Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey was born in Cambridge, Mass., but she lived much of her life in Ireland, in a house called Dragonhold, which she designed herself. I can see the appeal. I've spent a lot of time in places that McCaffrey designed — places like Pern and Ballybran, fictional planets that are the settings for some of the most enthralling stories ever told.

McCaffrey wrote science fiction and fantasy, and well: she won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and her Crystal Singer and Dragonriders of Pern series have sold millions of copies. But her worlds weren't clones of Middle-Earth: they were strange, unique creations that were utterly her own. On Pern, human colonists ride huge dragons with whom they form lifelong telepathic bonds; together they fight toxic thread that falls from the sky. On Ballybran, a hardy breed of humans called Crystal Singers (they're like a combination of cowboys and opera singers) harvest the powerful, precious musical crystals that grow there. McCaffrey's characters were special too. She was one of first to write science fiction and fantasy novels featuring tough, smart, psychologically realistic heroines — women who didn't swan around in chainmail bikinis, and who didn't need rescuing. Long before there was Ripley or Buffy, there was Lessa of Pern, and Killashandra Ree.

When I was a lonely, alienated adolescent, I would have given anything to join Lessa on Pern. "That's what writing is all about, after all," McCaffrey once said. "Making others see what you have put down on the page and believing that it does, or could, exist and you want to go there." I did. And I still do.