The Passing of Anne McCaffrey
If I’m totally honest to you, dear reader, I’ve never read any of the Pern books, nor anything else written by Anne McCaffrey. But her influence on the genre is still felt, and I know her passing will be a sad one for the legions of fans she has earned in her lifetime’s worth of work.
It’s a strange thing to admit that I’ve never read any Pern books, given my unapologetic obsession with all things draconic. My particular obsession takes the form of an interest in dragons of myth and fantastic literature, whereas in time McCaffrey’s dragons were revealed to be science fictional in nature. See… I may not have read those books, but I’m at least familiar with some of the core tenets of her world. As I said, her influence on the genre is felt, even by one such as I who has not read her work.
My understanding of McCaffrey’s influence is that she was an early pioneer of bending genre expectations and tropes between fantasy and science fiction. Technically speaking, her Pern series is sience fiction: starring as it does the descendents of space-faring humans who’ve colonized a world and genetically re-engineered one of its species to more closely resemble mythological dragons, or something to that effect. (Most of my knowledge of the specifics comes not from reading the Pern books, as I said, but from reading about them.) But many people have read and continue to read Pern as fantasy, despite the latter revelations about the history of Pern, and her writing apparently was such that you could happily read it either way. For a long time I think she was fairly unique in this sort of genre-bending, but I suspect that we’re beginning to see and will see still more such genre mash-ups as time goes by: both fantasies that are really sci-fi and science fictions that are really fantasies and many other such combinations which are spawning whole new genres.
Another big influence, I suspect, was her portrayal of dragons. The concept of dragons who telepathically bond with a given rider is something that’s been explored in other fantasy stories – notably Eragon and the other books of Christopher Paolini’s series – but which was first pioneered, to my knowledge, in McCaffrey’s Pern books. Her take on dragons will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations of fantasy fans and authors to come. I know even my own takes on this most venerable of fantasy species has been touched by McCaffrey. That’s how the genre works: a grand master lays down some innovative ideas in a celebrated work, and new writers take those ideas and turn them into other new ideas through a process of iteration and mutation, through homage and parody and carbon-copying and any of a number of other ways, until those ideas are so threaded in the history of the genre that it’s inseperable.
Anyway, I can say without reservation that though I myself never read her books, yet I know her presence in the genre will be missed. May she find herself flying with dragons in that great beyond.
Have you read any of Anne McCaffrey’s books? If you’re a writer, have you felt her influence on the genre?