RIP Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo Award and the first woman to win a Nebula Award. She was influential, she was deservedly loved, and she wasn’t afraid to take risks: she leaves behind her a stack of books, some of which will go on to be enjoyed by future generations and some of which barely survived the decade they were published in. Yes, she expressed some odd views about sexuality and some of her plots didn’t hold water and her prose wasn’t always deathless, but she was a hell of a storyteller, and the world is worse off for no longer having her in it.

She wrote about people and places that didn’t exist and made them matter. I couldn’t count all the science fiction and fantasy books written since Dragonflight that have been part of a conversation the writer and the SF community in general have been having with Anne McCaffrey, from the various ‘no, this is my take on human-alien symbiosis’ novels out there to pretty much anything involving dragons that isn’t in a direct line from Chinese mythology or Fafnir by way of Smaug.

I can remember being in the back of my parents’ car driving back from my grandmother’s when I was about twelve, reading Dragonquest even though I knew reading in the back of a car quite often made me feel sick, and Pern was a lot more real than the outskirts of Salisbury going by outside the window.

If it wasn’t for Anne McCaffrey and the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, I probably wouldn’t have got the idea that what I really wanted to do was set a civilisation on a planet, disconnect it from the people who seeded it, and write about the people who lived there. That’s a tiny thing, compared to everything else that can be said about her, but I wanted people to know that however much I might have disagreed with her about what would happen if it suddenly turned out that you could move spaceships by psychokinesis, or about the politics of physical handicap, or any of the other things she discussed in her books, what I remember of her most is that she made me think I want to do that.

She was part of what made me and lots of other people like me want to write and want to read. My thoughts are with those who knew her, and those who, like me, only knew her books. Requiescat in pace.

8 thoughts on “RIP Anne McCaffrey

  1. That’s a lovely tribute. I’m not sure I’ve actually read any of her books, I should probably remedy that at some point but I don’t think it’ll be the same as if I’d read them as a teen. Having said that, I only read my 1st Marion Zimmer Bradley a couple of years ago and that still made its mark.

    1. Yeah, I think they have a greater emotional punch if you read them when you’re young, but it’s still worth giving them a try. I’m still not sure whether the early ones are the most involving, or whether it’s just that I read them first, but I still find myself re-reading them when I have a cold and feel down, or I know there’s a long journey ahead of me, and being distracted from whatever’s going on in my life all over again.

      She did so many interesting things – writing a heroine who was totally convinced she was always right and was generally loved, but who actually was quite often stubborn about things she was wrong about and who some people didn’t like, writing a heroine who had an affair with a younger man but whose main story was about trying to save the world, coming up with a society where the ‘fighter pilots’ are all gay men – even if she did also write some things that are really glaringly Of Their Time.

      I still hope one of these days we’ll get a Pern film or TV series. I mean, they managed to make a watchable series out of Legend of the Seeker and I wouldn’t have believed that until it happened. And people will watch CGI dinosaurs, so why not dragons?

  2. Pern was pretty influential in my 13-15 years. And I know people say things about the sexuality, but there certainly wasn’t anything else on the shelf that I was reading at the time that let women have a sexuality and presented it as part of life, but not necessarily part and parcel of romance-marriage-babies. And though I see the faults more now, when I pick one up, it’s still a page-turner – McCaffrey definitely had the art of stringing a narrative together.

    1. Yes, that’s very true. I don’t think I’d run into world-building that was neither ‘marriage and families for all!’ nor ‘this is very definitely a dystopia’ before that. Or where people had half-brothers and were just all ‘yeah, this is my half-brother’ about it, which given that I was at the sort of school where people gossiped for days if someone acquired a stepfather and changed their name, was an eye-opener.

  3. A lovely tribute. Both she and Diana Wynne Jones have died this year, two of the writers who did most to get me into SF and fantasy. Between them they must have had a staggering impact on so many people’s literary tastes.

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