Monday, December 5, 2011

Anne McCaffrey

Scifi/Fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey died last week. She was one of the grand dames of the genre, and I've been thinking about her impact and her work since I heard the news. McCaffrey began writing in the 1950s and 60s as a kind of protest against the way women were depicted in science fiction. She was the first woman to win the Hugo in 1968, the first woman to win the Nebula in 1969, the two top prizes in science fiction; and The White Dragon was the first science fiction novel ever to land on the New York Times bestseller list. Her work may not be the best written or beloved by literary critics, but what I love about her work is that her characters, especially her female characters, are so real and fleshed out. There are occasional issues I have with her (like many other science fiction writers, her worlds are often lacking in diversity), but for the most part, I can expect entertaining solid reads.
Of course her Pern series was her most famous (and longest running, around 24 books), and they are definitely worth checking out. Although honestly I did start to lose interest in the later ones with her son as co-author. The Pern novels are set on another planet colonized by earth inhabitants in the distant future--they are cut off from the rest of the universe and as their technological instruments run down, they have no means to replace most of them, so they revert to a kind of medieval lifestyle. And there are dragons and people who have telepathic connections with them and a thing called Thread which falls from the sky and eats away at everything it touches, the dragons and their riders are the only thing that can combat it. Most of the series doesn't necessarily need to be read in any order, except for maybe the later ones from All The Weyrs of Pern on. Although if you want to read them in order, here's Wikipedia's chronological list:
McCaffrey herself apparently thought her novel The Ship Who Sang was her best one--which turned into a series about handicapped individuals who are hardwired into a ship's life support system, often their only chance of staying alive, and so they literally become the ship itself. Sadly, there's never been any films done of her novels, but there are rumors a Pern series may be in the works (although that was first supposed to happen in 2002, and then the network wanted to alter the series so much that it would have ended up a Buffy clone, and the director/writer cancel in protest and the rights reverted back to McCaffrey for a while). Hopefully it gets done, and done right--as we finally have the technology to do justice to the dragons and other fantastical elements.