Doubt I'll have this copy long as I already have a list in my head of people I need to give it to. So what is it about Anne McCaffrey that makes me read her books (lots and lots of her books) but not mention her when people ask who I read? If you ask me for my top ten favorite science fiction books I would be able to come up with a reputable list off the top of my head. But you know what science fiction book I have reread the most?
So when I say Anne McCaffrey's views on love/sex turned me off, I don't mean that I had a problem with Helva being in love (view spoiler)with Niall (hide spoiler)
Ms. McCaffrey explores this premise and the resulting ethical curiosities throughout the book, and in myriad contexts. I think what I was most surprised about was how much this was a novel about love, and loss, and human growth and relationships, since the premise and the missions are so science-based. In any case, the stories definitely evoked myriad human emotions, and brought me to tears more than once. (For example, I would definitely give the first story 5 stars; it is what made me buy the book, and it was a brilliant display of efficiency and emotional impact in writing). (It made me think even Ms. McCaffrey had finally gotten fed up with the character!) It spoiled the ending of the story for me a bit, as I could not understand the motivation for (view spoiler) Ansra Colmer trying to disrupt the mission, refusing Prane's attentions, and then sending him and Kurla to Corvi oblivion together in some sort of jealous rage??
In a future time, society has found a niche for children born with severe handicaps: They are encased in metal shells, attached to all sorts of electronics, and used to run factories, cities, and star ships. The heroine of this book, Helva, is such a child, who has been built into a star ship. The "brain ships" of the book are paired with an ordinary human pilot. Helva and her first pilot fall in love, a romance in all but the sexual sense. Most of the book is about Helva dealing with grief and searching for a new love.
I took my father's death pretty hard and this book does deal with the questions that get raised during that grief. Suppose you have specific regrets connected with your grief, does that give you license to grieve forever in your life? Having grieved, is it all right to withdraw from relationships because they might cause you more grief in the future? This is actually easier to answer in the future when the disabled have the ability to become part of a ship or other such careers and live a great life of honor and respect.
I really love the ideas of brain ships, the extra things they are capable of despite lacking the mobility of their human body, but also the limitations they have and the way different people react to them, and in fact the way she reacts to situations.
I have a collection of short stories by McCaffrey, but I realized when I got it down to reread and review it that one was a sequel to this book. The book, in other words, is a collection of short stories. But since all the stories at least involve the 'brain-ship' Helva, and since they're consecutive, this is sort of a crossover between short stories and a novel. It's evident from the copyright information that the stories were essentially serialized, and only after the publication of Dramatic Mission were they collected into this book. Fairly early on those who object to this high-handed manipulation of people's lives are mocked as interfering do-gooders--but though it's not clear who makes these decisions, whoever it is are not described as interfering--it's just taken for granted that the unnamed 'authorities' know better than ordinary citizens, and are better able to make such decisions as the disabled children themselves would be. These partnerships are informal marriages. If I were recommending only one story in this book, it would be 'Dramatic Mission'. I'm not sure if one could understand it without reading at least the stories of Helva's upbringing. McCaffrey's casual assumption that people would seek out 'their own kind' and live, not generally in exclusive enclaves (most planets have regular commerce with other worlds, and interstellar travel, though 'too slow' by the standards of the society, is in fact quite fast), but still in self-segregated groups, is not consistent with what has happened on Earth, mostly. The evidence indicates that drug use is rarer in the galactic federation than in our own societies (due largely to restrictive policing by the quasi-military 'Service'), but McCaffrey still shudders away from the idea that people might become addicted to drugs, and demonizes the addicts.
(There was also a similarity with Dan Simmons Olympos in the use of Shakespeare as a muse, although on a far smaller scale in this book.) The book feels a little dated in its pace and the (pre-?) feminist subtext, but the stories retain enough freshness to be enjoyable.
Anne McCaffreys first story was published by Sam Moskowitz in Science Fiction + Magazine and her first novel was published by Ballantine Books in 1967. By the time the three children of her marriage were comfortably in school most of the day, she had already achieved enough success with short stories to devote full time to writing.