Thursday, November 24, 2011

Anne McCaffrey

When I heard that Anne McCaffrey had died yesterday, a great sorrow overtook me unlike any sorrow I have felt for the passing of an esteemed writer. Even now this is difficult for me to write. I have lost a mentor.

My story is probably very similar to many, across generations, and that is a wonderful legacy to leave. Anne McCaffrey set me on my path.

In 1989, twenty years after the book came out, I was introduced to 'Dragonflight' via my fifth form English curriculum. I often wonder in hindsight at how radical and equally how safe this choice was for a fifteen year old girl. Why was I never introduced to Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin or Octavia E. Butler? Why had I never been given science fiction of any kind to read as part of a curriculum before?

That term in English was an absolute revelation. I have to admit I struggled with the first half of the book. I had been given no introduction on what to expect, and as previous curriculum mandated books had been very dry affairs I was not at all prepared for a fantasy novel. I read it absolutely straight, wondering what the hell all this was, until Ramoth and Mnementh's mating flight. Dragons? Dragons. DRAGONS! WITH TELEPATHY! DRAGONS (and people) HAVING SEX.

Heady stuff for a hormonal adolescent in a conservative small town.

It took me a few more years to understand what a barrier busting character Lessa was, and an even further few more years to deconstruct the women of Pern in a third-wave feminist perspective. I distinctly remember focusing on F'lar in my character study because...isn't the male's perspective most important? Ahh, silly fifteen year old me. Sorry Trev, I understand what you were trying to get us to see...NOW.

From then on I read every Anne McCaffrey book I could get my hands on, as well as participating in Pern Mushes and Moos. As per my book collection fetish, I carefully collected every Pern (then Crystal Singer, then Ship, then Talents, then Freedom) book and read them in order. I was not so much a fan of the Petaybee and Acorna series, as at the time those books were coming out I had moved on to other writers and genres, furthering my specfic education.

While my relationship with McCaffrey's writing has changed over the years - I am critical of the ableism and virginity fetishizing in the Ship books, and the regressive patriarchal, feudal society Pern had become; I stopped reading her newer writings - her influence on my writing never waned. While I was never privileged enough to meet or correspond with McCaffrey, a memory I hold dear to my heart is the knowledge that she judged my story one year in the 'Writers of the Future' contest. She saw my story, and along with other great names that year judged that I had potential, and encouraged me accordingly (a 'Highly Commended' certificate).

Anne McCaffrey's influence on my life is huge. My love for science fiction and fantasy and collecting dragons began with her. Her books introduced me to the art of Michael Whelan. She showed me that women can write fun and fantastic science fiction. She whispered a little earworm into me: "you can do this too".

While I am yet to fulfill the potential Anne McCaffrey promised me, I will always be grateful to her for the dreams she kindled in me. Thank you Anne. I will pass on your legacy to the next generation, keep writing and keep dreaming.

The dragons are keening tonight.

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