Anne McCaffrey, American fantasy writer (Dragonriders of Pern series), died from a stroke she was 85
Anne Inez McCaffrey was an American-born Irish writer, best known for the Dragonriders of Pern science fiction series died from a stroke she was 85.. Early in McCaffrey’s 46-year career as a writer, she became the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award died from a stroke she was 85.. Her 1978 novel The White Dragon became one of the first science-fiction books to appear on the New York Times Best Seller list.
In 2005 the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named McCaffrey its 22nd Grand Master, an annual award to living writers of fantasy and science fiction. She was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame on 17 June 2006.
Life and career
Anne Inez McCaffrey was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the second
of three children of Anne Dorothy (née McElroy) and Col. George Herbert
McCaffrey. She had two brothers: Hugh (“Mac”, died 1988) and Kevin
Richard McCaffrey (“Kevie”). Her father had Irish and English ancestry, and her mother was of Irish descent. She attended Stuart Hall (a girls’ boarding school in Staunton, Virginia), and graduated from Montclair High School in New Jersey. In 1947 she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College with a degree in Slavonic Languages and Literature.
In 1950 she married Horace Wright Johnson (died 2009), who shared her interests in music, opera and ballet. They had three children: Alec Anthony, born 1952; Todd, born 1956 and Georgeanne (“Gigi”, Georgeanne Kennedy), born 1959.
Except for a short time in Düsseldorf, the family lived for most of a decade in Wilmington, Delaware. They moved to Sea Cliff, Long Island in 1965, and McCaffrey became a full-time writer.
McCaffrey served a term as secretary-treasurer of the Science Fiction
Writers of America from 1968 to 1970. In addition to handcrafting the
Nebula Award trophies, her responsibilities included production of two
monthly newsletters and their distribution by mail to the membership.
McCaffrey emigrated to Ireland
with her two younger children in 1970, weeks after filing for divorce.
Ireland had recently exempted resident artists from income taxes, an
opportunity that fellow science-fiction author Harry Harrison had promptly taken and helped to promote. McCaffrey’s mother soon joined the family in Dublin. The following spring, McCaffrey was guest of honor at her first British science-fiction convention (Eastercon 22, 1971). There she met British reproductive biologist Jack Cohen, who would be a consultant on the science of Pern.
McCaffrey had had two short stories published during the 1950s. The
first (“Freedom of the Race”, about women impregnated by aliens) was
written in 1952 when she was pregnant with her son Alec. It earned a
$100 prize in Science-Fiction Plus. Her second story, “The Lady in the Tower”, was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction by editor Robert P. Mills and purchased again by editor Judith Merril for The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction.[a] McCaffrey said “she thought of the story when wishing herself alone, like a lady in an ivory tower”.
Judith Merril matched McCaffrey with her long-time literary agent Virginia Kidd (died 2003) and invited her to the Milford Writer’s Workshop (to which she returned many times), where participants each brought a story to be critiqued.
After her first Milford workshop in 1959 she worked on “The Ship Who
Sang”, the story which began the Brain & Brawn Ship series. At the
story’s end, the spaceship Helva sings “Taps” for her human partner. Decades later, McCaffrey’s son Todd called it “almost an elegy to her father”. In interviews between 1994 and 2004, she considered it her best story and her favorite. “I put much of myself into it: myself and the troubles I had in accepting my father’s death  and a troubled marriage.”
McCaffrey then wrote two more “Ship” stories and began her first novel. Regarding her motivation for Restoree (1967), her son recalled her saying, “I was so tired
of all the weak women screaming in the corner while their boyfriends
were beating off the aliens. I wouldn’t have been—I’d’ve been in there
swinging with something or kicking them as hard as I could”.
McCaffrey explained that it did not require a sequel; it “served its
purpose of an intelligent, survivor-type woman as the protagonist of an
Regarding her 1969 Decision at Doona (which she dedicated “To Todd Johnson—of course!”), her son recalled that he was directed to lower his voice in his fourth-grade
school play when his mother was in the auditorium. That inspired the
Doona story, which opens on “an overcrowded planet where just talking
too loud made you a social outcast”. As a settler on Doona, the boy talker has a priceless talent.
McCaffrey made a fast start in Ireland, completing for 1971 publication Dragonquest and two Gothic novels for Dell, The Mark of Merlin and The Ring of Fear. With a contract for The White Dragon
(which would complete the “original trilogy” with Ballantine), her
writing stalled. During the next few years the family moved several
times in the Dublin area and struggled to make ends meet, supported
largely by child-care payments and meager royalties.
The young-adult book market provided a crucial opportunity. Editor Roger Elwood
sought short contributions for anthologies, and McCaffrey started the
Pern story of Menolly. She delivered “The Smallest Dragonboy” for $154,
and four stories which later became The Crystal Singer. Futura Publications in London signed her to write books about dinosaurs for children. Editor Jean E. Karl at Atheneum Books
sought to attract more female readers to science fiction and solicited
“a story for young women in a different part of Pern”. McCaffrey
completed Menolly’s story as Dragonsong and contracted for a sequel before its publication in 1976. The tales of Menolly are continued in Dragonsinger: Harper of Pern, and Dragondrums as the “Harper Hall Trilogy”.  With a contract with Atheneum she was able to buy a home (named “Dragonhold” for the dragons who bought it). Her son wrote, 20 years later, that she “first set dragons free on Pern and then was herself freed by her dragons.”
