I should preface all this with the note that I outgrew her long before I stopped paying attention to her words. I cannot, in good faith, recommend her books to modern readers, unless you read them in the same mindset as reading Doc Smith’s “Lensman” series. Both Anne’s Pern and Doc’s Lensmen are products of their era, and do not withstand the test of time (for that, I look at Ursula K. LeGuinn or Andre Norton). But they did shape the world, and we should not ignore that.
It’s impossible to separate the myriad feelings and thoughts I have right now from my still resentful view of Anne. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of good will and happy thoughts about her. And in my moments of ‘Keep it in perceptive’ I readily acknowledge that for her time and place, she was amazingly forward thinking.
But I also can’t not remember that this is the crazy tent peg lady, the ‘No, you cannot use Ruatha Hold or Benden Weyr in your fan universe!’ lady, the woman who was ahead of her time but when she was eclipsed later was unable to continue to adapt. The woman for whom science was a suggestion. I once argued that if men on Pern were clean-shaven from a genetic quirk, thus women were clean-legged.
That said, she remains on my list of books once enjoyed, but grown out of, and I am incapable of recommending her to anyone. If you re-read the dragon mating scene in DragonFlight it’s a bit horrific. Her views on male/female relationships were restrictive, her views on homosexual relationships more-so. She was close minded, she didn’t seem to believe in consistency, and while I could make excuses for some of her books, I literally quit reading ‘Dragon Harper’ in the first paragraph when Robinton was talking to dragons. Because there was no way I could reconcile the concept that a man who talked to dragons would forget that later on.
Mostly, though, while her sociological quirks angers me to this day, it was her science that makes me put her firmly in ‘fantasy’ and be done with the mishegas. The size of dragons (is it feet or meters), the technological abilities in the feudal life, between and the ‘afterlife’, the economics of feeding those dragons… it’s just not believable. A good fantasy should be able to make you ignore the real world for a while, but after “The White Dragon”, hers could not. And her son, who picked up the reins, was even worse.
So yes, I do thank Anne for a lot of very good memories and some comfort growing up. In her time, and in her place, she moved the world. The world moved past her long before she passed away, so I cannot mourn her death. Her work had concluded it’s part in the shaping of things before Millie Vanilli’s lip sync fiasco. And much like the 80s and early 90s, I look back on my fascination with her works with a healthy dose of ruefulness, and a dollop of ungruding respect for creating me.
Let’s look at the good things.
From a personal perspective, you’re reading this because of her. Without the Pern novels, I’d never had learned about computers. That’s weird to say, isn’t it? I wanted to play a Pern game online, PernMUSH, and had to learn about the Internet, telnet, modem protocol, etc etc. I wouldn’t have met my girlfriend were it not for the people I met online. I wouldn’t have become interesting in programming were it not for that. My entire life would be different. That includes the me I became when I got mad at the Pern Universe. The passion that drove me away is also her legacy in me.
To the world, because we need a reminder, the MarySue made a nice list.
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.
And you know what? They’re right.
Thanks, Anne, for kicking a lot of us into taking flight. Even if you didn’t get it, if if you pissed us off, we probably wouldn’t be doing this without you. I thank you for that, and begrudge you nothing.