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The Ship Errant    by Jody Lynn Nye order for
Ship Errant
by Jody Lynn Nye
Order:  USA  Can
Baen, 1997 (1996)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This is one of the later entries in the stories of 'shell-persons', a concept introduced by Anne McCaffrey in The Ship Who Sang (evidently she is allowing Nye to use this invention from her universe). A shell-person is an individual whose physical body cannot be kept alive without protection, so he or she is encased in a titanium shell. Still human, still a true individual, a shell-person's neural connections control sophisticated constructs like spaceships ('brainships') or space stations. The possibilities for such people are endless, and they lead rich, fulfilling lives. So too are the possibilities for stories about shell-persons.

In Ship Errant, brainship Carialle and her 'brawn' Keff receive the plum assignment of transporting a group of aliens from a lost colony located in Central Worlds space, to their home world. Central Worlds is anxious to woo the intelligent, peaceful Cridi to join them; their advanced technology includes a power system that the government of Central Worlds would love to have. Operated by remote controls that resemble jewellery, the 'cores' give the delicate Cridi the power to compete in harsher environments than their own watery world (the Cridi resemble one-meter tall frogs that stand upright).

On the globe-frogs' home world, Carialle and Keff are puzzled to learn that no Cridi spaceship has returned home in fifty years. In despair, the aliens have mothballed their space fleet, although a few still dream of returning to the stars. Carialle checks Central Worlds records and finds that C.W. ships have also been lost at an unnatural rate in this region of space. Moreover, it was here that, twenty years ago, she herself was stripped of machinery and materials when she lay helpless and powerless from sabotage. That traumatic experience, in which she lost her first partner, still haunts her.

Nye writes an engrossing tale of adventure and mystery without neglecting her characters. Carialle and Keff are an effective team, but her aliens are the highlight of this book. The Cridi are frankly adorable. Tall Eyebrow and his companions have survived appalling conditions to win their way back to their ancestors' home world. They join forces with Big Eyes, Narrow Leg, and other courageous volunteers from the Cridi home world to help Carialle and Keff find and eliminate the malevolent forces keeping the Cridi prisoners on their own planet At the heart of the mystery is yet another alien race, the Thelerie, griffin-like beings with great physical presence and strength. They too are immensely likeable, gentle giants whose dearest wish is to fly in space.

Nye contends skillfully with several plot-lines and numerous characters, bringing together many threads in a pleasing conclusion. Evidently I lack the forgiveness found in Nye's characters, because the villains are treated more generously than some deserve (or so I feel). It would be a pleasure to meet Carialle and Keff again, as well as revisit the engaging Cridi and Thelerie. Nye's lively tale is a good introduction to shell-persons. If you like Ship Errant, you should enjoy others written by Anne McCaffrey and friends.

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