Today I went off in a very different direction from my recent reading. I decided it was time and past to get to Anne McCaffrey’s The Coelura. It had sat on my dad’s shelves for years without attracting my attention (probably because I never actually looked at the cover) or interest. When glancing through McCaffrey’s page on the isfdb.org, I noticed it was classed with the Crystal Singer books, so I determined that I had to have it.
Frankly, aside from the fact that it’s an FSP book (Federated Sentient Planets) there’s nothing to connect it to those. The Coelura is a surprisingly short book from 1983 taking place on the planet Demeathorn. Lady Caissa is the protagnoist, a young woman from the upper echelons of FSP society, living in Blue City. There’s also a Red City and the continent is vaguely triangular, eventually leading her to guess at the existince of a Yellow City.
Much of the book is Caissa solving the mystery of what is so valuable that everyone on and off of Demeathorn wants it, and clearly it’s located in or near the Yellow City. Also just as obviously people, her father in particular, would rather she didn’t know. The answer is, of course, the coelura, though it takes some time to figure out just what that means.
The Coelura introduces readers to the highest levels of society, where the wealthy descendents of first colonists see to it that their legacy is passed on to a single body-heir, perfect of form, conceived & birthed naturally, etc. The body-heir is denoted by a unique tattoo around their neck, covered by an identical necklace when they reach their minor-majority at fourteen. These people do not necessarily rule…but it’s not uncommon to find them in positions of great power.
I mentioned that this book is short, running just over a hundred fifty pages. However, the story is shorter even than that because of the illustrations. How long has it been since I read a book for adults with illustrations? I suppose the last would have been Dragons of Darkness, though that generally featured a single image for each story. The Coelura contains sixty-three pages of illustration, eight of which are devoted to full spread images. Which means the story itself is less than a hundred pages long. Hence I knew I would easily finish it before my lunch hour was over.
The images themselves are lovely and while I wish I could see them rendered in full color, I’m also reminded of all the times I’ve seen hardcover or oversized copies of The Coelura on used bookstore shelves. I’d imagine the illustrations can be appreciated far more when they are printed larger than mass market paperbacks allow for. I can’t say that they truly added anything to the experience of reading, but they were a lovely feature. I know when I mentioned my intention to read this book to a friend, her first question was whether or not my copy had images. I had no idea what she was talking about then, but promised I’d tell her once I got around to it.
The reason why I kept putting off reading The Coelura after that conversation wasn’t because of length or even disinterest, but rather because there was one other book isfdb.org said was classed with the Crystal Singer set, and I spent months trying to find a copy of Nimisha’s Ship. My first reaction when I opened this at lunch was pleasure at having just finished The Coelura, for Nimisha is also a member of that highest level of society, a First Families body-heir.
With more than three hundred fifty pages to this book, I was forcibly reminded that Anne McCaffrey liked to take her time. We spend a good chunk of the book watching Nimisha grow and learn, her continual interest in all things mechanical, her father’s pleasure and fosterage of knowledge, her mother’s love and indulgence, etc. We see her attain her majority and dreams of designing ships. Or rather, the dream of designing the ship. It takes years and five different builds, but finally Nimisha is able to test her ship. Unfortunately, something unexpected happens, and that’s when the second half of the story starts.
Full of drama, intrigue, and human nature, Nimisha’s Ship is a fabulous example of what made Anne McCaffrey such a great author. Even without it being a part of her FSP universe, even without a direct reference to The Coelura, this book would have stood happily on its own. True, it lacks images, but that’s never been a prerequisite for me. Nimisha herself is an engaging character who drags the reader with her on this grand adventure.
I should mention, there was a point earlier today. I had just punched in from lunch and was sixty-eight pages into Nimisha’s Ship. I looked to see that the story ended on page 361 and thought to myself “do I want to finish this tonight?” Then I had to stop and laugh at what had just run through my brain. It sometimes amazes me to think that there was never a question of if I could read three hundred pages between getting home and going to bed, only a question of whether or not I wanted to spend most of my evening with a book. Because, I’ll have you know, that’s not usually the case. Oh sure, I usually rack up a good hour or so all told each night, but I do other things. Surf the internet. Watch videos. Play games. You know. So getting through three hundred pages means next to none of that other stuff happens. But…it’s still eminently possible for me. After all, here I am, wrapping up a blog post for two novels in one day.
I really do prefer older science fiction like this. Yes, human nature can screw the pooch so easily, but the future is still incredibly bright for us all. It doesn’t matter that there are a very few First Families scions out there who employ much of the rest of humanity, many of them understand the need to treat their employees as human beings. They see to it that their employees have all they need and could want and are rewarded with loyal service. Obviously not everyone thinks that way, but our heroes do and it’s enough.