Some time after their move to Long Island, Todd McCaffrey recalls,
his mother asked him what he thought of dragons. She was brainstorming
about their “bad press all these years”. The result was a
“technologically regressed survival planet” whose people were united
against a threat from space (in contrast to an America divided by the Vietnam War). “The dragons became the biologically renewable air force, and their riders ‘the few’ who, like the RAF pilots in World War Two, fought against incredible odds day in, day out—and won.”
The first Pern story, “Weyr Search”, was published in 1967 by John W. Campbell in Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It won the 1968 Hugo Award for best novella, voted by participants in the annual World Science Fiction Convention. The second Pern story, “Dragonrider”, won the 1969 Nebula Award for best novella, voted annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Thus she was the first woman to win a Hugo for fiction and the first to win a Nebula.
“Weyr Search” covers the recruitment of a young woman, Lessa, to
establish a telepathic bond with a queen dragon at its hatching, thus
becoming a dragonrider and the leader of a Weyr community. “Dragonrider”
explores the growth of the queen dragon Ramoth, and the training of
Lessa and Ramoth. Editor Campbell requested “to see dragons fighting
thread [the menace from space]”, and also suggested time travel;
McCaffrey incorporated both suggestions. The third story, “Crack Dust,
Black Dust”, was not separately published, but the first Pern novel (Dragonflight, published by Ballantine Books in 1968) was a fix-up of all three.
If John Campbell was midwife to Dragonflight (with its major components published as award-winning novellas), agent Virginia Kidd and editor Betty Ballantine provided advice and assistance for its sequel Dragonquest.
It was almost complete (and the contract for another sequel signed)
before the 1970 move to Ireland. Both Ballantine and fellow writer Andre Norton made suggestions for the mutant white dragon.
Readers waited a long time for the completion of the original trilogy. Progress was not made until 1974–1975, when the New England Science Fiction Association invited McCaffrey to its annual convention (Boskone) as guest of honor (which included publication of a novella for sale on-site). She wrote A Time When, which would become the first part of The White Dragon.[b]
The White Dragon was released with new editions of the first two Pern books, with cover art illustrated by Michael Whelan. It was the first science-fiction book by a woman on the New York Times bestseller list, and the cover painting is still in print from Whelan. The artists share credit for their career breakthroughs.[c][d]
McCaffrey said of her collaborations with Todd and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough,
“While I would dearly love to have the energy to tell a tale all on my
own, I really cannot say that I am not ably represented with my
collaborations”. In the Pern collaboration with Todd, she was mainly
“making suggestions or being a sounding board”. According to Todd, McCaffrey also gave Todd and his sister Gigi permission to write their own stories set in the Pern universe.
McCaffrey died at age 85 on 21 November 2011 at her home in Ireland, following a stroke.
In August 1987, Locus: The magazine of the science fiction & fantasy field ranked two of the eight extant Pern novels among the 33 “All-Time Best Fantasy Novels”, based on a poll of subscribers; Dragonflight was #9 and The White Dragon #23. Commenting on the Locus list, David Pringle called them “arguably science fiction rather than fantasy proper” and named McCaffrey a “leading practitioner” of the planetary romance subgenre of science fiction.[e]
McCaffrey considered most of her work science fiction and enjoyed
“cutting them short when they call me a ‘fantasy’ writer”. All the Pern
books may be considered science fiction, since the dragons were
genetically engineered by the Pern colonists. Regarding science, she
said “I don’t keep up with developments, but I do find an expert in any
field in which I must explain myself and the science involved”. Astronomer Steven Beard often helped with science questions, and McCaffrey acknowledged reproductive biologist Jack Cohen several times.[example needed]
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame
citation of Anne McCaffrey summarizes her genre as “science fiction,
though tinged with the tone and instruments of fantasy”, and her
reputation as “a writer of romantic, heightened tales of adventure
explicitly designed to appeal—and to make good sense to—a predominantly
female adolescent audience.”
McCaffrey said in 2000, “There are no demographics on my books which
indicate the readers are predominately of an age or sex group. Dragons
have a universal appeal”! Formerly, it was another matter:
I started writing s-f in the late 50’s/early 60’s, when readership
was predominantly male. And their attitudes unreconstructed. [… Women]
began reading s-f and fantasy—and, by preference, women writers. My
stories had themes and heroines they could, and did, relate to. I never
had any trouble with editors and publishers. I had trouble getting male
readers to believe I was serious, and a good enough writer to interest
In 1999, the American Library Association gave McCaffrey the 11th Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, citing The Ship Who Sang (1969) and the first six Pern books (those sometimes called the “original trilogy” and the “Harper Hall trilogy”).
