Well, as promised, I bring to you my tribute to the wonderful Anne McCaffrey, who has sadly passed away at 85 years of age. I’ve read many of her books, but these comprise my top five of an awesome legacy of literature left by this remarkable woman. Without further ado then and in no particular order, here they are.
Restoree – Written as a somewhat sly, tongue-in-cheek reaction to the way female protagonists were treated in SF, this is the story of Sara. A young, beak nosed virgin whose life is very dull and frustrating until the day she’s taken by the Mil and skinned alive for eating. Rescued by chance by the people of Lothar, she’s mistaken for a Lotharian, ‘restored’ with a new skin and a new nose and sent to work at a mental institution where she ends up caring for Harlan, the Lotharians’ deposed Regent. When she discovers all is not as it seems, Sara takes matters into her own hands and starts to revive her drugged ward, which is when the book really becomes an awful lot of fun. Now, some folks think this is a bit of an SF by numbers but I have to disagree. As I said, it’s sly, tongue in cheek and ever so clever in that it gently mocks and derides the treatment of women in SF et al and, moreover, it is a wonderfully rich and fully imagined world that I have always loved to immerse myself in. I mean, come on, the Mil… they’re terrifying and the love story might be a little cliche but then it was cliches that Anne was taking to task in this, so why the heck not!
The White Dragon – Ah, who doesn’t love the story of Jaxom and his beautiful white dragon, Ruth? Mentalists, that’s who. This story is so complex and beautifully told, it’s really Anne writing at her finest and we are fully immersed in Pern, its people, its way of life, and its history. I really can’t express how much I love this book, how many times I’ve followed Jaxom and Ruth, his accidental dragon, as they struggle to prove themselves to the world and to one another. I used to read this book and wish I was there, on Pern, impressing my own dragon. That’s the power of Anne’s writing, she pulls you right into the world within her imagination. Opening a Pern book is like coming home.
The Crystal Singer – Originally four short stories this is the first in a trilogy that I have long adored. Killashandra Ree, voice slightly too flawed to ever be that of a lead vocalist, runs away to Ballybran against the advice of her music teacher, little knowing that to set foot on Ballybran is to encounter the symbiont that will either make her into a Crystal Singer as she desires, or lose singing for her forever. I have to admit that my favourite in the series has always been the third, The Crystal Line, simply because I loved the idea of the sentient liquid crystal but the whole series is wonderful and set in such a rich, glorious universe. I could never read one without moving immediately on to read the rest, that’s how good they are.
The Coelura – Caissa turns down the suitor her father presents to her, he’s simply awful and she despairs at her father’s choice for her. Furious and upset, she goes running off on a lone hunt, there she discovers an injured man and a secret that will change her world. Oh my but this is just a novella, short and sweet, but the ideas, the beautiful creatures, the completeness of the world Anne built. It’s really quite masterful and one of my favourite shorter works by any writer anywhere. As an aside I have to say my copy was the one pictured, which came with the novella Nerilka’s Story, which is another of my favourites. I was always so envious of Anne’s Coelura, they are just the most extraordinary fictional creation.
The Rowan – Set in the same Universe as the Pegasus series – which is, by the way, absolutely fantastic – is the story of Angharad Gwyn, The Rowan. Who, as a three year old child, trapped in a pod in a mud slide, damn near deafened every talent on Altair by mentally screaming to her mother for rescue. The beginning of the Tower and the Hive series, it’s also the best of all of them. Gripping, seething with imagination and filled with great, memorable characters, not to mention yet another brilliantly realised menace from space, the superb, truly scary Hivers. I thoroughly enjoyed the Pegasus series and, as a follow on, these Tower and Hive books caught every last speck of my imagination, although toward the end they did become a touch formulaic. Regardless, The Rowan is brilliant. Like all McCaffrey’s best works (of which there are many many more than the paltry five I’ve listed here, because she was a tremendously gifted writer) it holds up to this day and will continue to hold up.
So, there we have them, my top five of the huge list of McCaffrey books I will read and read until they fall apart. Going through all these I recall my first proper literary efforts, my first novel length works, with significant embarrassment. They were a total rip-off of not only the dragon ideas but also the talent ideas from Pegasus/Tower and Hive. I’m very lucky the publishers whose slush piles those early efforts of mine hit were as kind as they were. Even though at the time the failure to pick up a deal on the back of all the encouragement I received made me give up for a long while, remembering that encouragement has buoyed my current determination to see my work in print. Thankfully my latest literary efforts are all my own ideas… such as ideas can be owned… but I owe my beginnings, and much of my enthusiasm for SF/F, to Anne McCaffrey. May she rest in peace and may her books continue to inspire and delight for generations to come!