Author Anne McCaffrey Dead at 85

5 years ago

Prolific and famed sci-fi/fantasy author Anne McCaffrey, best known for the Dragonriders of Pern series, died Monday. She was 85.

Well-loved by what are now generations of fans, McCaffrey remained engaged with them at conventions and online until she became ill in August. Her son and co-author Todd updated her blog then with the following message:

Mum wants me to relay to you how terribly sorry she is to have to cancel this year’s appearance at Dragon*con.

What seemed to be indigestion last week has now turned out to be something more serious – some incident with her heart, the full details of which are still to be determined by tests.

McCaffrey wrote on her blog's about page that if you'd come there, it was probably "because of the dragons," and indeed, the Dragonriders of Pern series represented the bulk of her work over the past 43 years. Pern archivist Hans van der Boom publishes the Pern Museum, a comprehensive collection of information about the series and McCaffrey's other works. She pointed her blog readers to his chronological and storyline order of the books, for those wanting to experience the world she created in either way.  

Credit: Anna Creech

McCaffrey, like peers Ursula LeGuin and Octavia Butler, is well-known for introducing strong female characters into a generally male-dominated genre. She was the first woman to win high industry honors -- the Hugo and Nebula awards -- in 1968 and 1969 respectively, early in her career, and received additional honors regularly in the years after. She appeared at countless sci-fi/fantasy conferences over the next four decades. Blogger Charlie Jane Anders at io9 remembered her for another novel:   

McCaffrey wrote the classic space-faring novel The Ship Who Sang, in which a severely disabled girl becomes the core of a starship, or Brainship, with her mind controlling all its major functions. McCaffrey's novel provided a startling new way to think about personhood and the nature of the mind/body connection, but also helped pave the way for a whole subgenre of posthuman space opera, in which heavily modified humans explore space.

Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice appreciates what McCaffrey did for the perception of women in the genre:

For us girl geeks of a certain age, The Ship Who Sang proved to our carping male fellows that the category “sf/fantasy writer” could not exclude the subset “women”—that not all women writing speculative fiction were ‘obsolete’ (like C.L. Moore), ‘just YA scribblers’ (Andre Norton, Zenna Henderson), ‘more editors than authors, really’ (Judith Merrill, Kate Wilhelm) or ‘weird outliers’ (Joanna Russ)...Helva-the-Brainship is still a fantastic character, and along with her much-mocked (extremely mockable) Dragonriders, have ensured McCaffrey an honorable place in the genre’s hall of fame.

Susana Polo at The Mary Sue appreciated her impact as well.  

Regardless of how you feel about her books, Anne McCaffrey has done a number of inarguably impressive things: she was the first person to hit the New York Times Bestseller list with a science fiction title, and was the first woman to win the Hugo for fiction, as well as the first woman to win a Nebula for anything. Her first published novel, Restoree, “written as a protest against the absurd and unrealistic portrayals of women in s-f novels in the 50s and early 60s,” to quote from the biography on her own website.

So long, Ms. McCaffrey, and thanks for all the dragons.

Neil Gaiman says he first "met" McCaffrey when he was a teenager, sick in bed, and a friend brought over a pile of her books. Now, he remembers her advice.

I met her as a person in the late 80s, when I was a young writer, at a convention, where she was the Guest of Honour...

I liked her as a writer, and by the end of that convention I adored her as a person. Over the years I'd get occasional emails or messages from her, and they were always things where she was looking out for me -- letting me know about a foreign publisher who had money for me but no address to send it to, that kind of thing.

Todd McCaffrey gave more insight into his mother's life beyond the book on his Facebook page, upon her passing:

She was also a great cook, magnificent mother, doting grandmother, ardent quilter, knitter, bridge player, horsewoman, fencer, actress, singer, and all-around nice person. We are blessed to have known her, just as we are blessed with the knowledge that she has touched so many lives and made such huge changes in them. Mum always said, "Don't just pay back a favor -- pass it on!" In light of that spirit, we ask that, instead of condolences or flowers, that commemorators make a donation to their favorite charity. We know that we haven't lost Mum -- that she has truly passed on her legacy of love and honor to all those who were touched by her -- and that we have only to open one of her books to find her again. Rest well, Mum, you've earned it!

McCaffrey's own words about the cancellation of her DragonCon appearance seem like an apt expression of her personality and her relationship with her readers:

Mum very specifically asked me to apologize to those who had hoped to see her there, saying: “Sorry that old age came up and bit me on the a**.”

Contributing Editor Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites. Her photos are on Flickr.  

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