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Anne McCaffrey busted open the “boys-only” club of science fiction.

November 25, 2011

Anne McCaffrey with her 2005 Nebula Grand Master award.

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 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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Connie permalink
    November 25, 2011 9:33 am

    A nice tribute to someone who truly paved the way. I never read McCaffrey, but my brother was a huge fan of the Dragonrider series.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 26, 2011 12:03 am

      Obviously, there’s hope for everyone, even Patrick.

  2. John Williford permalink
    November 25, 2011 2:15 pm

    Thanks for the post! McCaffrey was one of the authors I latched onto early, eagerly devouring anything she put out, short stories included. Two things I should point out, the Paolini books are, collectively, the Inheritance Cycle and I’m fairly certain that McCaffrey’s ‘Killashandra’ books weren’t YA .

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      November 26, 2011 12:02 am

      The sources I relied on them today called them YA, but they might have been, like me, relying on memory, as they were personal appreciations and not researched obits.

    • Eugene Brooks permalink
      December 15, 2011 9:08 pm

      I have read almost everything Anne has written that has been published and She is one lady I would go a long way the thank for her books. She I would rank her up there with such greats and Andre Notron, Rogert Sivlerburg and a very short list of others. She will be greatly missed by all of her readers.

  3. November 25, 2011 3:28 pm

    I’ve fond memories about ‘The Dragon Lady’… Her ‘Rowan’ series proved quite potent to me in my early 20s with their mix of psychic ability, strong women, and romance, three things I found lacking as I delved more into the SF world.
    McCaffrey is also one of the writers I take my cue from as I’m writing.
    She will be missed.
    Condolences to her loved ones.

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 26, 2011 12:03 am

    Thanks for sharing your memories. You’re in good company.

  5. November 26, 2011 12:53 am

    fabulous writer in any genre

  6. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    November 28, 2011 12:18 pm

    At last, Patrick, we agree on something!

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