McCaffrey’s first novel was Restoree, published by Ballantine Books in 1967. Unlike most science-fiction books of the era, Restoree’s
heroine is a strong-willed, intelligent woman who is willing and able
to think for herself and act on her own initiative. McCaffrey was widely
quoted as saying that Restoree was intended as a “jab” at how women were usually portrayed in science fiction.
Federated Sentient Planets universe
Several of McCaffrey’s series (and more than half her books) are set
in a universe governed by the “Federated Sentient Planets” (“Federation”
or “FSP”). Although Pern’s history is connected to the Federation,
McCaffrey only used it as a backdrop for storytelling and did not
consider her different “worlds” to be part of the same universe.
Dragonriders of Pern series
McCaffrey’s best-known works are the Dragonriders of Pern series. These are set on a planet known as Pern,
settled by colonists from Earth. The advanced technology of their
ancestors has been lost, so the inhabitants of Pern have reverted to a
society similar to western medieval Earth. However, before the loss of
this advanced technology the original colonists produced genetically
engineered dragons. These dragons are now flown by elite “dragonriders”,
who communicate telepathically with them. Together, they defend Pern
against pernicious “thread” which cross space periodically from a nearby
planet (the “red star”) and threaten to destroy all life on Pern.
The Brain & Brawn Ship series
The Brain & Brawn Ship series comprises seven novels, only the first of which (a fix-up of five previously published stories) was written by McCaffrey alone.
The stories in this series deal with the adventures of “shell-people”
or “Brains”, who as infants (due to illness or birth defects) have had
to be hard-wired into a life-support system. With sensory input and
motor nerves tied into a computer they serve as starship pilots
(or colony administrators), seeing and feeling the colony or ship as an
extension of their own body. They perform this job to pay off their
debt for education and hardware, and continue as free agents once the
debt is paid. To compensate for the Brains’ inability to move within
human habitats they are paired with partners known as “Brawns”, who are
trained in a wide array of skills (including the protection of their
Brain counterparts). It was considered impossible for a person to adjust
to being a shell after the age of two or three. An exception, in The Ship Who Searched, was a shell-person who was seven when she became quadriplegic.
The Ship books are set in the same universe as the Crystal Singer
books; Brainship-Brawn pairings were also characters in the second and
third volumes of that series.
The Crystal universe
The Crystal universe is the setting for five books, including the
Crystal Singer trilogy. The first book (and first of the trilogy), The Crystal Singer (1982) is a fix-up of four stories published in 1974–1975.
The Crystal Singer series revolves around the planet Ballybran. Under a permanent biohazard travel restriction, Ballybran
is home to one of the FSP’s wealthiest (and most reclusive)
organizations: the Heptite Guild. Source of crystals vital to a number
of industries, the Heptite Guild is known to require absolute, perfect
pitch in hearing and voice for all applicants (especially those seeking
to mine crystal by song). The second and third books feature brainships which were not main characters in the Brain & Brawn Ship series.
The Ireta series (as catalogued by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database)
comprises five novels: two “Dinosaur Planets” by McCaffrey in 1978 and
1984 and three “Planet Pirates” co-written during the 1990s.
They share a fictional premise, and some characters and events
overlap. “Dinosaur Planets” follow the Exploration and Evaluation Corps
team on the planet Ireta, which did not expect to find dinosaurs. In
“Planet Pirates”, all is not well in the FSP: pirates attack the
spacelanes. Survivors on Ireta and the survivors of space pirate attacks
The Talents universe
“The Talents Universe” (as catalogued by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database)
comprises two series: “Talent” and “The Tower and Hive” and share a
fictional premise. Eight books (all by McCaffrey alone) are rooted in
her second story (1959) and three stories published in 1969.
The Talents universe involves a society built around the Talents of
telepathic, telekinetic individuals who become integral to the
connectivity of interstellar society.
The Barque Cat series
This series covers the origin of the barque cats in the Tower and Hive series.
Two civilizations in near-identical circumstances – an overlarge,
lethargic population and a tragic history with sentient aliens – end up
attempting to colonize the same planet by accident. What the humans do
not know is that the people they have misidentified as nomadic natives
are more technically advanced than themselves (and under no such
illusions regarding the humans). The books are set in the time of
“Amalgamated Worlds”, but a sentence in chapter ten of Crisis at Doona
hints that there is “a desire to form a Federation of Sentient
Planets”. This sets the books just prior to the FSP universe (which
comprises much of McCaffrey’s work).
The Petaybee universe comprises two trilogies (Powers and The Twins of Petaybee) by McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.
The Freedom series
The Freedom series (or the “Catteni Sequence”) comprises one 1970 short story and four Freedom novels written between 1995 and 2002.
The “Acorna Universe series” comprises ten novels published between 1997 and 2007: seven sometimes known as Acorna and three sometimes known as Acorna’s Children. The first two were written by McCaffrey and Margaret Ball, and the rest by McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.
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McCaffrey also published two short-story collections, several romances and young-adult fantasies. Her nonfiction
work includes two cookbooks and a book about dragons. McCaffrey
collaborated closely with musicians Tania Opland and Mike Freeman on two
CDs (“The Masterharper of Pern” and “Sunset’s Gold”), based on her
lyrics and the music described in her Pern novels.
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