Gollancz is very saddened to hear the news that Anne McCaffrey has died, aged 85.
Her true achievement was her writing. Her books will be read and reread for years to come, as people grow up and are introduced to her deceptively-easy-to-read writing style and her astounding imagination. We all know of the Pern books, of course, and they have become part of the folklore of SFF. But it is worth remembering how radical and complete her world was. From the very first book we are given hints that this is not a typical fantasy world, that despite the medieval trappings we are seeing a society that has fallen from its height. Over many, many books, and in the continuations written by her son Todd McCaffrey, this society was described in minute detail, the story carried forward into the future while the history was fleshed out. Pern is one of those series that can be a little intimidating for the new reader, but if you’ve never tried it, the first trilogy stands alone as a stunning piece of world-building.
But to focus on Pern risks forgetting the rest of McCaffrey’s remarkable oeuvre. From The Ship Who Sang to The Crystal Singer, it is worth remembering that she was primarily a writer of science fiction. (Yes, I know Pern is SF really. But most people see dragons and think fantasy). Winner of Hugo and Nebula awards, there is a quality to her earlier works that stands out a mile. In later years she worked very closely with a series of collaborators, which is partly why there are so many McCaffrey books out there to be enjoyed, but the essential humanity and feel of her writing is obvious, even in the co-authored works.
On a personal note, McCaffrey was one of my introductions to the world of SFF. My godmother, a wonderful woman who didn’t do much for my morals but instilled a deep and abiding love of genre fiction in me, gave me Dragonflight when I was about ten. After that, every time I saw her I would pester for the next McCaffrey on her shelves, until I had exhausted the supply. I remember buying a very battered copy of The White Dragon on holiday at the age of about twelve, and being overly excited by the idea that I could read the book again and again. I think I own most of McCaffrey’s work, and if I don’t own a copy I’ve probably read it. As I was unpacking after my recent house move, I found The Crystal Singer and ended up reading it again, despite the fact I had books to shelve. I can’t think of a better way of spending my unpacking time. I haven’t tried the Todd McCaffrey Pern books yet – one day I will, but for now, I’m going to go and track down my copy of Dragonflight and revisit Pern for perhaps the hundredth time. It won’t be the last.
It is a sign of her enduring popularity that, when we were looking for authors for our SFGateway project, we found it impossible to secure the rights to a single book of Anne McCaffrey’s. For such a prolific author to remain in demand, and generally in print, for so many decades is a remarkable achievement and a testament to her enduring legacy. She will be missed.
Her entry on the SF Encyclopedia has more information if you want to discover this wonderful author.