In the science fiction short story
"Specialist" by Robert Sheckley
, published in 1953 in Galaxy magazine
, it is revealed that many galactic races are actually capable of symbiotic cooperation to become bioships, with each race forming a different part. Earth, apparently, is one of the planets inhabited by creatures that are supposed to function as FTL drives (Pushers), and, it is stated that all the conflicts and discontent of humanity are due to the fact that, while they have matured, they have nowhere to apply their true purpose. This story is perhaps the first mention of a bioship in science fiction.
No; as is so often the case Olaf Stapledon got there first - among the many species he describes in Starmaker
(1937) are symbiotes that eventually evolve into a starfaring species with one "partner" as pilot/crew and the other bio-engineered to serve as the spacecraft.
Also virtual reality and worldships. But that's a new one to me. Isn't human imagination wonderful?
I deleted my post because on further research I may have misremembered this - until five minutes ago I'd have sworn that the, *ahem," inspiration for Gomtuu in Tin Man
came from my reading Starmaker while in college. I'll have to do read further to make sure, but a quick perusal of what's available of the text online indicates that while "A Symbiotic Race" describes the foundation of a galactic community by a joined species, bioengineered ships don't form a part of it.
I probably combined remembered elements of Stapledon's book with something encountered later on - what, you think I'm going to pretend that I made this stuff up