Anne McCaffrey busted open the “boys-only” club of science fiction.
Anne McCaffrey, the beloved science-fiction writer who died at 85 on Wednesday, will be remembered as the avatar of strong female characters long before J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins.
An American, McCaffrey died of a stroke at her home in Ireland, according to an obit in the Guardian. She wrote almost 100 books in a career that began in 1967 “with Restoree, which she described as a ‘jab’ at the way women were portrayed in science fiction.”
She was by far best known and best loved for the Dragonriders of Pern series, which she began later that same year and continued until the latest entry, Dragon’s Time came out last summer.
The series pioneered the notion of dragons as good guys, and of a telepathic connection between humans and animals (lifted whole cloth by Christopher Paolini for his Estragon series).
McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo and a Nebula award. Bestselling fantasy author Brian Hunt said that sci-fi can still feel like “a boys-only club.” McCaffrey, he said, is “up there with Robert A Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke and Jack Williamson.” She was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2005.
In an appreciation, the Guardian’s Alison Flood notes that, dragon’s aside, McCaffrey always insisted she wrote sci-fi, not fantasy: “Fantasy usually contains some form of magic,” McCaffrey declared on her website. “I stick to Newtonian logic.”
McCaffrey was Flood’s adolescent reading obsession — an obsession she apparently shared with many other young women.
In an appreciation at NPR.com Rose Fox calls McCaffrey’s work in the ’60s and ’70s “revolutionary” for showing that women can be “real protagonists” in science fiction.
‘Women can be protagonists—real protagonists, who really do things!” exults Fox. “Women who are pregnant can keep right on working and being active!”
This proto-feminist revelation, combined with the escapism McCaffrey’s books provide, proved a potent combination for readers, some of whom, Fox says, grew up to be writers themselves.
“Before there was a Katniss Everdeen — or even a Hermione Granger — there were Menolly and Killashandra Ree,” Fox writes, referring to characters from Pern and the YA Crystal Singer trilogy.
Since 2003 McCaffrey had been collaborating with her son, Todd, with a final Pern book scheduled for publication next year.
In any case, McCaffrey leaves a legacy, both for science fiction and for young women. She showed once and for all that girls want to fly in the realm of the imagination, too.