Dragonwriter: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern (review)

August 14, 2013 Pern, science fiction, Talents, Todd McCaffrey 6


When Anne McCaffrey passed in November 2011, it was not only those closest to her who mourned her death; legions of readers also felt the loss deeply. The pioneering science fiction author behind the Dragonriders of Pern® series crafted intricate stories, enthralling worlds, and strong heroines that profoundly impacted the science fiction community and genre.
In Dragonwriter, Anne’s son and Pern writer Todd McCaffrey collects memories and stories about the beloved author, along with insights into her writing and legacy, from those who knew her best. Nebula Award-winner Elizabeth Moon relates the lessons she learned from Pern’s Lessa (and from Lessa’s creator); Hugo Award-winner David Brin recalls Anne’s steadfast belief that the world to come will be better than the one before; legendary SFF artist Michael Whelan shares (and tells stories about) never-before-published Pern sketches from his archives; and more.

Join Anne’s co-writers, fellow science fiction authors, family, and friends in remembering her life, and exploring how her mind and pen shaped not only the Weyrs of Pern, but also the literary landscape as we know it.


Dragonwriter is exactly what it purports to be: a tribute to the incomparable Anne McCaffrey and to the worlds and characters she created — not only Pern but also the brainships universe, and to a lesser extent the Talents universe, the world of Petaybee, and others.  The essays run the gamut from very personal remembrances to more scholarly explorations of McCaffrey’s impact on science fiction and fantasy in general and on women in SF/S in particular.  Some of the pieces made me cheer; others made me tear up. All of them together made me realize anew what a profound influence McCaffrey had in her field . . . and on me personally.

One of the things that comes through most clearly in all the essays is the sheer power and charisma of Anne McCaffrey’s personality.  Unlike some authors, McCaffrey loved and was interested in her fans.  At signings, she paid attention to each fan, genuinely connecting with them if only for those few moments.  She had incredible energy and an almost palpable glow about her.  I was privileged to meet her at a signing when I was still in my late teens, during one of her book tours, shortly after the paperback release of The White Dragon.  I was completely tongue-tied, awed but delighted by her humor and warmth.  I still treasure my signed paperback copies of the original Dragonrider trilogy.  (I had to buy another set so I could keep my signed treasures in good shape.)

If you’re not familiar with McCaffrey’s books, you probably don’t realize how groundbreaking she was.  Before McCaffrey, women were seldom main characters in SF/F, and when they did appear, they were usually either ditzes, damsels in distress, sex objects, or cold, essentially sexless scientists.  There were almost no strong female characters.  (James H. Schmitz’s Telzey Amberdon was a rare exception.)  McCaffrey’s women are almost all strong individuals who take an active role in shaping their own lives (and frequently those of others.)  Lessa, Helga, the Rowan, Damia, Menolly, Sharra, Killishandra, and a host of other main and secondary characters showed readers and writers of both sexes that strong, intelligent women belong in science fiction and in the real world.  I know that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t read McCaffrey’s books beginning in my teens.  For me, her characters were role models, inspiration — even friends.

When McCaffrey began writing SF in the 1950s and ’60s, women writers were as rare as strong female character — and most of them used male names, initials, or gender-neutral names.  McCaffrey was not the first woman to write science fiction under a female name, but she was among the first to gain widespread popularity; her 1978 novel The White Dragon made the NYT bestseller list.  She was also the first woman to win a Hugo for fiction (in 1968, for her novella “Weyr Search”) and the first woman to win a Nebula (in 1969, for the novella “Dragonrider.”)  Those two stories, plus an unpublished third, became the novel Dragonflight, the first of the Pern novels.*

In Dragonwriter, author after author writes about McCaffrey’s influence — often quite personal — on his or her writing and career.  There are essays by a number of McCaffrey’s collaborators (she was very open to collaboration), including Elizabeth Moon, Mercedes Lackey, and Jody Lynn Nye.  The  book also includes a tribute by singer Janis Ian, who became a close personal friend of Anne; pieces by all three of her children; and a collection of concept sketches by artist Michael Wood, whose illustrations grace many of the Pern novels as well as this volume.  (The cover of Dragonwriter is the scene which McCaffrey originally wanted for the cover of All the Weyrs of Pern.)

All in all, if you are a diehard McCaffrey fan like me, you really don’t want to miss this wonderful tribute to a truly fantastic lady.

* “Anne McCaffrey”, Wikipedia.org

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Category:  Nonfiction (science fiction & fantasy)

Publisher: Smart Pop
Release date: August 6, 2013
Book source:  Review copy (ebook) from the publisher via NetGalley

Links:      Goodreads       Amazon       Barnes & Noble       Kobo

6 Responses to “Dragonwriter: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern (review)”

  1. Greg

    Very nice review. This sounds like a wonderful tribute to someone who really was a groundbreaker. I discovered her books through Michael Whelan’s beautiful art and it is nice he is included here as well. Glad to see she’s getting the attention she deserves.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Thank you, Greg! As you can tell, I’ve been an Anne McCaffrey fan since I was in high school and first discovered her. I’ve read almost everything she ever wrote (there are one or two contemporary novels I never got around to) — most of them at least twice, and some of my favorites upwards of 10 or 12 times.

  2. Bea

    I have read and enjoyed many of Anne’s books and was so sorry when she died. I’ll have to see if my library has this.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I rarely cry over authors’ deaths, but I cried — literally — for Anne McCaffrey. Her books have been among my mainstays, and her characters my friends, since I was a geeky high school student. Todd is carrying on with Pern, and he’s getting better and better, but it’s still not the same. And I don’t know that anyone else has permission to play in her other worlds.