November 23, 2011

Dragons Weep

When I was a young duckling of 9 or 10 years, confused and frightened by the divorce of my parents, I discovered the genre of writing known as science-fiction.  While my first book was Frank Herbert's Dune, and my favorite author Robert Heinlein (whose status remains unchanged some thirty-plus years later), the first series of books I ever read was the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey.

I don't know how I found it, to be honest.  It may have come my way via Official First Friend of The Pond Vaucaunson's Duck, which means it probably came from the library of Vauc's father, Dr John.  It may have been one of the many books I read when I visited mid-state Illinois.  It's even possible I stumbled upon it on my own.  However it occurred, I remember being utterly fascinated by the combination of ugly politics, high action, (what I now think of as shallow) characterization, and everywhere, everywhere there be dragons.  Psychic dragons. 

As a young'un, I totally loved the whole Pern universe.  I inhaled the six books in the series (Dragonflight, Dragonquest, Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums, and White Dragon) as fast as they came my way, then read it again.  And again, because I knew that the story was over.  Then Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern came out, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven: it was a prequel, which meant plenty of time (and stories) for more books!  I was slightly confused by Nerilka's Story, the next book, because it told the same story as Moreta, just from a different point of view... nowadays, I find that sort of thing to be very clever, perhaps an offshoot of my love for secondary characters (don't tell me what Kirk does, tell me what Redshirt #4 did).

And then, somewhere along the way, I "grew up."  Oh, I still read the Pern books when they came out, but the critic in me began to notice the fairly bland characters, the overly-simple plotting, the incredible amount of Mary-Sue-ing and on and on.  I began to think of McCaffrey's world as one for a younger Me.  I was excited to have The Masterharper of Pern come out, as it finally filled in the backstory of my favorite character of the universe, Robinton.  Then... the books kept coming, but I stopped reading.  Then they kept coming, but with Anne McCaffrey's son Todd's name on the cover, and I rolled my eyes.  Not for me, thank you very much.  I had moved on to deeper, harder science-fiction.

Today, Anne McCaffrey passed away after suffering a massive stroke.  While I haven't opened one of her titles in years, inside of me that scared nine year old mourns the loss of a very creative writer, whose books helped shaped the sci-fi reader I am today.  Thank you, Anne.

UPDATE: Friend GreyDuck has similar thoughts.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 12:00 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 We have a somewhat similar reading history.  I cut my teeth on Heinlein when I was 8 (Orphans of the Sky - the deeper implications in it didn't come to me until I re-reads it much later).  I also read Pern, although it was my sister who bought them, so going to college was my excuse for stopping.

She had a huge effect on the genre in the '80's.  I hope she is well-remembered today.

Posted by: Mauser at November 23, 2011 05:50 AM (cZPoz)

2 I've never been a fan of McCaffrey's writing, but I've always had a lot of respect for her as a writer.  When I turned sixteen I was able to drive to a larger market than my hometown and visit real book stores.  I'm sure this is exaggeration, but it can't be too far off:  I remember shelf after shelf of McCaffrey, sometimes even entire endcaps dedicated to her books.  I always picked up one or more and flipped through, although I have to admit it was mainly the gorgeous covers that always caught my eye.
So McCaffrey taught me a very valuable lesson, IMO, about marketing.  Even if I never read any of her books, either her or her publisher, or both, were brilliant.  I could not go through the Sci/Fi-Fantasy section of Waldenbooks or B. Dalton's without picking up an Anne McCaffrey novel.

Posted by: Ben at November 23, 2011 09:09 AM (RalIr)

3 It seems appropriate that I should learn about Anne McCaffery's death this way, from Wonderduck. McCaffery was my first "favorite" author, and I was as captivated by Pern and its denizens as W.Duck.  I don't remember if I actually introduced the book to him, but it's likely, as there was a lot of cross-pollination going on between our SF collections.

As I got older my views of the books developed along the same lines as W.Duck, and they "just didn't hold up" - but I was so attached to the characters that I waded through the treacle just to see what happened to them.  And was surprised by my tears when I read about Robinton's death.  I don't think I've read any more of the series since then, and probably won't, but I'm very glad it was there for me growing up.

W.Duck and I were up-to-our-ears in Pern back then, to the point of adding contractions to our names for a while.  And we made up a thread-fighting board game using an old sewing board with a 1 inch grid traced on it (the same board we used for Fight in the Skies, but that's a different story.)

So I echo W.Duck's sentiment - thank you, Anne.

Posted by: V. Duck at November 23, 2011 04:21 PM (XVJDy)

4 I read a few of McCaffrey's stories in ages past, but I was too old and cynical by then to enjoy them much. However, my mother loves the Pern books, and I was happy to find them on Audible.com for her recently.

Posted by: Don at November 24, 2011 02:39 PM (VVUGF)

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