In all my years of conventions and conferences, I’ve never caught “Con Crud” –until Geek Girl Con. I’ve got a bit of a head cold this week, so my apologies if my Flashback Friday over The Ship Who Sang rambles a bit or contains errors.
When I read this story as a kid, the enslavement of the disabled went completely over my head. I loved this book! The idea of traveling through space while creating music sang to my heart. When I didn’t want to be a Crystal Singer, I wanted to be The Ship Who Sang.
In the society in the book, Helva has the misfortune of being born with severe physical disabilities. People like this are allowed to grow as “shell people,” rather than being euthanized (something else I didn’t pick up on reading this as a child). These “shell children” are encapsulated in a life-support shell made of titanium that connects them to various computer parts. They are basically half-human, half-machine (think Ghost in the Shell, only more -so. These “shell people” are placed in ships, which operate in partnership with normal folks to pilot around space doing tasks for the government. They amass heavy debts by becoming “shell people,” which they must pay off before being “free” from their government contract.
As a child, I never made the connection to slavery. I thought it was neat that someone who would have otherwise possibly died, was given a chance at new life. As a shell person, they could do anything. Be anyone. The book itself is quite sad at times as it deals with disability and death. Being at an age where I was seeing both in my family members, the book built a sympathy in me for the actions done by people in mourning or by those dealing with new-found disability. There’s a level of “out of control-ness” that happens when you lose someone.
Back when McCaffrey was writing this book, many felt that the disabled were a burden to society. Some felt that perhaps they shouldn’t live. Some even accused McCaffrey of suggesting we use science/technology to give the disabled a reason to live.
Even now, I feel that McCaffrey wrote about diversity and disability, and the strength that comes with fighting with every ounce of strength you have to survive.
Disability can be its own slavery. We can let it control us, shackle us down to being shells of ourselves, until we aren’t living. Or we can make the most of a rough situation and overcome.