Open Thread: Anne McCaffrey

Just saw on a listserv that Anne McCaffrey died.

Y’all know that I have some mixed feelings about Pern. At the same time, Pern (and MZB’s Darkover) represented a way into fandom for me as a tween. Not only were there female characters… there were several! With dragons! Who had adventures! Without men! I also distinctly remember my first encounter with the The Ship Who Sang series. While it would be years before I really figured out how icky the series was/is on a disability front, what I remember the most is Hypatia of The Ship Who Searched and her belief that really solid research could change the world.

The Talents series was my first real encounter with psi in fiction — the issues with rape in that series are really deftly handled here. However, one thing that’s really stuck with me from that series is a really brief instance where Tirla (the girl from the wrong side of the tracks) registers that one of her friends in the welfare housing they live in has used some minor telekinesis to make the food replicator make more than their fair allotment. I remember really clearly thinking: I want that, I want that in my fiction. Stories about people who aren’t expected heroes, who… have talents, yeah, but it’s everyday stuff that’s so subtly folded into the weave of the story that the world she’s describing feels familiar in a bad, sad, exhilarating way. McCaffrey of course didn’t do anything with that character besides plan to marry her off and to the best of my knowledge, Tirla doesn’t appear in the rest of the series. At the same time, thinking of that moment — and the potential other story it hid — still gives me a thrill.

What’s your favorite McCaffrey memory? How has she influenced your reading habits, for better or for worse?


  1. says

    When I listed the top 10 women who influenced me and my writing, Anne MaCaffery was on the list. Her Dragonsinger series completely enthralled me when I was a teenager. She definitely broke down barriers for women in genre fiction and I am internally grateful. I am very sad to hear of her passing. I am eternally grateful for the worlds she created.

  2. Clay Mechanic says

    Rhiannon Frater,
    I second the Dragonsinger series, for much the same reasons that Tirla is mentioned in the OP. They describe the mundane life in a fantasy world.

    With Anne McCaffrey’s writing in general – are we, the reader, supposed to consider the power structures in the ‘Talent’, ‘Pern’ and ‘Crystal Singer’ books to be ‘good’? We usually see the world through the eyes of ruling elite, so they consider themselves to be good. But, there are occasional hints that Pern’s dominance by fighter jocks or the Crystal Singer corporate monopoly are objectively bad things. In ‘Dragonquest’ (the second ‘Pern’ book), one of the dragonriders does muse on how their behavior must seem obnoxious to outsiders, but this never leads anywhere. (Well, it never leads anywhere up to ‘The Dolphins of Pern’. I haven’t read any of books written after that.)

    Yes, the ‘Ship Who Sang’ series has neat concept but squicky implementation. Why do the shellpersons unquestioningly accept that they can’t safely handle weapon systems? Their brawns are often quite incompetent at defending themselves and the ship, and they regularly meet fully human psychopaths. (Once again, I haven’t read the two books co-authored / written by S.M. Stirling, which I assume do explore the issue.) Why do shellpersons have consistently closer relationships with their brawns than with other shellpersons?

    Despite the alleged efforts of the psychiatrists to avoid it, half the shellpersons and brawns are obsessed with making out with each other. I submit that this is intentionally manufactured, to keep the shellpersons subservient to humans. The brawns aren’t as dumb as they look, but their first priority is to keep the brain from getting ideas above its station. They pursue this goal even at the expense of the brain’s effectiveness or the brawn’s survival.

    (Any resemblance to the patriarchy in the above conspiracy theory about a work of fiction is entirely intentional.)

  3. says

    The moment in Dragonsong when Melody gets the shit beaten out of her, runs away, and lives happily ever after with mini-dragons. Without getting into my childhood too much, let’s just say that’s a fantasy I really needed.

  4. says

    Fire lizards. I loved the idea of having a fire lizard or six.

    I exchanged e-mails with her once. She called me “Cavebaby” (my private nick, as in my e-mail addy, is “cavebabe”). :)

  5. says

    A friend new to McCaffrey’s dragon books pointed out that they’re full of descriptions of food – my friend can’t read the books without getting hungry. It’s not just my friend either, there seems to be a thread in her fandom, and Anne McCaffrey has edited several science fiction based cookbooks. Seems to me this is pretty unusual for science fiction and fantasy. I have the feeling this says something about gender and gender roles, but I can’t put my finger on exactly what. Any thoughts?

  6. Raeka says


    I dunno, it doesn’t say anything to me except she likes food, because I grew up reading the Redwall series (written by a man), which was full of PARAGRAPHS of detailed descriptions of food.

