Anne McCaffrey dies at 85

Anne McCaffrey, author of the “Dragonriders of Pern” series, has died. She was 85 years old.
Her publisher Random House reportedly announced that the author passed away after suffering a stroke.
McCaffrey’s books about a distant planet in which some inhabitants rode telepathic dragons to combat deadly falling alien Threads are considered seminal works of fantasy fiction. The books combined mythic inspiration, sci-fi and adventure.
McCaffrey was born in Cambridge, Mass., and published “Dragonflight” – the first volume in her “Dragonriders of Pern” series, in 1968. “When is a legend a legend? Why is a myth a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to be relegated to the category ‘Fairy-tale’?” she wrote in the introduction to “Dragonflight.” McCaffrey’s 1978 book “The White Dragon” was a breakthrough in the series, and made the New York Times bestseller lists.
While much of fantasy fiction focused on male protagonists, McCaffrey’s works featured both men and women as risk-taking heroes and heroines. Her blend of the sci-fi and fantasy genres was also unique and groundbreaking. McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo Award and the first female to win a Nebula Award. She won both sci-fi/fantasy writing prizes in the late 1960s.
Her books reimagined the ancient mythology of dragons, transforming them from enemies of men into friends, creating a psychological and emotional bond between humans and the fire-breathing creatures, and successfully tapping into a deep-seated fantasy most readers didn’t even know they had–the desire to ride on the back of a dragon and fly across the sky.

Anne McCaffrey dies at 85
Anne McCaffrey.

Anne McCaffrey, a science-fiction writer widely known as the Dragon Lady for her best-selling series of young-adult novels, “Dragonriders of Pern,” died on Monday in County Wicklow, Ireland. She was 85.
The cause was a stroke, her publisher, Random House, told The Associated Press. Ms. McCaffrey, who had lived in Ireland since the 1970s, died at her home, Dragonhold — so named, she liked to say, because it had been paid for by dragons.
The author of scores of books in a spate of different series, Ms. McCaffrey was indisputably best known for “Dragonriders” – written over four decades and comprising more than 20 novels.
That series, which is notable for marrying elements of fantasy to pure science fiction, takes place on the planet Pern, which Earthlings have settled. A utopian idyll at first, Pern has degenerated, after centuries of human habitation, into a tense feudal society.
The greatest threat to Pern is Thread, a type of deadly spore that rains down periodically. To combat these Threadfalls, inhabitants have cultivated a species of large, airborne, telepathic and eminently congenial dragons, whose fiery breath can vanquish the Thread. Throughout the series, Ms. McCaffrey’s protagonists — often young women or children — right all manner of galactic wrongs, stalwart paladins astride their soaring scaly steeds.
The series, which began in 1968 with “Dragonflight,” includes “Dragonquest,” “Dragonsong,” “Dragondrums,” “The Masterharper of Pern” and, most recently, “Dragon’s Time” – written with her son Todd McCaffrey and published this year.
As a stylist, Ms. McCaffrey was not uniformly esteemed. Reviewing “Dragonsdawn” in The New York Times Book Review in 1989, Gerald Jonas wrote of her: “Few are better at mixing elements of high fantasy and hard science in a narrative that disarms skepticism by its open embrace of the joys of wish fulfillment,” but faulted her “awkward similes” and “formulaic descriptions.”
But the immense commercial success of “Dragonriders of Pern” more than outweighed any criticism. The books sold millions of copies and have inspired a cornucopia of Internet fan fiction and a spate of scholarly studies.
The world of Pern became so all-encompassing to those who entered it that it gave rise to a concordance, “The Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern,” by Jody Lynn Nye, with Ms. McCaffrey.

Anne McCaffrey’s worldwide reputation as a writer depended largely on an extended series of science-fiction novels – several of them co-written with her son Todd – set on the world of Pern.
This was a distant planet settled by humans but threatened regularly by life-destroying “Threads”, which fell from a neighbouring planet. To combat these, the humans genetically modified a species of winged reptile, native to Pern, each one of which was bonded symbiotically with a rider from the moment of the human’s birth. These dragons then dealt with the global menace against the same kind of daunting odds as were faced by the RAF’s “few” when repelling the Luftwaffe in 1940 – a parallel sometimes quoted by McCaffrey, who has died after a stroke aged 85.
The books and stories were written unpretentiously and lyrically, with a refreshing taste for heroism and adventure as well as, perhaps surprisingly, an imaginative knowledge of biochemistry that made the dragons seem at least scientifically plausible. Weyr Search, the first long story in the sequence – which later became part of the novel Dragonflight 1968 – won a Hugo award, and a year later a second story, Dragonrider, won the Nebula award.
Because of their accessible and down-to-earth prose, McCaffrey’s books appealed in particular to children. Teenagers and young adults also relished them because of their realistic and often moving depictions of emotional dilemmas, and there was a constant appeal to women readers of all ages, because of the energetic drawing of strong female characters as uncompromising but compassionate human beings.
McCaffrey was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After high school she went to Radcliffe College, where she majored in Slavonic languages and literature. Like many writers-to-be, she had several short-lived jobs in her 20′s, including working for a music shop, the Helena Rubinstein cosmetics company, and writing advertising copy. She had a good soprano voice and studied singing for nearly a decade. While working in the theatre she became interested in stage direction of opera, and produced – and performed in – the first American performance of Carl Orff’s Ludus de Nato Infante Mirificus.
McCaffrey married in 1950 and raised three children, Alec, Todd and Georgeanne. The marriage ended acrimoniously 20 years later, and she moved herself and the children from New York to Ireland, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Her writing career started slowly, with a few short stories published in the low-paying science-fiction magazines of the time, but once she had been recognised for her Pern stories, a course was set. The novels were all consistent with each other, but some were addressed overtly to younger audiences. Many Dragonrider books followed at a steady pace; more than a dozen titles before the end of the century. The first collaboration with Todd came with Dragon’s Kin (2003). Over the course of the series, the early emphasis on a kind of scientific plausibility moved into the background, with adventure, romance and character intrigues evolving. She was once described as a writer of “science fiction tinged with the tone and instruments of fantasy” – which summed up her work well.

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