As far as i’m aware this has only ever been published in Asimov’s February 2011. You can contact them to either buy a copy of that edition or to ask them nicely to scan a copy of this article and email it to you.
So we left the story in Starsong with our first melding of pilot and ship into one being, albeit a temporary mistake, and being told that the ship and pilot would be studied intensely to see what exactly had happened. From there we have taken some huge jump forward in time to where women give birth to shipminds that inhabit ships specifically built with “Heart Rooms” where the shipminds join and flow into the ship becoming one being. How we get from the events of Starsong to the events in Shipbirth we aren’t told, and what, exactly, these shipminds are like that birth out of these women and crawl into the ship’s heart is left quite unclear and left for one to only presume — use your imagination people!
We begin this book with our protagonist, Acoimi, travelling on a mindship and describing his utter distaste for the mind bending strangeness of how the ship deforms and changes as it travels according to its own will through the deep planes between the stars. When we reach our destination Acoimi is then transferred to another ship, a new ship, not quickened by a shipmind: the birth has not gone well and it’s Acoimi’s job, as a military physician, to determine if the mother can be saved or if she should be euthanised.
There’s a lot going on in this story: on one hand we have the fertile birthing woman, used to gestate the shipmind of this ship; then the midwife, a sterile woman who, not being able to produce offspring herself, aids those that do, but in this case sits idly by as she has given all the aid she can; and then there’s Acoimi, now male but born female, a physician whose only job seems to be to euthanise the women who fall in birth or the men who fall in battle — both considered glorious ends in Mexica society.
Here is where i will point the reader to Aliette’s “Author’s Notes”.
I also found this review, which i thought sums things up rather well.
So where have we got to? Well, we now know that the shipminds are things that come out of women who gestate them — which reminds me of the axolotl tanks in Dune. So once again, just like in my Starsong review, i’m reminded of Dune. We also get to learn that gender reassignment seems to be quite the norm and relatively easy in this future but that our protagonist has realised that just because she didn’t want to be female didn’t mean he would be ok as a male.
Once again, Aliette writes wonderfully and continues to build this universe in a really interesting and deep way portrayed through these troubled characters she presents to us.
Next up, The Shipmaker.