  7. Maria says


    Remember, though, that McCaffery began writing during a time when SF and “women’s work” — cooking, sewing, housekeeping — were two things that never really came together. Either you got the work but no women (food was made by replicator/characters who were minor/unnamed and stuff was cleaned by automaton or whatever) or you got the women but no work (like those fantasies about the worlds! of! lesbians! who stopped everything because the male hero wandered in).

  8. Anemone says

    I liked Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, too. They were my entry into Pern, and fantasy with women in it in general. Fire lizards get a bit squicky when it comes time to mate, though. Cute animals, but no way I’d want to get dragged into that.

    I also liked that Lessa seemed to look like me.

  9. Maria says


    Oh! Oh! And that Menolly, Aramina, Lessa, and Nerilka were supposed to be plain/striking/ugly, NOT beautiful. While there was tons of rape squick in Pern, it was about average-lookin’ ladies, not secret hotties.

  10. says

    Oh, man, yeah. I took vast issue with the stuff in the Dragonriders books–but I have to say that I wouldn’t be here without them. Not “here” as in alive, but “here” as in “gamer geek who writes fantasy romance”.

    I still love the Harper Hall trilogy. Menolly is snarky and level-headed and awesome, and the sexual dynamics–perhaps because it’s a YA series, or perhaps because firelizard effects always came off more as “you’re really horny, but you’re still you and conscious” than the dragon stuff–don’t bug. Also, I am really fond of the Silvina/Robinton we-had-a-thing-once-and-are-still-friends relationship.

  11. says

    Maria, that’s an interesting point. Perhaps it is a side effect of sexual attraction (between humans) not really playing a role in marriage, or even sex? After all, if it’s the dragons (or feudal marriage politics) that decide who marries/sleeps with whom, what does it matter whether your heroines are beautiful? McCaffrey kind of dodged a lot of discussion of the implications of this – the riders often seemed to just happen to be happy pairing off the same way the dragons did. Which I suppose is not so different from arranged marriages.

    For that matter, I felt a little disturbed that the dragons – supposedly as intelligent and gregarious as the humans, and more able to communicate – didn’t seem to have much in the way of agency. I mean, Mnementh (say) was a character with a particular voice, but it wasn’t Mnementh plotting to take over all the weyrs (or whatever). Granted, the backstory builds a dependence on humans into the dragons through technological means, but if you view dragons as funny-shaped people (wizards, in fact, given their abilities) that’s actually more troubling. At least Brin’s Startide Rising views the Uplifted dolphins’ dependence on humans as something shameful and to be cured (and their lack of servitude is an in-story political issue clearly influenced by human racial politics). Banks kind of pokes around this question too, with the nonhuman Minds, drones, and various sub-human-intelligence suits and other artifacts.

  12. Maria says


    But not every dragon-type was monogamous — like weren’t the blues and greens pretty poly? Only the golds or whatever were in it forever-ish

  13. says


    I think some of the greens were monogamous – I vaguely remember a gay couple of a bluerider and a greenrider – but mostly they mated frequently and indiscriminately. It’s even said somewhere that a healthy Weyr needs enough green dragons to keep the others from getting horny and restless.

    Even the golds weren’t totally monogamous – Lessa’s gold Ramoth got pissy when they suggested sending some of the bronzes to populate another Weyr. Even though she always mated with Mnementh and never considered otherwise, she wanted her harem to be pretty large.

  14. Cloudtigress says

    Sad to hear of McCaffery’s death, since her Dragon books were a favorite of mine in my teens (and a guilty pleasure now). Her short stories though, especially in _Get Off the Unicorn_, did have some of the WOW factors many SF fans love in their stories (amongst other things, that collection had a more believable version of male human pregnancy than is normally found in most fanfiction stories) than her dragon books usually had.

  15. Cloudtigress says

    Don’t know where else to ask this question on this site, but since this thread is related to my question, I’ll ask it here.

    Back in 2006, the movie rights to the Pern books were bought by Copperheart Entertainment, the folks behind the Ginger Snaps movie(s). My question is, what is the reputation of these guys (I know nothing about what kind of movies they generally put out). In other words, should I be worried that they’ll turn this property into a very bad t&a fest?

    Dragonriders of Pern movie:

    Ginger Snaps:

    On a semi-related note, I wouldn’t have minded seeing what Ronald D. Moore (of new Battlestar Galactica fame) would have done with this property in 2002 as a TV series, if the WB network hadn’t scuttled the series by insisting that it become more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead of being more true to itself.

    Also wouldn’t mind seeing the Dragonriders as an animated series, using western animation styles and amine story/plot styles (i.e. aiming the thing at the older teens audience instead of just the under-10 set animation in the US seems to keep getting aimed at). That’d be interesting to see, I think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *