Dragonwriter: Family, Fans and Writers Pay Tribute to Anne McCaffrey

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The cover to Dragonwriter, edited by Todd McCaffrey, art by Michael Whelan
The cover to Dragonwriter, edited by Todd McCaffrey, art by Michael Whelan

Dragonwriter, a tribute to legendary science fiction writer Anne McCaffrey and her work, is not only full of wonderful, touching, amusing, and informative essays about her writing, but also on the history of women in SF, and the beginnings of fandom.

McCaffrey was one of the first authors I worshipped from afar, perhaps because I was a young teenager when I first read Dragonriders of Pern. I loved the trilogy but McCaffrey’s bio also intrigued me:

I have green eyes, silver hair, and freckles – the rest changes without notice.

And she lived in a castle. In Ireland. To my teenage self, this seemed unbelievable amazing and wonderful. The reality of an author’s life doesn’t always match up to imagination, but Dragonwriter provides ample evidence that McCaffrey lived a remarkable life, that her work affected many, and that she was dedicated to passing on her trade–writing–to the next generation.

The essays collected in this book include those from prominent Science Fiction writers, from family members and friends, such as singer Janis Ian, and also from readers who fell in love with Pern and found the community fostered by love of McCaffrey’s books to be incredibly nurturing and, in some cases, life-changing.

“Let me tell you about a coleague and friend, a wonderfully vivid writer who entertained millions, who also helped distill for me the essence of my profession,” begins SF writer David Brin‘s opening essay.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s “Why Are You Wearing this Stupid Shirt,” recounts the history of their careers and how they crossed paths with McCaffrey at BaltiCon 10 and, later, when Lee became executive director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., and even more so when the authors wrote the later books in their Liaden Universe series.  “In the end, we’re all memories and the stories people tell. Anne left us some damned fine stories, and memories like stars on a cloudless night,” the essay concludes.

Elizabeth Moon recounts reading “Weyr Search” in Analog magazine when she was a college student in 1967 and her instant connection to the complicated, mercurial but also heroic Lessa, the main character of the story. (I had a similar reaction when I read it at a similar age about fifteen years later.)

Lois McMaster Bujold talks about the influence of McCaffrey’s writing on her own work and how McCaffrey’s success in hitting the New York Times bestseller list with The White Dragon in 1978 led to publishers being far more open to the idea of female SF writers. (And, by happy coincidence, Bujold was instrumental in an addition to the McCaffrey family.)

In “All the Weyrs of Pern,” Wen Spencer started out writing Pern fan-fiction and won the John Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2003, talks about the role of fandoms and conventions in her writing career, especially the fan fiction, which taught her novel structure and worldbuilding. Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett gather up recollections of the impact of McCaffrey’s fictional words on their lives in “The McCaffrey Effect.”

In “The Ships that Were: Optimism, Dystopia, and Anne McCaffrey’s Brainships,” Mercedes Lackey outlines the essential optimism and hope in the Brainship novels, despite the horrible trials the characters suffer. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough writes about McCaffrey’s passion for music, so evident in Pern’s Harper Hall or the Crystal Singer novels and Ian talks her long friendship with McCaffrey, bonded by the love of songs and storytelling.

John Goodwin came know McCaffrey through the Writes of the Future program, again, another tale of how McCaffrey encouraged younger writers. David Gerrold’s essay is entitled “How the DragonLady Saved My Life,” and he means exactly what he says.

Robin Roberts talks about the literary impact of Anne McCaffrey from an academic standpoint. There is an essay on the religion of Pern by a Dominican Priest, Richard J. Woods, and details of the evolution of the look of Pern and dragons by the artist Michael Whelan who so brilliantly put his stamp on McCaffrey dragons.

Todd McCaffrey, his brother, Alex Johnson, McCaffrey’s eldest son, and her daughter, Georgeanne Kennedy (Gigi), all speak lovingly of their mother.

And readers offer tribute as well. Angelina Adams, part of those who put together the Pern programming track at DragonCon each year, and Charlotte Moore, who ran the Weyrfest at DragonCon for many years, write about how the community that loves McCaffrey’s books has enriched her life. Had I realized back then that there was such a thriving Pern-loving community, I would have been part of it in a second.)

For those who loved McCaffrey’s books, this is a must read. For those unfamiliar with her writing, I’d still recommend the book for the glimpse at the burgeoning SF fandom and the personal stories from SF luminaries.

And, of course, for the beautiful Whelan cover.

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