News: Anne McCaffrey, multi-award winning and fiercely creative fantasy author dies at 85

Photograph: Edmund Ross/Random House

Legendary fantasy and science-fiction author Anne McCaffrey, 85, died of a stroke this week.

Anne wrote and co-authored over 100 books and stories, and is best known for her 24-book series called the Dragonriders of Pern that captured the hearts and minds of thousands of readers all over the world. The Dragonriders of Pern is best known for Anne’s use of the dragon as the “good guys” in the story, and the depiction of a symbiotic relationship between dragons and humans.

Prior to embarking on a writing career, Anne was involved in performance art, singing and especially acting. She cited her acting experience as a key source of inspiration and energy for her writing. In a 2004 interview published in Locus, she shared, “I have always used emotion as a writing tool. That goes back to me being on the stage. The thing is, emotion — if it’s visibly felt by the writer — will go through all the processes it takes to publish a story and still hit the reader right in the gut. But you have to really mean it.”

One of Anne’s most valuable contributions to the world of speculative fiction is her ability and commitment to creating vivid, fully formed alternate worlds and characters. She is often viewed as a forerunner in this regard leading to the best-selling work of Peter F. Hamilton and Alistair Reynolds.

Anne is also remembered for her pioneering success as a female author writing stories in the male-dominated science-fiction and fantasy genre. She was the first female author to win the Hugo Award (1968) and the Nebula Award (1969), the leading two prizes for science-fiction writing. Her first book Restoree was a friendly rebuke to the science-fiction/fantasy genre’s unrealistic representations of women.

Her books frequently explore themes of our understanding of our bodies, and how this influences our conception of self. One of her best-known series, The Ship Who Sang, tackled both of these ideas head on with a spaceship controlled by the mind of a significantly disabled girl/cyborg called Helva.

The Guardian obituary quotes bestselling fantasy author Stephen Hunt paying tribute to Anne: “All genres have their grand old dames… crime fiction still has PD James, romance had Barbara Cartland. In the fantasy and science fiction field, we were lucky indeed to have Anne McCaffrey. She was too modest to regard them as classics, but classics of the genre are what they became, outlandish planet-threatening mycorrhizoid spores and all. In a genre whose audience is often stereotyped as geeky males, in which its female authors often still feel it is a boys-only club when it comes to reviews of their work and airtime, McCaffrey was up there with Robert A Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke and Jack Williamson. She’ll be deeply missed.” You can read the full Guardian obituary here.

Have you read any books by Anne McCaffrey? Which books are your favourites? What do you like best about her work?

  • Wade

    I’ve read most of her works. She was always good at creating characters and story-telling relationships, many of them romantic. Oddly enough, I think some of her earliest works are the best, particularly the short-story collection “Get Off The Unicon”. There are many brave and controversial ideas in those, which McCaffrey was unashamed about. It is, though, a testament to her story-telling that quite a few of them she was able to turn into multi-novel series.

    • Rose Powell

      Hi Wade,
      Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve ordered Get Off the Unicorn on your recommendation. She was a wonderful author. I’m glad social media was awash with tributes and celebrations, she definitely earned it.

  • Gillian Griffin

    I agree. I absolutely loved all her work. I did read Restoree when I was a lot younger, and then when I later discovered the Pern series, I had no idea it was the same person. I’m not sure if I have read everything she write, but I have certainly tried!