Anne McCaffrey 1926 – 2011

Book cover artwork

I awoke this morning to the sad news that my favourite author had passed away.  Anne McCaffrey.  She was 85 years old and an author known for her Dragonriders of Pern series and “The Ship who Sang”.  Just a small portion of the sheer volume of work she produced.  She was also a past winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. The Huffington Post have a look back on her life here.

I own nearly all her earlier work, and have read all her books thanks to various public libraries.  Some of my favourites are shown in the above picture and I have an Anne McCaffrey bookcase.

My first read of Anne McCaffrey was “Dragonsong”.  I was instantly attracted to the cover illustration which showed an incredible Dragon with two people riding on it.  Inside the blurb read:

Death Rained from the Sky

Thread!  Fear rooted her to the ground.  If only she could run fast enough to stay beyond the reach of it.  She ran, one eye on the Dragon Stones, one for the ground ahead of her feet.  She heard the whoosh, heard the fire lizards’ startled chirrups, saw the shadow and fell to the ground, covering her head instinctively with her hands, her body taut for the first feel of flesh-scoring Thread.  She smelt fire-stone, and felt the air heavy against her body.  “Get on your feet, you silly fool! and hurry.”  Incredulously, Menolly looked up, right into the whirling eyes of a brown dragon …

I was hooked, who wouldn’t be, Dragons, Fire-Lizards, Thread … what on earth was Thread?  I laughed and cried reading it.  I’ve read it so many times now I know it off by heart.  From there I found the first of the Dragonriders of Pern series and started from the beginning.

Anne McCaffrey rekindled my passion for reading.  The alien landscapes, the fantasy creatures, the strong female leads in the novels, the community, bravery and heroism.  This passion was quenched while studying for A’levels.  It became such a chore reading books and constantly analysing them and in my opinion overthinking what the author meant by certain statements blah, blah, blah.    During the wilderness years after school, reading books was low on my list.  Reading was no longer the fun activity I enjoyed as a child.  Studying English at A’level was traumatic, exacerbated by an awful teacher.  Discovering Anne McCaffrey rekindled that passion.  The fire was lit and I was off on a fantasy ride of my own.

But Anne McCaffrey didn’t just write about Dragonriders, she wrote “The Ship who Sang”, a science fiction story about brainships who sang.  Helva – a “complex, loving, strong, weak, gentle savage – a personality, all woman.”  There are a number of Brainship novels.  The one that always makes me cry is “The Ship who Searched”.  About Tia, a precocious child who contracts a deadly virus, there is no hope, she will always be crippled, but she gets her dream to undergo the transformation into a Brainship.  Who could read the lines Tia speaks to her Ted “It’s not fair, it’s not fair, I never did anything, ” she wept, as Ted watched her tears with round, sad eyes, and soaked them up for her. “It’s not fair.  I wasn’t finished.  I hadn’t even started yet…”  without reaching for the tissues.

Anne McCaffrey created many worlds and communties within several series, Pern and the Brainships were a small part.  There were also “The Talents” series “the elite of the Nine-Star League.  Their gifts were many and varied, ranging from the gently telepathic, to the rare and extremely valued Primes, those whose mental powers were so strong they could shift cargoes across space with their telekinetic abilities.”  

I love all of these in this series, particularly “The Rowan”.  I so wanted a Barque Cat.  I also love the cover illustration.  Glamourous women in stunning costumes.  Fabulous.

And who can forget the wonderful Killashandra Ree.  Perfect pitch, vocal student who is betrayed by her singing tutor Lanzecki which causes her to leave without a backward glance, have an affair with a enigmatic stranger and end up becoming a cutter of crystal and having adventures on Worlds far away from Fuerte.  “The Crystal Singer” is another firm re-read when things get too much.

More series?  Doona.  Humans populate a supposedly non inhabited planet due to overpopulation on Earth, it’s redneck stuff but they are horrified when they discover that the planet is indeed inhabited by a race of people called Hrrubans.  Heartwarming friendships are solidly formed in this series particularly between the young of the two species Todd and Hrriss.  (Todd being the son of Anne McCaffrey).

And then there are the one offs “Restoree”.  Haunting tale of Humans being snatched by slave trader aliens and “restored”.  The blurb is excellent:

There was a sudden stench of a dead sea creature … there was the horror of a huge black shape closing over her … there was nothing… then there were pieces of memory … isolated fragments that were so horrible her mind refused to accept them … intense heat and shivering cold … excruciating pain … dismembered pieces of the human body … sawn bones and searing screams … and when she awoke she found she was in a world that was not earth, and with a face and body that were not her face and body.  She had become a Restoree …

It is so hard to narrow down favourites within the sheer volume of work that is Anne McCaffrey.  She also co-authored a fair few books too, but here is my attempt at my Top Ten must reads.

  1. Dragonquest
  2. Dragonsong
  3. The White Dragon
  4. Get off the Unicorn (short stories that are simply out of this world)
  5. The Ship who Sang
  6. The Ship who Searched
  7. The City who Fought
  8. The Crystal Singer
  9. The Rowan
  10. Restoree

For a full bibliography and more about Anne McCaffrey visit http://www.annemccaffreyfans.org/biblio/index.html or visit her own official website http://pernhome.com/aim/

Finally I’ll leave you with her own sign off:

My eyes are green, my hair is silver, and I freckle.  The rest is subject to change without notice.

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6 thoughts on “Anne McCaffrey 1926 – 2011

  1. Sad news – I am another fan of Anne McCaffrey. My best friend at secondary school and I couldn’t get enough of her books. Wonderful stuff for a hormonal teenager to dream by – I still think of Harlan… !

  2. Thanks for writing this – I had missed the news (can’t think what I was doing at the end of November!). I too love Anne’s books – started with the Dragonriders, discovered the Ships who… and her other worlds. A special favourite was Killashandra – and my AM anecdote comes from when I met her after a reading in Uxbridge library. It was promoting dragon books, but I had also taken along my old much read copy of the Crystal Singer, and was really pleased that she signed it. I asked the inspiration behind the name – and wile she mentioned the place in Ireland, I’m sure there was something to do with butter too…… maybe Killashandra dairy?

  3. I got hooked by Dragonsong too, then compulsively read everything else she wrote. Never quite got over the disapointment that Menolly was less important in other books though. Killashandra and The Rowan followed closely though. There seem to be quite a few library-types who loved Anne McCaffrey, most of my non-library friends looked at me blankly when I mentioned it!

  4. Killashandra was always my favourite. Closely followed by Menolly, the Dragonsinger. Shame I could never sing… Thank you for picking the covers I remember, too…
    Sadly, I lost interest after others helped write her books, but it will never take away from the fact that she shaped my world to the extent that I finally found my ‘Lessa’. Someone who was always stronger than F’Lar…

  5. Lovely post. I first encountered Anne McCaffrey in Sleaford public library (Lincolnshire) in my teens – Dragondrums I think was my first (didn’t do them in chronological order at all!). I still go back to them when I’m wanting some ‘comfort reading’. The best thing, for me now anyway, is that I didn’t read anywhere near her entire output – which means I have loads more ‘new’ stuff to discover! I will take some of your recommendations on board.

    And yes – Killashandra is fab 🙂

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